Huge project... completed!

karin_mt(4 MT)August 23, 2014

Hello garden friends,

Well, it's a cold (49 degrees) rainy weekend here, so I'm not outside as I'd normally be. But I have a landmark event to share, which is the completion of a 3 year stone wall building project. Bear with me, I have photos throughout the whole process, some of which I've posted here before. But now that it's all the way done, it's neat to see the whole process.

Before. Pre-construction. This was a nice little wall I built with shady plants on the north side of the house. All was well with the world.

October 2011. The first day of a remodel of our house. About half the pre-existing garden was removed to make way for a new garage stall.

May 2012. The construction was done and left a steep slope in the side yard. I decided to build a rock wall to retain the slope. How hard could it be? I ordered about 3 tons of rock and got to work.

July 10, 2012

July 15, 2012

August 14, 2012. I blew through the original 3 tons and ordered more. I was so into it I took a week off work to just devote all my energy to the wall.

August 18, 2012. The first big part of the wall is nearing completion. I decided to put stairs through the wall, but opted to use concrete blocks for that part. DH, who is the man in charge when things actually need to be level and square, built the steps.
Oh that is our formerly white cat Pearl, enjoying a dust bath at the foot of the wall.

Aug 25, 2012. After another 1.5 tons of rock, I started on the upper wall/terrace that would contain a little shade garden along the side of the new garage.

Aug 29, 2012. The rocks in this upper wall were cast-offs from a stonemason. Note this corner piece, which is already shaped like a corner. How clever is that?

Sept 4, 2012. Approaching 7 tons into the wall so far. I had no idea it was going to be this huge. The grey/white blur near the middle of the photo is our 2 cats enjoying a chase.
I've started moving plants in. Daylilies along the outer edge and hostas and heuchera next to the building.

May 2013. The wall did not fall down over the winter! I resumed work on it in May, first by rebuilding the front edge, which was terribly insufficient and showed that I had no sense of the ultimate scale of the wall when I started.

June 2013. The first part of the wall and path, now complete, provide motivation for Phase II.

July 13, 2013. Another 1.5 tons of rock delivered. The guys at the rock yard have no idea what to make of my steady need for "refills."

July 20, 2013. A fresh batch of rock always spurs fast progress at first.

Aug. 8, 2013. I paused work on the wall to get the rest of the place ready for the garden tour. I'd hoped to be finished in time for the tour, but I didn't want to rush it. So, visitors got to see the wall in progress, which all the guys seemed to like.

Sept 12, 2013. With 2 corners on this section, it was really hard to come up with pieces that were the right size. I took the plunge and bought my first power tool so I could cut rocks. STAND BACK!

Sept 30, 2013. Oh yeah, baby. I had way too much fun with the power tool. I can't imagine any other way of getting the last pieces to fit together.

Sept 30 again. Proud moment! The bulk of the work is done, the wall is complete. Still some edging and path work to do for next year.

Aug 2014. The daylily row has come into its own. DH loves orange daylilies, and this whole part of the yard is planted with his favorite plants, since it borders his workshop.

Aug 2014. The home stretch. Installation of the rest of the path (tested here by Pearl cat), and lawnmower/tool storage area. Oh, and next to the house is the original wall and garden that was not removed by the construction.

Aug 2014. Path is made of 24" by 24" pavers. The rain barrel is sweet because there is no spigot nearby, so now I can water easily.

For the first time in 3 years you can walk easily from front yard to back!

The whole shebang.

The whole shebang from the front, with the rest of the remodel visible. Seriously, I cannot believe I built this!

That's the end of the tour. Thanks for looking!

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You are amazing and I am VERY impressed!! wow! Great job.....You should be very proud. :)

I love the look and enjoyed seeing the pics of the process.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 12:45PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

brilliant ...

thats a lot of stone hauling ... doesnt it seem such a great idea.. until you have moved your 100th piece.. your second hundred.. lol ... it usually ends with some comment to yourself.. NEVER AGAIN .. lol .. but then a year or two down the line.. you are thinking.. hmmm.. maybe i should do that.. over here ...

that deck over the garage fascinates me.. and makes me wonder what the view is ... must be sublime ... for architectural steel girders and all ...

put the two together.. you guys dont do anything in a small way eh .... lol ... many peeps would have just put in a window... lol ...

what happened to the vast array of diverse plants in pic one????

isnt it fine.. when a plan comes together ...

congrats ...


ps: snow in the forecast in the next week?????

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 12:47PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Congratulations on finishing your stone wall and the path. I also am impressed with your perseverance and wall building ability. Looks great.This gal would have also been interested to see the wall in progress during your garden tour. Thanks for sharing the progress in photos. If I were 20 years younger it would motivate me to build a wall somewhere.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 1:21PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Fabulous - I love rock walls and that is a super one! You must be very fit - or crippled! - by now :-) How did your back (and hands/arms) hold up to moving tons and tons of rock?! Before - during - after photo-stories are always fun to see.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 1:54PM
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Karen, your wall is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience and the evolution of the wall. I, like Ken, think your balcony is super cool as well.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 1:56PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thank you!

Mnwsgal, you are right, some women did like seeing the "guts" of the wall, but those who were looking for flowers (particularly the garden tour committee) walked right on past it.

Ken, your assessment is spot on. We do like to do things all-in. The balcony is off of our office, which was revamped during the project. We both work from home and spend a lot of hours up there, so we wanted to make it appealing to go to work. Now, during conference calls, my eye wanders out the window and wonders how the snow is doing...

All of the plants in the first photo were replanted in the new bed along the garage. Worked out great because I don't think I bought a single plant for the whole project. (no, wait, I did, but only out of lust, not need)

As for lifting 100 rocks, a few times each rock... sadly I seem to be addicted to that part of the process too. I don't know what's wrong with me. The next stone project begins in a week or so. Just went to the rock yard yesterday to peruse ideas. So excited! It will be a lot smaller in scope - just about 1 ton of rock, but probably a lot of cutting.

Snow is in the forecast for tonight, btw. And here is the view from the balcony, in a photo taken April 29.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:01PM
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mjc_molie(z6 CT)

Oh, yes! Beautiful stonework, especially because you created it. I really enjoyed seeing all the steps and changes along the way. I think the type of stone and linear design really complement the remodeled style of your home ..... I remember the original look of your house. Show it again???

I'm in there with Henn MN.... this is great motivation .... for a younger soul.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:06PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Oh, and Woody, I am not crippled yet. I am very careful and aware of how I move when I'm carrying these heavy slabs. You sort of plan it out before you do it. It's methodical, slow, and premeditated. No brute force! Sometimes I do get excited and I have to really remind myself to not be careless.

Although, with one of the really big capstone rocks, I was doing just that, moving it so carefully, got it eased into place and stood up proudly, thinking that this is not such risky work after all... when I noticed a black widow spider that I had transported along with the rock. Oh the irony, to be bitten by the small stuff when focused on the big stuff.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:08PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thank you Molie, my whole intent was to make this wall crisp and tidy to go with the new style of the house. That particular rock worked nicely for that purpose, and it's locally-sourced as well, so it's not too pricey.

Before. More "cottage" style.

After. More contemporary.
Not to mention much more productive for our work lives. DH works out of the shop in the garage too, so, for example, that row of 3 new windows makes life a lot better for him in the wintertime!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:54PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i figured it had that view ... to be worth the effort...

snow.. eh???...

good luck with that... lol


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:20PM
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arlene_82(zone 6 OH)

Your garden wall and home are beautiful! Thank you for sharing your step-by-step process.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:36PM
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myrmayde(5b Western Montana)

Karin, I admire your perseverance and design sense. It's gorgeous, and so is your view. Thanks for putting it together into an interesting photo essay.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:46PM
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Wow, what a lot of work, and your efforts have paid off beautifully!

Heard about your weather too - I am in Dallas with day after day of around 100 with it in the 90's late in the evening, not the best gardening weather! Lived in Montana during high school (Missoula and West Glacier) - such beautiful country.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 5:24PM
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Oh my…I am so impressed…beyond words. You have created a wonderful space and I appreciate your sharing it with us. Yip-ee, great job!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 5:25PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Fantastic job, you should be very proud of yourself.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:47PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

"those who were looking for flowers (particularly the garden tour committee) walked right on past it."

Shortsighted on the garden tour committee members IMO. We here all know that gardening is so much more than just the flowers.

Your home transformation is also amazing, very contemporary.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:57PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Great job! I love all the photos and thanks for posting them. I love a good before and after story.

The clean and sunny look seems to fit in much better with the open mountain view, nice change and great vision. I'm not sure if that sounds like a compliment, but it's supposed to be!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 8:43AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Just beautiful Karin! Beautiful! You should be very proud of yourself.

I LOVE the stone! Here in New England there are stone walls EVERYWHERE (except on my property. :( Sheesh, they crisscross the middle of the woods, but none in my yard. Most of the neighbors have one, but not me. Have been thinking for years of building one, but no funds....) Anyway, started to say that lots of the New England walls use found stone and many therefore use round and irregular stones, which are nice enough, but I've always loved the walls built with the flatter stones, so I just love yours.

Congrats on the perserverance, and on the finished product! I'm sure you will get much enjoyment out of it!


    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 9:12AM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thank you - you guys are very nice and supportive.

And I need to report that there is indeed fresh snow in the peaks this morning. But no one is complaining because we got a really nice dose of moisture and normally this time of year we're surrounded by wildfires. This year has been excellent.

Kato, I know what you mean about the house. That's right where we were aiming for. The original house was cute and all, but not quite a fit. This design works much better with the larger landscape - even the front porch (sans railing) is way better. Who knew!

Dee, we moved here from upstate NY so fieldstone walls are part of our landscape vocabulary too. I built a wall like that in the front yard our second summer here, which is understated and nestles right into the ground. If you have wall-building aspirations, I would imagine you could come up with some fieldstones for not too much money since they are so common? Like, isn't there someone who would want them taken away from their pasture or yard? Or does everyone covet them to build a little wall or border?

I'll just say - stacking rocks is satisfying in a profound, primitive way. Even a small accent, border, birdbath, etc can be fun and rewarding. So don't discount the idea due to budget or brute strength. Plus, since there is no mortar and nothing permanent, you can stack and re-stack until you are pleased with your result. Pretty forgiving for the DIYer!

If I ever get the garden around the front porch dialed I'll do a before/after of that one too. It's been another interesting experiment in transforming styles.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 10:49AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

did i miss the answer ...

what happened to the glorious mix of previous perennials ...

and why did you go all daylily on the wall ...

have you ever considered mini conifers.. i dont have time now.. but i will show you my wall some day .. hopefully soon ...


    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 11:04AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Fantastic! I am so impressed you did that yourself!

With that spectacular view out of the office, I doubt I'd get any work done...

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 12:12PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Mxk, right - the distraction factor is actually pretty great up in the office. A quick decompress out on the balcony does wonders for productivity. (The hammock up there, not so much!)

Ken, yes, I did answer your question. The original plants are all still there, either in the pre-existing shady bed or in the new version of the shady bed which is right next to the building. Those are all shade-lovers so they can only grow right next to the house.

In the big wall we went with all daylilies because mostly that's what DH wants and loves, because daylilies do very well here with minimal fuss, and because I actually wanted a sort of clean, "monochrome" look here as opposed to something more varied and busy. (We have plenty of diversity elsewhere in the yard.) We have a row of giant alliums in May which also works very well here.

I am intrigued with dwarf conifers though. In the back gardens I have been adding some and really loving them. I can definitely imagine heading in that direction over time. I agree they work well with walls and other stone accents. Do show off your collection the next time you have a cold rainy day with nothing better to do!

Ken, I do have a question about my hostas in the new shady bed, but that's a topic for another thread - I can post that over in the hosta forum.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 12:29PM
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Well done! I remember previous posts of the project in process, and really appreciate you posting the project overview and final results. I really like the transformation.

The views from the house are gorgeous as well.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 7:43AM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

Wow really, really nice. I especially love the stone mason left over corner.

Stone wall building gets really addicting, especially after you start discovering how much easier it is to weed raised beds too.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 9:18AM
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Such great ideas and design!! Will show the hubby for future reference. all that hard work paid off, I'd say! Thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 4:58PM
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Very, very nice.

I commend you for all your HARD work with such an AWESOME outcome...great job!!

Love your view!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 8:29PM
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mjc_molie(z6 CT)

Thanks, Karin, for posting the before photo of your house and especially for providing that balcony view! Now that I see your house in relationship to its environment, the transformation makes even more sense. The new, clean modern design acknowledges ... in a clear and bold way .... that this building belongs with those mountains.

I don't mean this as an insult, but the original facade was a bit insular ... it pulled the viewer inward to the home instead of outward to the mountains. That original design would work well here (a small city) where sometimes one's view is not too spectacular.... you know.... just of your neighbor's homes across the street.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2014 at 4:17AM
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'karin', I echo many others in this thread...excellent transformation. I love seeing the "bigger picture" as shown in these photos.

Has it been mentioned here whether you choose to install any sort of landscape lighting at the same time while doing this large renovation...when everything was exposed?

    Bookmark   August 29, 2014 at 5:49AM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thanks Rouge!

Nope, no landscape lighting. It's not really our thing, and also this is in the side yard where it wouldn't serve much practical purpose. But I bet it would look cool with the stonework though!

    Bookmark   August 29, 2014 at 10:29AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Beautiful area, beautiful home, awesome stonework! Inspiring, too. Congratulations on a wonderful job.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2014 at 10:38AM
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paul_(z5 MI)

EXCELLENT job, Karin! That really looks great! (Though my back gets tired just thinking about moving all those rocks. heh)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 1:20PM
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sherrygirl zone5

Wow, what a project! Kudos to you it is gorgeous. If I were younger I would think about trying that. That is think! Great job!


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 8:11PM
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BEAUTIFUL! Congrats, Karin! It looks amazing. So, when are you coming here to renovate this place!? ;-) Looks amazing - very good job!

    Bookmark   September 3, 2014 at 9:27PM
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Campanula UK Z8

What a wonderful project! Following from the epic setting - a stone, mountain and huge sky vernacular, your house and garden now look perfectly embedded in the landscape - a difficult trick to pull off but you have done so with brio and style, Karin. Massive 'grats.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2014 at 11:32AM
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GreenHearted(5a IL)

Oh I love stacked stone and this is just amazing Karin! I loved the progress pictures and the end result is perfect.

I'd like to something similar (one day!) ... I definitely like the DIY aspect; can you tell me a little more about how you made the base? I always hear you have to go down so many inches and backfill with gravel because of the freezing/thawing cycles here in the midwest but it doesn't look like you had to do that? Maybe because it is stacked and allows some flexibility that a mortared wall wouldn't?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 11:38AM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thank you all, for your continued kind words. Campanula, yes, exactly. Setting the garden (and home) within the larger context is always the tricky thing, right? Like, on one hand you want to have your way over the landscape, to tame it and mold it into more of what you like. But on the other hand, the cues really need to come from what's already around you otherwise it's either going to be a ton or work to fight nature, and/or it won't even look right when you're done. So the rock theme really plays well here.

GreenHearted, that's a great question. I have done the foundation differently on different stone projects here. I'm not an expert on this, but none of my walls have fallen down yet! (With the older ones being over 10 years old.) You are quite right, a dry-stacked wall is an inherently flexible structure and is very forgiving of expansion and contraction of the ground.

On this wall, I dug/scraped down to the subsoil layer, which is a very compacted, concrete-like substance. I didn't put down gravel or anything, mostly because the very idea of that pushed the project into the realm of unrealistic for my diy self.

Stonework does have a tendency to slowly sink into the ground. Rocks that used to be standing above grade are now below the level of the grass. I'm not sure how much a gravel foundation would help that. One of my walls has a gravel foundation and it hasn't behaved any differently than the others as far as I can tell.

Not sure if that answer helps or not! :)

    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 11:55AM
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GreenHearted(5a IL)

That helps a lot, thank you Karin!

It gives me hope that I will be able to replicate this one day. I love the flush ledge around the wall too... you can probably get a wheel of the mower on it and not have to line trim.

The cinder block base for the steps is another great idea!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2014 at 11:33AM
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