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No Stone Left Unturned

Perched above an abandoned granite quarry, this garden has rock sculptures and perennials, vegetables and a place to meditate.
granite stone sculpture

Odd pieces of granite come together in a stone sculpture.

The architecture of this garden—with “rooms” devoted to flowers, birds, water features, vegetables, and leisure—was created from the granite quarried here a century and more ago. Rockport, the northern tip of Cape Ann in Massachusetts, was a center of the granite industry. Dave and Nan Araneo live in an artsy 1970s house that was built within the massive walls of what was originally an ox barn dating to 1830. (Oxen hauled blocks of granite from the quarry to schooners at the docks.)

rock sculpture, water feature

A water feature that doubles as a rock sculpture in the Araneos' stone garden in Rockport, Mass. 

“Digging here is like an archaeological dig,” Dave says. Nan explains that only a percentage of what was quarried was sold, so the yard has “treasure troves, piles and piles of cut and natural stone” left over from the quarry.

The 1970s owner, an antiques dealer, also built a Japanese teahouse; it’s used as a guest room. When the Araneos arrived, they found a dramatic courtyard in the space between the granite walls and the house. The couple added a kitchen wing and built an adjoining granite patio from huge, flat stones that had been the barn floor.

The yard was wild and overgrown. “We are both passionate gardeners,” Nan says, “so it was exciting when we got to know what we had to work with.” Dave and Nan created a spectacular vegetable garden surrounded by granite walls. They grow bamboo, then use the stalks to weave trellises and teepees for cucumbers, green beans, raspberries, and other vines. After vacationing in Italy, they were inspired to install a mosaic walk composed of granite pieces and shards collected during demolitions.

Dave is especially proud of his water features (four so far). In one, water sheets over a large, round ball of granite; another has piled rocks over which water flows and delights the birds—birds that “eat the bugs,” Dave explains. “I like to show clients that they can have water in their gardens without creating a pond.”

“Dave does the stonework and I choose the plants,” Nan says. “I like to say that Dave creates each garden, and I color it in!”

The large moon gate, built of unmortared granite blocks, was an early project. It’s been here since 1996.

The large moon gate, built of unmortared granite blocks, was an early project. It’s been here since 1996.

Art & Science of the Moon Gate
Dave Araneo collects rocks—more specifically, unusual specimens that can be used as hardscape, rock sculptures, and garden features. He finds them on his property and through his professional work doing landscape design and construction, site development, walls, patios, and so on. At home, he has erected walls, walkways, and freestanding art, including four water features and two moon gates.

One of the first structures was a large moon gate, erected in 1996. “It’s is one of the oldest technologies around,” he says. “You build a wood form, place the stones to either side, and build up. Then you finish with a keystone and remove the form. There is a wonderful energy to these structures.”

This earlier, larger moon gate features cut stone. More recently, Dave constructed a smaller one using flat pieces of natural, uncut stone. “I used a garbage can for the form, then kicked it out. It has survived storms . . . it may even survive grandchildren!”

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