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Stonescaping Muskoka

Lakeside or inland, it’s all about the view

A successful landscaping project needs to meet two goals: it has to be beautiful in all seasons, and it has to be functional.

It sounds simple, but it rarely is.

“We’re never working with a blank canvas,” says Collin Dunnett, owner of Stonescaping Muskoka. “Flat, level lots just don’t exist in Muskoka – and that’s a good thing. Sure, it can be a challenge, but it also lets us create something that is truly spectacular.”

Achieving that often means working with steep slopes, narrow ledges, hidden rock faces and more. Creating a beautiful landscape on these sites – while respecting and working with the land – takes creative thinking, skill, and more than a little flexibility.

A project Stonescaping Muskoka completed last year is a case in point.

Enhancing the view
For starters, there was no lake to be seen. That’s not unknown: while the company is best known for their waterfront work, not all of their projects are on the lakes. This home is located in the woods, but many of the same design principles apply.

“You always want to take advantage of the view, or make one if there isn’t one,” Collin says. That can mean sweeping vistas out over the water, or a subtle path that hints at delights to be found around the next bend – it’s a matter of working with what the land gives you.

In this case, the home has a lovely view out over a pond. Or rather, it would have a view, if the trees weren’t quite so thick. “The trees were nice, but they were growing right up to the house,” says Collin. “There’s a gorgeous pond out there, but you could barely see it. And the back yard was so shaded it actually felt quite dark.”

The first step was some judicious tree removal, taking out what was necessary to turn the back yard into more useable space.

Then it was time to focus on the topography.

A flexible vision
The first step is to visualize the end result – something Collin has been doing for his entire career. The bigger challenge is adapting the vision when the land doesn’t do what you expect.

“You can draw up all the plans you want, but until you start to dig, you really don’t know what you’ll find. It could be deep, rich earth, or you might hit bedrock two feet below the surface.”

On this property, there was both: excavating the yard revealed plenty of good soil, but it also uncovered a long ridge of stone running roughly parallel to the house.

“This is where you have to decide if the stone is an obstacle or an asset,” says Collin. “Whenever possible, we would much rather treat it as an asset.”

By scraping the earth away and washing the stone, Collin and his crew created a stunning backdrop to a fire pit and seating area.

The earth that was removed could be repurposed on site, creating gentle slopes and level areas. “We didn’t need to remove any material from the site – it all stayed. It was just rearranged a bit,” Collin says with a grin.

Creating the flow
The team built a series of staircases and pathways leading from the house to various parts of the property, including the pool located some 15 feet below house level. The effect is to create a series of journeys for the property owner. Step down from the deck, and if you go to the right, you are at the hot tub. Go left, and there’s a gently curving staircase leading to another branch: right to the pool, straight ahead to a dining area, or left to a fireside seating area.

“It lets people move through the property, seeing the views change as they move around it,” says Collin.

All the work was completed using slabs of smooth granite. “There’s really nothing like granite for this kind of project,” Collin says. “It lasts forever, and it looks fantastic.”

The same material was used at the front of the house to create a smaller pathway to the door. This one was flanked with some massive rounded boulders – almost as a tribute to the source material for the pathways.

“I always want our projects to have a sense of place,” says Collin. “We are surrounded by rock in Muskoka. Let’s celebrate that in our landscapin



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