Irish Paving Stones - from our own home ground (24/9/2010)

A flight of steps in a garden in Dalkey, Co Dublin, by Howbert and Mays, using sandstone from Co Mayo.

Having highlighted some of the problems with Indian sandstone in a previous entry, this entry deals with some Irish alternatives to Indian sandstone and other imported stones.  Superb quality paving stone is stil being produced here in Ireland, and we have used it in numerous gardens over the last few years. It costs more, there is no denying it. On the other hand, many gardens are vastly over-paved, and an increase in quality and a decrease in quantity is an elegant solution which needn't be more expensive. Please note: We at Howbert and Mays do not sell paving slabs. 

Irish paving stones range from the clean-cut limestones of Kilkenny and Carlow to the mellower tones and textures of Mayo sandstone. Liscannor and Doolin limestone have the wonderful 'vermiculation' texture, as well as shades of black, grey and rust. There is slate from Kerry and sandstone from Donegal, and still granite (normally salvaged) which is rich in Iron and mica.These are stones which improve with age, taking on a patina rather than an algal bloom. They bring character and a sense of place to a garden. It's important where things comes from. Whether it's spuds or stones, having a 'link' makes a real difference to how you feel about it. When you order stones from an Irish quarry the owner might be the one to answer the phone. It might be his brother-in-law who drives the truck. They might tell you that they have hit a new seam and that the colour has changed a bit. All of which adds good old-fashioned character and gives your garden a sense of place. Using local stones provides local jobs and generates taxes for our beleaguered economy. It requires skill to lay, aquired over generations but lost in one. The stone travels for a few hours rather than a few weeks. It isn't marked-up in value all the way down the line so that the original producer gets only a tiny fraction of the end cost. Please note: We at Howbert and Mays do not sell paving slabs. 

Kilkenny Limestone

A path of Kilkenny limestone paving stones laid through a lawn in a Dublin city centre garden. The steps and wall in the background are also Kilkenny limestone. (Howbert and Mays / Fitzpatrick and Mays).

In this garden we used Kilkenny limestone paving, and also to clad a low retainiing wall which was necessary to protect the soil level around existng mature plants. The building was clad in 'green' oak from Northern Ireland and the wall in the background was rebuilt and repaired in local granite boulders.

In this small Dublin garden we created a lower area paved in Kilkenny limestone (note how many fossils there were in this batch). The wooden seat uses Western red cedar grown and milled in Co Wicklow.

Quarrying Kilkenny limsetone: it's big and not exactly beautiful, but the price we pay for making our gardens beautiful is paid in our own country - not exported. And a quarry such as this one is properly regulated to ensure that the welfare and wages of the workers are respected, as well as attention to health, safety and the environment.

Mayo Sandstone

This is a fabulous paving stone, and always very popular with our clients. It has a certain softness - it is a sandstone - and warmth, and the variations in colour throughout a batch give it real character. It's ideal for using in more traditional gardens, and is one of the stones taht marries best with period properties. The stones can hewn and have a natural texture, as in the picture below, or be sawn to have a smooth texture, as in the picture of the steps. It takes considerable skill to lay, and for a really good finsih the stones should be individually 'dressed' (ie tapped with a textured hammer) before laying.

Sandstone from Mayo has a variable colour, including greys, ochres and fawn. It has a nicely mottled texture and blends seemlessly with period houses. It requires skilled laying as the stones are of uneven width.

Being laid, note how the sides have been subtly 'dressed' to remove the straight edges created by saws in the quarry. This work gives the stones a softer appearance.

Before and after laying:Mayo sandstone has variable colours which do mellow over time. In this garden, the stones are cut to random lengths and widths and then assembled and trimmed by stonemasons so they run in courses.

Liscannor stone

Liscannor stone is dark, interestingly-textured and rich in subtle colours such as rusts and ochres. From near the cliffs of Moher in County Clare, it is an understated, subtle and hard-wearing stone. For some tastes it is considered too dark, though when well-planted it is the perfect foil for plants. Unlike some Indian limestones, which start out black and fade to pale grey after a couple of years, it holds its colour without absorbing moisture and turning green.

We designed and planted this garden in Blackrock, Co Dublin, using Liscannor stone for the paving, walls and steps. Combined with the grass and the deep beds, it makes a most fabulous stone. It looks good when it's wet too, which is always a good thing in this climate.

Liscannor lends itself well to being laid informally in random sizes and pointed only with grit. It can be quite pale when dry, jet black when wet.

This garden in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, sums it all up perfectly: it reconfigures local materials to create an enchanting environment, completely 'of the place' yet also very personal and unique.

In its natural form in a cliff-face in Co Clare.

Doolin Stone

This is a grey limestone from Co Clare, similar to Liscannor stone in texture but much paler. It isn't totally grey though: it has subtle patches of brown or rust, making it a suitable stone for somewhere where light is an issue. The photos below show it used 'crazy paving' style in a garden in Co Wicklow - the term 'crazy paving' can put people off, and heavily pointed this can be overwhelming. When pointed with loose grit, it gives the impression of a natural limestone 'pavement', especially when one considers the huge sizes that are available. Plant the cracks with suitable plants like Alchemilla mollis, Thymus serphyllum or Erigeron karvisnkianus.

This freshly laid Doolin stone around a house in Co Wicklow looks as if it has been in-situ for decades, and blends seemlessly with the natural landscapre surrounding the house. Even weeds between the stones aren't a problem - they are in fact encouraged, and with selective weeding and a few key plants put in to seed about it will create a very natural look.

All gardens shown here (except the garden in Ballyvaughan) were designed by Howbert and Mays and constructed by Sean Daly and Sons of  Irish Stone Gardens. We at Howbert and Mays do not sell paving slabs.