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Croton Author's New Book Provides Rock-Solid Landscape Advice

Jan Johnsen of Croton, who owns a Mt. Kisco landscape design business with her husband, has a new book coming out in February about effectively using rocks in your landscape.
Jan Johnsen of Croton, who owns a Mt. Kisco landscape design business with her husband, has a new book coming out in February about effectively using rocks in your landscape. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jan Johnsen
A look at the cover of a book that Jan Johnsen of Croton will publish in February.
A look at the cover of a book that Jan Johnsen of Croton will publish in February. Photo Credit: Contributed by Jan Johnsen
  • Who : Jan Johnsen of Croton, owner of Johnsen Landscape & Pools of Mt. Kisco
  • What : Publishing a new book, “The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden”
  • Why rocks? “People look at rocks or rock outcrops and see them as a liability. I look at them as your greatest asset. Barbra Streisand got a nose job, and she made it her best asset. It’s the same thing with rocks. Why not expose more of it and make it a showpiece.”

CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. -- Jan Johnsen likes to feature rocks in her landscape designs. A book coming out in February by the Croton resident and owner of a landscape design business in Mount Kisco will help others do the same.

Johnsen, who owns Johnsen Landscape & Pools with her husband, Rafael Algarin, has written “The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden”, a richly photographed, authoritative guide to creative and practice uses for stone in landscapes.

“I think readers will find it inspiring,’’ Johnsen said. “It opens your eyes to the many ways you can use natural stone in the garden. This includes how it can be used in sustainable landscapes. When you think about it, stone is everywhere. It’s weather proof, you can clean it with water and it’s the most durable material. We have a lot of it, especially here in Westchester County.”

Johnsen’s new book follows on the heels of her garden design book published in 2014, “Heaven is a Garden: Designing Serene Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection,” One chapter of that book is entitled “A Rock’s Resonance.”

“I’ve focused on stone and stone work in our landscape design firm for more than 30 years. It seemed like writing a book about using rocks in the garden was the natural thing to do. Who knew there would be so much to write about in terms of rocks?” Johnsen said.

Johnsen felt previous books about landscape design focused on other components, such as plants, flowers, fencing and even birds. “But there was no one out there to talk about rocks,’’ she said.

Johnsen brings a unique outlook in how rocks can be used. “People look at rocks or rock outcrops and see them as a liability,’’ she said. “I look at them as your greatest asset. Barbra Streisand got a nose job, and she made it her best asset. It’s the same thing with rocks. Why not expose more of it and make it a showpiece.”

Johnsen’s fascination with rocks extends from her New York City upbringing. “My only outdoor space was Central Park,’’ Johnsen said. “Other kids went to the carousel. I went to climb on rocks.”

She worked in Japan as a college student, and studied landscape architecture at the University of Hawaii, where she saw a lot of volcanic rock. When she returned to New York, she worked under a Versailles-trained French gardener at Mohonk Mountain House. “I even became a rock climber,’’ Johnsen said. “I’ve always had a close relationship with rocks. It never occurred to me until I started writing the book. That’s how I came to love rocks and natural stone.”

While not having any formal writing background, Johnsen has proved as adept at putting words on paper as she is in enhancing landscapes. “I’ve been writing my whole adult life,’’ she said. She wrote her first book shortly after college on hydroponics, which is the practice of gardening without soil.

She focused on writing more seriously a few years ago when she wanted to share her 45 years of landscape design knowledge. “I got to the point where I had learned so much and wanted to share it,’’ Johnsen said. “I have a need to share my passion for gardens and the natural world.”

Johnsen jotted down ideas for her first book before her regular work day began. “I’d get started at 5 a.m.,’’ she said. “My husband would ask what I’m doing, and I’d tell him I’m writing a book. He just rolled his eyes.”

When Johnsen approached publishers with her first book, they liked the concept but felt she did not have a platform to make it a success. She launched a Facebook page, “Serenity in the Garden,” and accrued more than 76,000 followers. “Publishers said OK, we can publish it now,’’ Johnsen said.

Johnsen and her landscape team make the most out of rocks in landscapes throughout Westchester County, which has an abundance of natural material with which to work. “The first thing I do is look for the ‘power spot,’’’ Johnsen said. “It’s any part of your yard that feels a little bit different than any other place. It may be the high point, it might a huge rock. I do look for large rock outcrops or boulders. They’re not going to move, so you might as well work with them.”

Johnsen hopes that if there is one main takeaway for readers from her book, it is that homeowners value rocks in their home landscape. “I’d like to inspire readers and have them play with rocks,’’ she said. “Plant around them, manipulate them, make them into a rock tower or just go out and touch them. They can be so grounding for us mentally.”Click here to pre-order the book on Amazon.com.

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