NYBG Library Review - The Spirit of Stone

A Solid Take on Landscaping Meets a Perennial Classic

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.

Jan Johnsen’s The Spirit of Stone is a new book from Pittsburgh-based publisher St. Lynn’s Press. Johnsen, an instructor with The New York Botanical Garden’s Adult Education Department, brings 40 years of experience to bear in her newest book. In the introduction of The Spirit of Stone, Johnsen writes:
Stone is often an overlooked player in a landscape. While we may swoon over the many shapes and colors of plants within a garden, the stone walks and walls stand silently by, perhaps unnoticed. This book shines a light on the beauty and enchantment that natural stone adds to an outdoor setting. It is a celebration of the versatility of solid, durable rock and showcases the many ways stones and stonework can be featured in the landscape.

Drawing upon her decades of landscape design experience and a love of stone fostered first in Japan and then in the United States, Johnsen seeks to empower home gardeners and designers to take the plunge and work with stone—the often overlooked “bones” of the garden. Johnsen writes lyrically and her accompanying photographs are simple and elegant. On the topic of selecting a stone to set upright, she writes:
Your choice of stones to use should be made both with your mind and with an instinctive “knowing” on your part. In fact, choosing the right stone and placing it upright is more a matter of collaboration with the stone than anything else.
The secret is to learn to listen to the wordless instructions of the rock. Your eye may fall upon a stone and you will know that this is the right one to use. After that, it may tell you more. When I set a standing stone, I will look intently at it and let the rock “tell” me if it is correctly placed, at the right angle, etc. I know it sounds odd, but try listening to the stone, and always know there are no wrong choices.
Johnsen has written a detailed book that is enjoyable to read. Topics range from cactus rock gardens to gravel paths to karensansui—a Japanese “dry landscape.” Inspirational photographs and installation instruction dominate the text, culminating in a plant pallet at the end. Those who are curious about using more stones in their landscape—including those curious about rock gardening as a style—will very much enjoy The Spirit of Stone.


  1. My home was built on old farm land, but judging from the number of rocks we have dug up, you wonder how they grew anything. Congratulations on your favorable book review.

    1. Hello Denise! Thanks for your comment - its time we look at those rocks we dig up as something wonderful, don't you think? its all how we look at things :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful book review. Is it available in kindle? I would share it with my friend. I wish i can find it from Amazon. So, let's check:)

    1. Hello best British essays - The book is on Amazon but not yet in kindle..thanks for your nice comment! Jan


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