Cairns Inspiration for the Garden

Cairns for the garden inspiration

image of Ill Bell Cairn by Roantrum

Yesterday I received an email from a woman at Raytheon inquiring about mini cairns to be used at corporate gifts.   I hope I was able to help by forwarding her along to an irish sculptor, a pebble artist and a stone specialist.   But I have to tell you the whole thing was a bit strange, as unknown by this contact, I used to work for Raytheon and the irony of being contacted by them after many years but in a completely different capacity was not lost on me.  I helped them build F-18 flight simulators and later software to fly commercial satellites, now I help them create mini cairn art for corporate gifts. An odd commentary about my own life path.

Cairn inspiration for the garden

image by …escher…

So besides thinking about the personal road I have traveled,  I started thinking about garden sized cairns.  Their uses and origins intrigue me. Wikipedia has some great information about their history.  The first was said to have been created when Greek gods Hera and Hermes had an argument that was put before a jury.  The jury heard the sides and then were instructed to throw a stone at the person that they did not believe, and Hera ended up not only loosing but was entombed in a pile of pebbles.

stacked stone cairn by escher land art

image by …escher…

In more recent history, cairns have been built to ensconce the dead, mark mountain summits and hiking trails and to give directions to walkers, native American and Norse hunters and seafarers.  They are also the foundation of artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Shilling of Land Art Blog, or they can simply be a place where a farmer might have cleared a piece of land and interestingly piled the stones.

Mysterious stone cairn with square window near ithaca fall ithaca ny

Mysterious Stone Cairn with square window near Ithaca Falls, in Ithaca, NY by flickrfanmk2007

In a large garden it would be fun to create cairns at the far ends of paths as the result of a slow build up of carrying a single stones down the path to stack with each garden visit.  In small gardens, stacked stones can be a beautiful piece of garden art or a focal point.

mini cairns by Lenny and Meriel

Mini cairns by Lenny&Meriel

I think this must be what my old friends at Raytheon must be thinking they would like to create.  They are beautiful and I suppose that now I know a bit more about them, to be given one of these would be a very nice gift.

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.


  1. michelle d. on September 24, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I think that it is very fitting idea that a cairn would be given out as gifts at Raytheon , though with all it’s layoffs in the past few years I find it odd that they would spring for these gifts when they have cut many jobs.

    I never worked at Raytheon but several members of my extended family and friends who live in Massachusetts spent their lives working at Raytheon as engineers, computer programmers, secretaries and mechanics.
    It was ,and perhaps still is, a wonderful place to have a career.

  2. louise garwood on September 26, 2009 at 11:24 am

    You might enjoy:
    Dan Snow of Vermont does wonderful dry laid stone work. If you havent seen his work check out his blog and books.

  3. Helen on September 29, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I have been watching, on Knowledge Network, a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy. He works with such infinite patience. If you can see this film it’s an amazing inside look at this type of sculpture.

    • rochelle on September 30, 2009 at 5:11 pm

      not sure I get knowledge network …need to check into that, what is the name of the show, does andy’s name appear in the title or is titled something else?

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