If you are landscaping, a stone wall can serve as both an attractive and functional part of your yard's design. There are many potential design ideas for a stone landscaping wall, depending on the surrounding scenery.

When using walls in landscaping it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the materials do not look totally out of place. If the area being landscaped is in a part of the country where stone would need to be brought from hundreds of miles away, where there is no stone used in building, and where the field and garden divisions are hedges of hawthorn or hazel or privet – in a case like this, a stone wall would look stone landscaping wallspretentious, if not completely ridiculous. The landscape which you are creating needs to be part of the larger landscape. It can be innovative, certainly, but it should not offend the eye with its incongruence.

Landscaping walls, therefore, should be made from local materials, from local stone. As with any landscaping, the aim is that the finished project should not look in any way temporary. And stone never looks temporary!

Stone's lasting beauty is one of the landscape designer's most valuable tools. It can be used in paths, in steps, in seats, in sundials, but its most enduring and impressive use is in walls. A wall built of stone, particularly of un-mortared stone, is a direct contradiction to the hectic pace of modern life. This is something built from materials that are millions of years old. It has taken time and craftsman's skill to build and it will outlast by many, many years those who built it.

The wall need not be a boundary, although it usually is. A stone wall can be built for all sorts of innovative and exciting projects. It can enclose a corner of a garden as a sheltered sun-trap. It can divide a garden into different compartments. You can have a closed round circle of stone walling in the middle of a vast lawn, simply as a work of the craftsman's art. You can terrace a sloping garden with stone walls, as man has done since time immemorial for cultivation – the terraced hillsides of China, the terraced wine-growing slopes above the Moselle valley. Landscaping ideas, however modern they may appear, always owe something to the landscapers of the past.

The basic methods for building a stone wall seem relatively simple and it is certainly a skill that many people can master. The main principle is that the wall has two faces on the outside which slope very gradually in towards each other, and that the inside of the wall, between these two faces, must be kept tightly filled with smaller stones. Periodically a long stone, called a 'tie stone' or 'through stone' stretches right through the wall from one face to the other, locking the wall together. This business of the wall being 'locked' is the other key element. As the courses of stone are built up, insofar as it possible, stones are placed so as to prevent other stones falling out of the wall. This is how the dry-stone waller uses the many irregular-shaped stones that he works with.

Looking at the regular face of a well-built dry-stone wall, it is difficult to realise how much stone has gone into each yard of wall. The huge foundation stones are probably not even visible, for the wall starts with a trench being dug out and the foundation stones being firmly fixed in this trench. The width of the wall at the foundation is 3/5 the height of the finished wall, so that a five foot high wall has foundations a yard across.

Other very attractive landscaping features can be built into these walls. Great projecting slabs can go right through the wall to provide steps (a stile) by which you may cross it. The weight of the wall above holds them in place. In a thick retaining wall with a bank behind it, you can build stone seats into the thickness of the wall, with great slabs as the seat and regular, hand-picked stones built up to give a very smooth back. Again in a retaining wall in, for example, a terraced garden, steps can be built through the wall to the level above, narrow steps, broad steps, any size or shape of step.

The great cope stones that top the wall can be jagged and upright and of a variety of heights, which works well with a free-standing wall, or they can be great flat slabs to walk along on a retaining wall. Either way, they should be wider than the width of the top, so that they overhang the wall by a couple of inches, shadowing the top portion of the wall. The copes not only protect the wall from the weather and, by force of gravity, help to hold it stable, they also complete the art form