Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Flat Surface Does Not a Garden Make

A flat surface is a farm. The difference between Suzy Homemaker’s flower bed and a fabulous landscape design company has a lot to do with elevation and grade changes. For example, when we look at nature and call it beautiful, what we are seeing are grade and elevation changes in the ground plane. Similarly we are seeing changes with plant material. We’re also seeing formal vs. “wild” landscape elements. If the scenery is too far in one direction or another, generally we don’t like it, and prefer a tasteful mix of the wild and the formal landscape.

This display garden pictured was built with a dry stack technique shown in the pictures below.

Take a long drive through the countryside on a fall day. Beneath the colorful, swirling leaves, you will see solid stone buildings and farm walls that date back to more than one hundred years ago.

Most of these were built by hand, using a simple, but sturdy, method of construction called dry stack.

(Joseph is pictured with a heavy rock moved to the area for the dry stacking of the display garden.)

Dry stack is a method of building that uses natural stone without cement or concrete.

Stones are carefully selected and placed in an interlocking pattern so the wall supports itself.

For our colonial ancestors, the advantages of this technique were that it took few tools and it utilized the rocks that they found in their fields as they ploughed.

While you may not worry about such things, dry stack stone construction does offer a number of advantages today, including:

Durability: Because they don't use mortar of any kind, dry stack stone walls conform to, and can settle with, the earth when it shifts—they are more resistant to earthquakes than brittle mortar. This makes them particularly appropriate for terraces and retaining walls.

Water Drainage: The small spaces in between the stones allow water to move through freely, so ice will not become trapped inside and cause frost heave during the winter, and that's good news since ice forms in zone 6.

Dry stack walls do not require a stiff concrete footing, which saves labor and material expense, and means that they fit practically anywhere.

Ease of Repair: If your dry stack stone wall does become damaged, you can re-use the same materials, which saves labor and money when compared to mortared walls.

(Pictured are the strong men working together to safely move these big rocks into place.)

Good Looks: Finally, a dry stack wall gives your property a classic, rustic look, makes great use of existing natural resources, and complements the environment around it.

Tradition: Think of it this way: dry stacking was good enough for the Egyptians when they build the pyramids, the Peruvians when they built Machu Picchu, and was used in countless other ancient structures. Your own dry stack wall can be a part of this great heritage!

Drystack is tricky. Some rules can never be broken like, the wall you are building must always tilt ever so slightly into the terrain. Another rule is that each 'course' (layer of stone) needs to be 'stratified' not stacked.

Stacking is when you pile stones of the same size on top eachother. It looks horrible. Stratifying stone has the impact of naturalizing the appearance. The tighter and more like puzzle pieces these fit, the more amzin' the efx.

Each course can include 1-2 sub courses but ALL courses need to be level. (Example pictured above.)

Furthermore, if your wall is going up or down a hill, you need to STAY level or perpindicular to the slope from which you are ascending or descending, as opposed to tilting the stone to follow the slope.

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