Trying to get a natural look from man-made can be a big challenge.  Whether it is highlights for your hair, faux-flower bouquets on your kitchen table, or fake fur coats the goals are always to be as close to the real thing as possible.  In development of new hardscape products this is almost always the end goal to keep the products as natural as possible.  Here are a few products that are made to mimic natural stone and their real counterparts.  You be the judge.

Unilock Rivenstone and Yorkstone

Rivenstone and Yorkstone are a close replica to geometric flagstone made from concrete.  They are made from the cast of actual stone pieces.  The above picture is the bluestone color and below is the actual natural bluestone.

Belgard Mega-Arbel Stone

These random assortment of pavers are made to look like irregular flagstone.  Below is a picture of how the different pieces come.  There are several interlocking shapes that fit together.

Below is a real flagstone patio.  In using real flagstone, larger pieces are better because smaller pieces can move out-of-place.  This picture depicts the use of small and large pieces.  I would encourage less small pieces in this case.  The variable nature of flagstone is one reason the man-made versions can be easier to work with.  They are all uniform thickness and fit together without larger gaps.

Rosetta Stone Outcropping

These very real looking outcropping pieces are actually made of concrete.  One challenge in using real outcropping is that they are all various thicknesses.  When using stone made to look natural it create the ability to work faster and lower labor costs.

Above is a stone wall and staircase using natural outcropping stone.

Rosetta Stone Belvedere Wall

Above is another Rosetta Stone product that much like drywall.  Natural drywall are pieces of stone usually various lengths and around 3-4″ thick stacked on top of each other without any glue or mortar.  The above stone is similarly laid, but does use glue to keep the wall together.

Becca LaBarre

Above is a natural drywall product made from fondulac stone.

There are many more hardscape products made to look like natural stone.  Checking out the websites for the various brick companies there are endless options.  Sometimes the purpose is cost savings, sometimes the products themselves provide easier application and sometimes “there ain’t nothing like the real thing”.


Nature Inspired Suburban Life

There is a reason my alarm clock has three less obnoxious settings, chirping birds, babbling brook, and crashing waves. I’d rather be coerced out of my dream like sleep with images of grassy fields, a hike up a mountain to a glacier fed lake or a sandy sunset along the beach, than a noise that sounds more like a fire engine running directly into my bed room. I like to think that I am like most people out there, and perhaps that it why my whole job is centered around bringing nature into the lives of normal, suburbanites, that don’t usually get to start their mornings with a jog around the Grand Canyon or a breath fresh aspen air at their high perched cabin. Though it is true that many people seeking my help, just want a few nice plants to highlight their home, or a basic patio, the underlying request is to create relaxing spaces, and views they can enjoy all the time.

The green screen is by far the most requested nature inspired landscape feature. Whether it’s the neighbor in their bathrobe, or the busy road, everyone wants to block some views, and enhance others. A fence does great for keeping children and animals in, but not much for the view from your kitchen table. A wall of green is less like a fortress and more like a forest.

Before: View to the neighbors and utility boxes

Immediately After: No more utility boxes and view to the neighbor is softened.  A few more years and the evergreens will enclose the lower patio.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of nature instead of the four lane highway. A pond or pond-less water feature can look natural when designed into the landscape using boulders,  and planted with ground cover to hide the man-made elements. At EverGreen we tend to go a little heavier on the pump size and add a valve to lower the water flow, so that the water can be more or less raging rapids depending on your taste. It won’t take long for visitors like frogs, raccoons and herons to make frequent appearances or take up residence. Just watch the raccoons and herons if you have fish or they may make an expensive snack out of your new pets.

A nature inspired finishing touch or two….

Becca LaBarre 2010

These boulders are part of the dry land garden at Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton, IL. The boulders are unique for what can be found for sale in the area. The look could be duplicated using New York Boulders (

Becca LaBarre 2011

The Water Stairs at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.  The water flows in the railings.  The palace had an enormous amount of water inspired features where the sounds of a fountain were hardly ever an ear shot away.  The over all feel is that of a sanctuary of luxury. My quest to find the perfect client for this still hasn’t happened, but I will continue to seek.

Gail Simpson

Lastly, this is a custom-made bench made of bluestone done for my most favorite theme garden. The three pieces are irregular to look natural.  It was done in memory of a friend and dedicated educator, Connie Johnson at Davis School in St. Charles, IL.



Before and After: The Entertainer Part II

A great entertainer needs a home with a great kitchen.  My best entertainer friends have this feature at their disposal.  Jere redesigned his kitchen to flow better for his quarterly soirees.  Sarah has ample room to expand her table space, and gadgets galore to fill her shelves for easy prep.

A great entertainer also needs a great backyard.  The following clients’ yard combined multiple element of outdoor entertaining, so friends and family will be swept up in the experience of relaxation and dine on food and good conversation.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

The backyard was a clean slate.  Aside from the much coveted screened in porch, the possibilities were infinite.  Many winter saturday discussion sessions went into finding a place for the grill, and outdoor fireplace, adding the element of water and screening the area for privacy using a ton of perennials for color, and making the space accessible from the driveway.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Wide natural stone stairs descend visitors from the driveway to the backyard and stepping stones imbedded in the grass create a rustic path to signal the way to the entertainment space.  The barbecue has its own space directly next to the steps off the upper deck allowing for easy access.  A table space with room for eight separates from the relaxing fireside furniture by a one foot planting space of creeping thyme.  The extra green adds a unique touch while adding definition and breaks up the hardscape.  The entire patio design is on an angle to utilize the view of the pond beyond the fireplace and the screening around the yard leaves that view uninhibited while maximizing coverage elsewhere.  Lastly the pondless waterfall remains a focal point directly inline with the main walking space and the berm it creates adds coverage and a cozy feel.

Everything at the entertainer’s fingertips allows them to enjoy along with their guests.  Like all great kitchen spaces…add friends and enjoy!

Scaling Back? Think Again!

Walk in any garden center or big box store this time of year and you’ll find every shape and sized “cutesy” bird bath, whimsical garden sculpture, or artistic garden bench. Before you place that small feature in your landscape to add a finishing touch, here are a few tips for finding the right sized element that will be in scale once your landscape has matured.

1.  Big boulders to small pebbles…

Becca LaBarre

They may strike your eye now, but this is a new landscape and the boulders will slowly disappear as the landscape grows. When placing any stone in the landscape is important to put enough in the make a statement or don’t add it at all. It’s ok if it looks out-of-place right away. I like to add lots of groundcover or low perennials around boulders or outcropping to make the stone blend into the landscape. These two boulders are about 36 inch round and even though that may sound large the picture illustrates how small that can look in certain contexts.

2.  Water feature…small is still big

Pete Goodreau

This vase water feature sit about 40″ tall. The grasses behind them are brand new, but in a few years will be about 4-5′ tall. That will make them taller than the vase, thus making it appear smaller.

3.  Big house…big plants

This landscape is planted with all plants that will grow no more than 3 ft tall. Not only is there no diversity in sizes and textures, but the plants look lost in front of the large buff wall of the foundation of this house.

Bob Stell

It is typical to find landscapes using a million small round shrubs dotting the front foundation. Part of the problem is improper pruning, but the other part is improper scale. If you have a larger home, it makes a big difference if a larger specimen of plants can be used. To be more frugal, use a few larger trees of at least 7 ft tall ornamental trees or 3 inch caliper shade trees. I don’t get as hung up on planting larger perennials. They will grow in a year or two. The previous picture shows a newly planted landscape. The maple tree to the very right of the photo was planted at a 4-5 inch caliper tree.

Choose garden elements wisely and err on the side of oversized and you won’t be disappointed. In the scale of focal garden features…bigger is better!