Wild Nature

Keith Stone rests on a fieldstone sitting wall equipped with landscape lighting he recently completed on Peabody Pond in Sebago.
A close-up view of the wall showcases its puzzle-like precision.
On Cumberland Foreside, a fieldstone wall retains a dining patio.
The Sebago property includes a 1,000-square-foot granite flagstone patio with creeping thyme planted between the slabs.
The Cumberland project features a Techo-Bloc wall, patio, fire pit, and grill surround.
The Cumberland project features a Techo-Bloc wall, patio, fire pit, and grill surround.
The Cumberland project features a Techo-Bloc wall, patio, fire pit, and grill surround.
In Sebago, the natural stone wall and steps “create the feeling of a walking path that has existed for centuries,” says Stone.

Keith Stone, founder of Pinnacle Landscape and Design, has discovered a simple way to pursue his various interests, from native plants to international travel

The night before Keith Stone was to return to his position as an environmental engineer, he received a phone call. He had just taken a sabbatical and was prepared to start work the next morning, but his boss was calling for another reason. Stone was getting laid off. After he hung up, he looked over at his wife, Maggie, who was sitting on the couch next to him and had heard the whole thing. Her face was filled with empathy. “That was the best phone call I’ve received in a long time,” he told her.

Although Stone had been working at a local consulting firm for three years, and although he had received a degree in civil engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts with the intention of pursuing a related career, life had shown him that an office job wasn’t truly what he wanted. After taking four months off to travel around South America, Stone realized that perhaps he isn’t an indoor person—perhaps he needs a little more freedom than the average desk job can offer. He recalled wistfully the summers he spent working for a landscaping company in New Hampshire between college semesters. “One day, a few months after I had been laid off, I said to Maggie, ‘I really liked working landscaping,’ and she said to me, ‘Keith, I know. You say that a lot.’” And so, with a little nudge from his wife, in May 2010 he decided to start his own landscaping company.

Now, six years later, Stone owns and operates Pinnacle Landscape and Design out of Cumberland and Portland, specializing in large-scale landscaping projects that emphasize native plants and stone. He frequently uses his background in civil engineering to execute ambitious designs, calling upon his knowledge of grades and slopes, foundations and excavations. It isn’t the career he prepared for as a college student, but it’s the career that works best with his nomadic lifestyle.

“I’ve always been fascinated with travel. It’s no less true now than when I was 16,” says Stone. In high school, he spent time in Germany, and in college he lived in Hong Kong for several months. He’s traveled extensively around South America, from the sprawling vineyards of Argentinian wine country to the sleepy fishing villages of Uruguay. “I know people say this a lot,” he says of his stay in South America, “but it really was life changing.” It taught him how to be independent, how to spend time alone, and “how to trust that people are fundamentally good. I was vulnerable, and I had to trust in others to help me when I needed it.” These days, Stone no longer jets off alone. He recently returned from a month-long trip to Puerto Rico, where he, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter and two-month-old son experienced the pleasures of an extended vacation.

The seasonal nature of landscaping allows Stone to work from April to December and then travel during the off months. Since founding Pinnacle, he has been to Turkey, Thailand, Cambodia, Guatemala, and Panama. He has also spent time working in Ethiopia with the nonprofit humanitarian organization Engineers Without Boarders, helping lay the groundwork for a series of school buildings (complete with an edible garden) that will enable a rural village to better educate its next generation of youngsters. “The off-season gives me not only time for travel, but time to work toward things I believe in,” says Stone. Using his background in engineering and landscaping, he oversaw the grading of a soccer field and playground. “The ultimate goal is to help supervise the construction of the first buildings, and teach the locals how to build the rest,” he explains.

Stone remains similarly focused on the big picture for his business, which he has streamlined by working on only one or two projects at a time. “The benefit of being a smaller company is that I’ll be the first face the client sees. I’ll be there for the entire design process, and I’m there for the follow-up,” he says. As of now, he is not pursing rapid growth. “I want to build my company organically and deliberately. Consistency builds success.”

It also helps build a portfolio of reliably beautiful landscape designs. For a recent project in South Portland, Stone crafted a patio from custom, two-inch-thick slabs of local granite from J.C. Stone in Jefferson. Encircling the patio is a low wall composed of irregularly shaped ledgestone from an excavation site in Freeport. Stone caught wind of the striking golden color of the bedrock and had it transported to South Portland. Two native plants, mountain laurel and bayberry, surround the hardscaping. The result is a backyard sanctuary that feels completely in line with the natural landscape of the state.

Another project in Sebago includes a 1,000-square-foot granite flagstone patio with creeping thyme planted between the slabs, creating what Stone calls “a living floor.” Around the patio, paper bark maples, hemlocks, ostrich and maidenhair ferns, and hostas converge in a wild, lush garden that references the nearby forest. “I don’t like busy beds or too many plants crowding for space. That’s not how nature grows,” says Stone. “I always try to keep it simple.”

This tactic has paid off, both in landscaping and in a life carefully crafted for pursuing his passions.

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