Designer Snapshot: Rolling with Rock

By Paula M. Bodah

Landscape architect Matthew Cunningham feels that the gardens he designs take on an extra dimension thanks to his frequent use of reclaimed stone. “I love using these materials in my work because each piece of stone has its own story to tell,†the Melrose, Massachusetts, designer says. “You can just feel the history behind each piece. Also, you can’t beat the patina that builds up on granite over time.â€

For the Southwest Harbor, Maine, garden we showed in our March/April landscaping feature, “Setting the Scenery,†for instance, Matthew used reclaimed slabs of granite. He planted native mosses in the spaces between slabs, making the landscape look like it had been there since the dawn of time. “I’ve used it all,†he says, “from weathered blocks of stone from old seawalls and bridge abutments to horse-cart–worn cobbles from the streets of Boston, even old curbstones from parking lots. I hand pick all the stone I use in my landscape, and often design gardens around special pieces.â€

I asked Matthew to give us a few more examples of such special stone in his work.

Hemlock House, Cambridge, Massachusetts
House designed by Charles R. Myer & Partners
Landscape constructed by J&F Contracting, Newton, Massachusetts, and Hartney Greymont

“The granite for these terraces came from Old New England Granite in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. This particular material was reclaimed from an old bridge abutment on the North Shore and had been exposed to saltwater and tidal conditions for decades. The blocks, about an inch thick and ranging in size from eighteen inches square to three- by eight-inch lengths, were all handpicked for their color and texture. The material was originally quarried from Cape Ann and is called Blood Ledge Granite. It’s no longer quarried; you can learn more about it on the Cape Ann Historical Museum‘s website.â€

Photos courtesy of Matthew Cunningham


Lower Mystic Lake House, Arlington, Massachusetts
House designed by Ruhl Walker Architects
Landscape constructed by Martin Lucyk Construction
“The granite I used in this garden was reclaimed from the site of the new Ikea in Somerville, Massachusetts. The original source is unclear, but it was most likely from either Quincy or Chelmsford. The stone was very dimensional and flat, making it ideal for the front walkway and lawn and the stone staircase that leads to the lake’s edge.â€

Check out Matthew’s further discussion of this stone on his blog.

South End Courtyard, Boston
“All the cobblestones in this garden were salvaged from the original garden and re-laid. Native mosses were tucked between each joint, creating a soft, porous carpet. A salvaged Maine granite pier rises from the earth to form the pedestal of a table–the centerpiece of the garden. I found this piece of granite alongside the road in Maine while on a visit to my project in Southwest Harbor. It’s probably from Deer Isle and was used as a dock pier at some point in its history. We drew inspiration from the modern chairs and had custom steel brackets made for the table. Definitely a unique conversation piece!â€

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