Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Wikipedia describes a cairn as a “man made pile of stones, often in a conical form.” Basically, they are a pile of rocks that are stacked one on top of another and they do look nice in a garden.

The word cairn derives from a Scottish Gaelic word. The stacking of stones goes way back to the Bronze Age where stones were often stacked on graves. Stacking of stones is and has been used as a marker in many cultures and religions.

Think back to  Ancient Greece where Hermes was once buried under a huge pile of pebbles thus creating maybe, the first cairn!

Both modern and ancient cairns or cairn-like structures can be found all over the world in practically every continent. There’s even a Scots Gaelic blessing that goes: “I’ll put a stone on your cairn.”

Four Foot Cairns off Cana Island
 Lake Michigan

Why do people build a cairn?  Sometimes stacking stones is just as simple as marking a trail, showing a direction, pointing out something of note.  Or sometimes, the meaning is as deep as to mark ones final resting place.   A homage to one who has now passed.

Cairns can be reminders of people.  In German a cairn is known as a “Steinmann” (literally “stone man”), in Inuit a cairn is called an “inunguak” (or “imitation of a person”), and in the Italian Alps cairns are known as an “Ometto” or a “small man.”

Modern day cairns can offer a creative structure and an accent for your garden.  No doubt, as you can see when you take time in viewing a well built cairn, there is a meditative and reflective quality to a stack of well-balanced stones.

Cairn in Asian Patio Garden
Gardens at Waters East

Cairn in Rock Garden
Gardens at Waters East

The stones used in the gardens were carried up from StoneWater Beach, the private beach at the shore of Gardens at Waters East.

Meditative Art

 StoneWater Beach

 StoneWater Beach

Reference Note:  For a complete list of the ten (10) Principles of Design plus the special “Golden Principle of Design” used throughout Gardens at Waters East, check out the archive postings for November 14 – 24, 2010 and May 2, 2011.


  1. The cairns are really beautiful, beautiful stones

  2. nice idea cairns for garden simple yet practical

  3. Thank you for visiting my blog! Beatiful pictures of cairns. I like them much and want to have one in my garden. They are beautiful handcrafts!

  4. We've often admired cairns and one of these days, when we're done building our little stone 'castle' I think we should work on building a cairn next.

    Wonderful photos of your beautiful gardens.

  5. Jack, I love them and make small Middle Tennessee versions of the Inuit inukshuk. Your cairns on Lake Michigan are marvelous. gail

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  7. Congratulations! I really didn't know that their Italian name was "ometto"!
    In Italian Alps they were (and sometimes they are still) used to mark trails.
    Bravo Jack! :)

  8. Jack what a fascinating story about cairns. I have learned so much. I have one at the entrance to a path in my garden...not sure why i put it there but it definitely has meaning...yours are lovely. Been away for a while but glad to be back visiting your blog...

  9. Hi there, I am visiting via your comment on my blog, nice of you to stop by :-)
    and this post reminds me, I had seen a Cairn a long time ago and wanted one in my yard, but never found the right stones. Over time I forgot about it, but thanks to your post I am on it again ;-)

    Happy Gardening,

  10. Very interesting.
    When my husband and I were in Nova Scotia we buolt a small cairn as a thank you to the hillside . They are lovely.
    I shall build one in my gardens.....I shall build a cairn.
    Thank you. It is delightful getting to know you.