Stone Walls-simple beauty or hardscape

drtygrlFebruary 18, 2012

Sometimes purely by coincidence, I end up with several similar projects going into a season. This year, I have three projects which involve designing a planting for in front of a stone wall entrance to a house or development.

New hampshire is know for its beautiful stone walls; from farmers walls to dry lay formal walls to Lew French's artistic sculptural walls (ok he's from mass, but Nh is a wholly owned subsidiary). It is very common for houses to have stone walls out front with low pillars and sometimes a farm gate.

The question I have is this: If you have a beautiful stone wall entrance to your drive, do you really want to landscape in front of it? My instinct is that the wall is beautiful on its own.

My clients feel that the walls need softening with plantings.

Its not exactly a burning issue, but what I am mulling over right now. And it can be discussed without pictures. (If it will help, I do have some pictures of other similar projects - but I am not really asking for help with these three projects, just thoughts on the subject).

Actually you can talk about anything you want on this thread, hijack it if you want, as long as we don't have to fight about stuff any more!

Here is a link that might be useful: Artisitic Stone work

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drtygrl, to answer the basic question you ask here, my thought is that it is not necessary to cover up with plantings anything that already looks good. However, good-looking things sometimes can look a little naked. Selectively adding a touch of plantings can provide a "nestled in" look and make something look like it's been there forever. Sometimes an edge of something might need to be barely covered. If a stone wall IS beautiful, I think minimal planting is better than maximal.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:11AM
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I'm with you 100%, drtygrl. Don't you find that monolithic stones and walls can stand alone in the landscape whilst plants in general
need something like rocks to highlight their beauty? But then, I'm sure that there will always be somebody who would prefer to see petunias planted at Stonehenge to "pretty" it up...

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:14AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I think the answer is 'it depends' :-) How tall is the wall? How 'finished' is it - e.g. rough cut stone dry laid, or dressed stone mortared together? How much space is in front of it? and so on...

From trips to England years ago, I came away with the feeling that one of the things that makes English gardens different from North American ones was the prevalence of brick and stone walls in the garden. They made wonderful backdrops for the gardens - so much better than wooden fences.

On the whole, I think a bare stone or brick wall looks rather stark so I'd be inclined to plant in front of it and/or have things that extend over it or drape down it if the space is sufficent to do so.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:28AM
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I think I'm mostly in agreement with Yarvaark. A beautiful stone wall begs to be a focal point in the landscape. But like a fine painting, it needs a frame. Without the frame it just doesn't look right.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:33AM
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More questions than answers makes for a lively discussion. For me a stone wall serves a practical purpose and should be part of the background not the centre of attention. None of this is meant to encourage shoddy work or poorly chosen stone which in my opinion should be vernacular or at least in keeping with the vernacular. The walls woody is talking about are part of the whole but if you want to see stones that serve a different purpose, that is to stand out, then you should visit Avebury in Wiltshire. A well built wall of local stone doesn't need decorating although moss stuck in some joints will help it look less new. If on the other hand the purpose of the design is to juxtapose hard and soft (stone and plant)in an artistic arrangement that is a different story.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:55AM
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LOL adrienne- pretty sure that is exactly what stonehenge is missing - petunias.

The walls I am working with are 3 feet tall with 5 foot tall pillars. Two have gates, one doesn't. All three are entrances to driveways. They are all formal dry lay walls no cap.

Do you think the argument is all that different than the foundation planting argument? Does the wall NEED to be anchored to the surrounding environment? Or framed?

I am actually leaning towards the framing idea, because regardless of my opinion, my customers want the walls landscaped.

I know I promised no pics, but I changed my mind - these are from a project I did a few years ago. The first two are a 5 foot retaining wall which is softened at the base with daffodils and hosta and softened at the top with tulips and day lilies. The second one is a planting bed which was put in by another designer at the same property, but we have since removed and put in grass. In the first case, I like the softening of the wall on both sides, in the second case, I felt like simplicity was the way to go.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 12:23PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I was envisioning something taller from your initial comments :-) 3' is barely a hiccup! I'd be inclined to have the plantings behind the wall, letting them peek over the top, sort of like the ones behind the wall near the house in the last picture above - although I don't like the rounded-mound look of those ones. Something upright or arching, maybe with one or more small ornamental trees too would be better I think. Having something behind the wall but showing above it would 'soften' the look and add some anticipation for approaching visitors, while the unadorned wall (maybe with moss and lichen on it) facing out would show off the beauty of the stonework. A best-of-both-worlds solution...?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 12:55PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

As entry walls that are already framing the driveway entry, I'd be inclined to use only low plantings at the front, with any height limited to seasonal wispy accents such as Deschampsia caespitosa or Muhlenbergia capilaris or Verbena bonariensis for some summer/fall plant interest that adds a spark of color or foliage while yet keeping the stone fully visible. Any larger shrubs or trees to "nest" the wall within the overall landscape would be restricted to the back/sides of the wall as seen from the street.

As I usually can't really pull off a completely minimalist approach myself, I'd probably also be tempted to add one accent shrub with spectacularly showy berries for contrast with that stone when all else in the way of blooms and foliage was past, such as a Callicarpa or something similar if hardy to your zone. Large expanses of stone walls are a definite luxury here due to cost and la k of freely available rock supply; one reason I usually stick with concrete or wood for the same sorts of landscape elements.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 1:59PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Speaking as someone from a small town in east RI which is known for its dry stone walls, I think a good wall can stand alone. However, an accent shrub or vine (for example, a clematis where the high endpost is set) can look good. I don't like the effect of a whole line of short flowering shrubs in front of the wall. But sometimes it is practical to plant some shrubs on the outside (street side) of the wall in order to keep drivers from parking there or from hitting the wall.

Those high brick walls around English gardens often were originally the walls around the manor's kitchen garden. Today they are exquisite backdrops for roses and perennials.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 2:36PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I love the beauty of a well crafted stone wall and can celebrate its strength of beauty without any plants around it.

But there is usually a composition to be considered and that's when plants can lend a supporting roles in making the lead player ( the stone wall ) even more aesthetically viabale than it would be if it was left on its own.

I am particularily drawn to the New England hand wrought rock wall photos above due to the ephemeral nature of the planting choice.
Some lucky person is able to see the stone wall in all its beauful stripped to the bone craftsmanship during the dormant season and then when spring comes along the wall changes with the addition of the bright colored tulips, adding a finge of greenery at the base of the stone. Pure New England beauty.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 2:36PM
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Love these points:
-berries and certain blooms accent the stone by providing contrast.

- half the year you can enjoy a plain stone wall as long as you use perennials as opposed to shrubs

-'nesting' the wall with plantings from behind

I should have specified the size initially; in more suburban areas one would probably be more likely to have a tall wall for privacy.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:21AM
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In the last picture, I'd much prefer the wall without a planting bed at its base - but might plant ramonda or stonecrops in the crevices, just a little sprinkling of green here and there.
The tulips are nice and so are the bulbs below the wall - better as a patch than as a continuous row.
I planted a few nasturtiums on top of my own wall this spring, well what do you think, in August I couldn't see the wall any more! So when in doubt, it's good to try nasturtiums first.
Will try to take pictures of neighborhood walls next summer.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 8:32AM
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I would love to see them timbu!

I will try to post pictures of the projects I mentioned when they are done and see what y'all think. (its mardi gras today - I just had to throw it in...)

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 10:48AM
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Though plantings can be added, I think in most instances a well done stone wall looks best without the "distractions" of plants.

I was lucky enough to have the PO install a beautiful stone wall, which we are trying to keep as exposed visually as possibly throughout various areas in the yard. The patio I will be adding will have a 12-18" of exposed concrete, which would be UGLY!!! Since there was always a planned planting area in front of this area, we can avoid the MAJOR extra expense of an additional stone wall by placing new plantings . My motto is accentuate the positive and hide/disguise the negative.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 12:11AM
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