The Spirit of Stone by Jan Johnsen - book review Reviews

The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden by Jan Johnsen – Book Review

The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden

By Jan Johnsen
St. Lynn’s Press, 2017
Hardcover, 192 pages
$16.46 USD

Jan Johnsen begins her book The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden with the sentence: “Stone is often an overlooked player in a landscape.” This is true. Before I read this book, I never thought about stone.  As a horticulturist, I must have seen a thousand gardens and not one stone. Fortunately, after reading The Spirit of Stone, I now have “rock awareness” as Jan calls it and I can now see – I even went back to photos I took — that the stones were there all along. Placed deliberately by the designer, stones were often partially responsible for the beautiful landscapes that I had admired.

The Author’s Experiences

The Spirit of Stone by Jan Johnsen - coverAt first I thought this book would be a quick read. It is a small, square-shaped book, 8 inches by 8 inches. The font size is large enough and there are plenty of graphics and photos but this is not a quick read. It is a comprehensive review of stone’s use in the landscape that it is almost a reference book.

Jan draws on 40 years as a landscape designer, rock climbing experiences, horticultural positions in Japan, Hawaii, Vermont, and New York, and trips to well-known public gardens to create 192 pages chock full of technical information. Writing about stone could have been a challenge, but Jan presents stone as her lifelong friend and demonstrates how useful and meaningful her friend has been to her.

She begins by describing well-known artists who have turned stone into art, how stone has been used in famous public gardens, and stone’s role in Native American, Japanese, and Chinese cultures. Here is where I get inspired to use stone in my garden or even in containers. Sprinkled throughout the book are literary references which I really enjoyed; who knew anyone had written about stones before? There are quotes from Helen Keller, Henry S. Adams, John Lame Deer, Douglas Wood, and Tung Chuin, to name a few.

Many Utilitarian Purposes of Stone

Jan further describes how stone can be used in landscapes for different types of rock gardens, walks, steps, walls, accents, drainage, mulch, and erosion control. Each of these topics is a chapter full of information where she drills into details, providing tips, techniques, and technical advice.

Do-it-yourselfers can learn how to build a freestanding dry wall, place stone accents, lift heavy rocks, place rocks in a rock garden, and choose from various types of gravel. I am sure the book will be valuable to DIYs and landscape artists who need to know the technical aspects for their work, such as the meaning and measurement of “rise over run” when creating a stone staircase.

Stone and Plants

One chapter is devoted to plants that work well alongside stones but this is just a smattering and not meant to be a compendium of plants that do well in rock gardens.  There are suggestions for yellow foliage plants, plants that need shade, cascading plants, and plants that do well in crevices. If you are inspired to start a rock garden after reading this book, further reading into Alpine, Mediterranean, and South African plants is recommended. Jan does offer a bibliography at the end of the book with a few rock garden books on the list.


I highly recommend Jan’s book to homeowners, gardeners, landscape designers, and landscape architects. Even if you’ve never thought about using stone in the garden, this book will have you brimming with ideas for how to incorporate it into your designs. I think only a person with Jan’s experiences could have written a book that brings stone to life in such an appealing way.

Where To Buy

Published by St. Lynn’s Press in 2017, The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden is available directly through St. Lynn’s Press, as well as in bookstores and online from Amazon ($16.46 hardcover).

This is Jan Johnsen’s fourth book and she also writes a blog called Serenity in the Garden. Currently, she manages Johnsen Landscapes & Pools with her husband in New York.

Price Reduction
The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden
In her fourth book, Jan Johnsen brings stone to life in a way that will forever change how you view and use stone in the garden.

Last update on 2023-02-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Enjoyed This Review?

If you liked this review, please sign up for our email updates with reviews, how-to articles and gardening videos!

Disclaimer – GPReview would like to thank St. Lynn's Press for giving us a free sample to review. There was no expectation that it would be a positive review and we received no compensation for writing it. All opinions expressed here are those of the author based on personal experience using the product.

Please note that the Amazon links (and only the Amazon links) above are affiliate links. Should you choose to purchase products through these links, GPReview will make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps to support this website and our gardening product reviews. Thank you!