In The Field: Prairie Style in Wilmington

Our residential project in Wilmington, Delaware began last week and good progress is being made. The landscape contractor, like most others in the area this fall, has been struggling with deferred scheduling since the rains in August and September have wreaked havoc on their ability to get work done, but they are more than making up for it with a methodical, professional work ethic that is very efficient.

The heavy stepping stones (made of Pennsylvania Blue Granite) mentioned in an earlier post were picked up from the quarry and delivered to the site.The holes at the edges are from the "plug and feather" technique used to split each stepping stone from its parent slab. The tops of each stone were "flamed", meaning that the quarryman used an acetylene torch to heat up the stone surface until it shattered, resulting in a very uniform, dimpled, non-slip surface. In order to facilitate their placement relative to the drawing, I marked each stone with chalk, indicating their dimension.

We began placing stones in the back yard and worked our way towards the front. This beefy 72"x18"x6" hunk of rock weighs about 900 pounds and was set on a bed of stone dust to ensure a level, stable base at the foot of the deck.

The design for the stepping stones was inspired by Japanese plank foot bridges that can be found traversing ponds, rice paddies and iris fields, so each stone was set with safety in mind, but with the intention that the visitor would have to look down to appreciate the garden, allowing them to see the perennials growing below and creating a greater sense of space and journey in the otherwise short and narrow space.

We left this stump in place for several reasons. One was that we (the owner and I) could not come up with a compelling reason to expend the resources necessary to remove it. What would that afford us? One more shrub? Six more perennials? Not worth it. Another reason was that the owner is an avid bird watcher, and this stump is home for hundreds of tasty little bugs for the birds to eat, thus attracting the birds closer to the house. A third reason was that the stump represented a reason for the path to change direction, thus making the path more interesting since it makes an intentional and purposeful  shift to the side.

As we moved closer to the front and the connection with the main entrance terrace, the ground sloped upwards and the stepping stones were set to follow the grade. Because of their thickness (6-9") the steppers were easily set into the ground as "stairs".

Next week we will continue around the front with the installation of the "boulder outcropping" and witchhazel screen, along with bed preparation and the installation of plants.


  1. It adds good touch to the garden. The stepping stones are functional as well.

  2. Functional, indeed. In keeping with the Modernist mantra.

  3. This is a great idea. It kinda gives the house a modern Japanese inspired look. I think it's very functional yet so stylish.

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  4. Thanks, Valerie. The home has a few Prairie Style touches, an architectural style that that share some sensibilities with Japanese culture.