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Drystack stone wall - progress

Posted by karin_mt 4 MT (My Page) on
Wed, Aug 15, 12 at 21:53

I have been working on this wall all summer, and it's finally at a point where I'm ready to share a few photos. Building rock walls is one of my favorite things to do; as a geologist and gardener it is a natural affinity.

I have underestimated just about everything with this wall. I originally ordered one pallet of stone (3200 lbs) and thought that would be more than enough. In mid-July I ordered another pallet (3300 lbs) and I was *certain* that would give me plenty of leftovers. Well I am just about through that pallet too. Now I am toying with how much more to get. Really, this will be the last shipment. Really!

I vastly underestimated the time it would take me to build the wall. I honestly thought I could knock it out over Memorial Day weekend. Well, it snowed all through Memorial Day, as it always does and once June arrived many things got in the way of progress on the wall. Thankfully I enjoy the process and even an hour stolen away to work on the wall would leave me feeling energized. So I chipped away at it in the coolness of evenings and occasional mornings.

But now I am taking time off work to just finish it, gosh darn it! It is part of a whole new side yard due to a remodel on our house. Ultimately the top of the wall will get one long row of daylilies, which are my husband's favorite. I feel like I am over the hump, work-wise and I am looking forward to this part of the yard looking less like a construction site and more like an actual yard.

Anyway, here are some photos:


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Drystack stone wall - progress

Looks wonderful - and def skillfully built. Congratulations!

Love the garage painted to match the car.


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RE: Drystack stone wall - progress

The wall looks nice and it can be seen that you've taken care while constructing. I like the mowing strip at the base. What will you do with the ends?... turn them back toward the house?


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That's some nice looking rock. I think the depth of the wall is what threw off your calculations. It will be nice for sitting.

I love rock hammers. They don't look like much but can really do their job.


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Thanks for the comments. Just taking a break from rebuilding one of the corners. Nothing like 2 hrs of hard effort to not make any forward progress! But that is the way of working with stone. :)

Yardvaark, the near end makes a small 90* bend toward the house and quickly fades into the slope. The far end will make a similar 90* corner and will wrap about 8 feet toward the house. The slope is much smaller there, thankfully.

Rosie, the garage color pre-dates the car actually! But yeah, it matches uncannily well now. Our other car is orange and that really pops!


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Nice line, texture, color blending and the andamento is lyrical.

So nice to hear that you enjoyed the process.


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Real nice...
I'm so familiar with that - running out of material when you think you had more than enough. Luckily, the stone I'm using can be found lying around so I didn't have to order extra.


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Beautiful work Timbu! Especially the steps - very nice! Is that limestone?

Tanowicki - I didn't see your response when I posted mine, but I agree about a fondness for rock hammers. I don't do field geology anymore, so landscaping is the only time I get to engage in the satisfying activity of breaking rocks.

Deviant - I needed to look up andamento. But yes, that is what I was going for. And I learned a new word so that is a bonus.

Well, I am officially out of rocks now. I am off to the rock yard this afternoon. I'm also building a new stone pathway for a different part of the yard, so I will select the rocks for that too. A trip to the rock yard is always a fun (albeit expensive) excursion!

I'll post new pics when I make more progress. Thank you for the encouragement!


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RE: Drystack stone wall - progress

karin mt,

Very nice! What kind of stone did you use? What are the approximate dimensions and weight of the stones? How tall and long is your wall?

Your project very much interests me, as retaining walls would much improve the slope we live on, both visually and for ease of gardening. Plus I love the rock-gardeny plants like the mat-forming penstemons and minuature conifers.

-m


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The rock is sandstone that is fairly local and very easy to work with. The pallets had a range of sizes; the biggest are thick slabs that are 3-4 inches thick and 2 or 3 feet wide. These probably weigh 60-80-ish pounds? That's a guess.

Many of these rocks are thinner, like 1-2" thick and 1-3 feet wide and long. These are easily manageable, maybe 20 pounds or so. And then there were all manner of smaller, broken pieces that are handy to fill gaps and support the larger rocks from behind.

The main section of the wall is 37 feet long and 2 feet tall. Next there will be a smaller section that's going to be 22 feet long and 1 foot tall.

If you're interested in a similar project, a good first step is to visit your local rock yard. There you'll see the range of what's available in what sizes, and what the costs and delivery charges are. It's not a cheap undertaking, but I agree it really enhances a yard.

I've built several other walls in our gardens and I am totally with you on the rock-gardeny feel and how lovely plants blend with rocks. There are so many interesting textural relationships you can create.

Below is a photo of a freestanding wall I built in a flat part of the yard where there is no slope to retain. It's a haven for rock garden plants and I love messing with the various combinations. This fall it is due for some rearranging. Always fun!


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Oops, photo didn't stick. Trying again.


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I love all these walls! I have been considering trying my hand at building one, but so far have not taken the leap. Kudos to you who have-your walls are beautiful. I especially like the one with the steps and your freestanding one with the plants, Karin. Can't wait to see the new one finished and the daylilies planted. It will look marvelous.


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Swoon !!


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Thanks so much karin_mt for sharing information about your project. That second wall looks great - the gentle curve is nice and I love the planting (including the penstemon). It looks like you used different stone (or stones) for this one.

It is interesting to me that you are building your wall from sandstone as I am considering using Wilkeson sandstone. But we may have to go to the quarry in Wilkeson to shop for this stone. It has a warmer color than the grayer Tenino sandstone more available here. I like the varied tones of your sandstone wall.

In my lifetime, I've been to just three stone yards, but found they vary greatly from each other. The nearby one has a big selection of manufactured stone but little else (other than the usual sand and gravel); there's one in Seattle which seems to specialize in importing stone from many distant places, including quite a lot from India; another has nice selection, including from their own quarries in the Cascade mountains. There also seems to be quite a bit of stone brought in from Montana.

-m


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Thanks for the kind words. The various stone walls are the centerpiece of our landscape and they are a joy to garden with.

The freestanding wall is made of local rocks that I collected. It took me 3 years to collect the rocks and about that long to build the wall. It's around 125 feet long and has plants in it along the entire length.

It was a complicated project for a few different reasons. Firstly, even though I tried to gather blocky rocks that lend themselves to stacking, building with uneven rocks is anything but straightforward.

Secondly, the capstones of the wall form a geologic timeline of our local stratigraphy. That means every rock in the top course of stone was placed in order of its age. Yeah, I know that sounds exceedingly crazy, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I gathered amazing samples of rock that contain fossil beds, tracks of burrowing seafloor creatures, undersea mudslides, ripple marks, sand dunes, and caves that collapsed and filled in with angular rubble. In addition, the wall has records of rocks that have been buried deeply, partially melted and folded up like toffee; intrusions of igneous rock; solidified ash deposits from nearby volcanic explosions at Yellowstone; and travertine from hot springs that sit on top of Yellowstone's hot rocks. Each of these events is placed in its correct location in time. The age of the rocks goes from around 2 billion year at one end to 80,000 years (the travertine) on the other end. All of the rocks were collected with proper permits, and none came from within the Yellowstone boundary, where any type of collection is off limits.

I collected the rocks while I was doing geologic field research in our local mountains. At the end of the day, I would visit some scree slopes and fill my tiny pickup with as many rocks as it could carry (not many). It was an amazingly fun project and I totally love the result. The wall is getting loose in a few places but every year I do a little patch job on whatever section needs it most. The wall has been complete for almost 10 years now. That seems like a long time to me, but not really in the context of the geology! :)


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The old end of the wall with ~ 2 billion year old metamorphic rocks, paired with 'Firewitch' dianthus.


Marine limestones with 'Ballerina' geranium, sedum, a little white daisy that I no longer have, anthemis, and cerastium.


The whole wall in context of the rest of the back garden.


The wall separates lawn from a large garden area in the back yard.


On the kitchen garden end of the back yard, the rocks are younger and were much easier to stack. Here the wall has alpine strawberries and lavender. A sensory delight!


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I dare say... someone has their very own, very nice botanical garden. I enjoyed reading your explanation of its background. Maybe you will work toward trying to get it featured in a gardening magazine. It seems like you could. Nice job!


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Thank you Yardvaark. I have thought about that idea but I'm not sure how to go about that. I imagine garden magazines get piles of people saying, hey, my garden is exceptional and ought to be in your magazine. They must have some sort of vetting process.

Country Gal,

When you go rock shopping, I bet you'll be able to find the same sandstone I used. It's called Frontier Sandstone and it's sold by Quarry Works. But if you can get a local sandstone that you like, that's even better. Working with the quarry is ideal because then you get the broadest offering of shapes and sizes.

Using rock from India is just out of the question! Can you imagine the environmental footprint of shipping that stone all the way here? When we have perfectly great rocks right under our own feet? I bet the Cascades is a great place for interesting rocks. I'll admit though, that I am currently tempted by some Pennsylvania bluestone for a path edging. But I don't think I can live with myself for shipping stone in from PA. Let me know what you come up with - it is certainly interesting to hunt around for all the options.


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Karin,
If you are interested in publication I would be happy to make a contact for you.


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Karin, your rock work definitely merits publication in a gardening magazine - it's absolutely beautiful. And as a reader, I find that illustrations of well-done hardscape are more compelling than the often repetitive discussions about plant selection....


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My goodness - thank you all for an astounding vote of confidence! Deviant, I'm definitely interested. I will send you an email.

I'm just sitting here (taking a break from transplanting hostas) imagining how much time I'd have to take off work to get the gardens prepped for a visit from a photographer. Yikes! But how fun would that be?

Well, you guys are great. Thanks for the encouragement!


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karin_mt,

I'll join the chorus and say that I think your garden is fabulous!

I agree, it doesn't make sense to use stones transported all the way from India (or the streets of Chinese villages inudated by the Yangtze river dam project) when there are local rocks one can use to make a connection to the distant past of one's own part of the world.

Your work warrants appearing in more than just one publication. The layout of your garden, the construction of the rock walls, choice of plants, and especially the geologic story of your stones would make great reading in the Rock Garden Quarterly, to which I've provided a link. If this interests you, you can send an inquiry along with a link to this thread to Malcolm McGregor, the editor (contact info is on pg 98 of the Spring 2012 issue), or you can contact me through my member's page. The article would be written and/or photographed by you (in fact your Aug 21 post could be the genesis of such an article) or someone else could volunteer to put it together.

-m

Here is a link that might be useful: Rock Garden Quarterly


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Thanks Country Gal - that is an excellent idea and I looked through one of the online issues and that looks like a neat magazine. I will contact Malcolm as you suggest.

The next batch of rocks just arrived - time to go get busy! :)


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ditto what everyone else has said - beautiful! and VERY magazine-worthy!!


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Thanks! I'm just sitting here all dusty and happy after an awesome day of stacking rocks on the next part of the wall. I had to tear myself away this evening so I could pace myself through the weekend. I predict I will be ready to put some plants in the ground by the end of the weekend.

With any luck I'll have more photos to post in a day or two!


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Karinmt, a late reply - yes these are limestone. What healthy plants you got, and I love the gravel path!


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Karen, keep posting. I enjoy seeing your amazing work and the beautiful gardens that have "grown up" among your creations. Your rock work and gardens definitely belong in a magazine so that others outside of this forum can enjoy them.

Molie


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Beautiful!!


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Okay, here is an update with a few pics of the progress from last weekend. (And thank you for your encouragement to keep posting!)

I got the most fabulous batch of rocks from our builder. They are cast-offs from a mason and they are very regular in size. Most of them have one or more cut faces, but I was able to arrange them cut side down in most cases. The result was a very quick wall that was a lot of fun to assemble because it went so fast and easy. Some of these larger pieces were right at the limit of what I'm able to lift by myself, but the physical challenge is part of what I enjoy about wall-building.

This smaller wall sits right next to the garage and will contain a small garden.

This is north-facing and thus offers a place for shady plants, which are a novelty here in Big Sky Country. The walkway clearly is not done yet as I am working out the details of how we'll arrange it.


The small wall took only 2 partial days to build. After letting it sit for one more day (allowing me time to redo one of the corners that wasn't quite level), I moved right on to getting the plants in. This was mostly because these plants needed to move to make way for another phase of this project. These plants got moved in from a similar garden spot nearby. The plants look a little sad, but they are all reliable.

The photo above shows a remarkable piece of rock. Take a close look at the cornerstone. Notice that it is all one piece! The insides had been sawn out, leaving a perfect corner piece. I took extra care to place this rock in a place where I can appreciate it.


Here is the new wall in context. You can see that the two walls make a sort of terraced look. I really like that. :)
Next we need to build the walkway and two sets of small steps. We're doing this with 2 foot by 2 foot concrete pavers set in pea gravel. I'm not a huge fan of concrete but these big square pavers are nice and they have a contemporary feel. I could use cut stone in the same size, but they are $50 each. I'm using them in more prominent places along the front of the house, but not here. Anyway, the walkway is this weekend's mission. We'll see how far we get.

In the meantime our house got a new roof this week and the rest of the remodel is moving right along. These are exciting times!


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  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 31, 12 at 11:41

This is a fascinating project. How are those shoulders and biceps doing? Your muscle tone is probably awesome!


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It has been so enjoyable seeing the progress !

the corner stone is nicely placed.

appreciate the visual treat.


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  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Thu, Sep 6, 12 at 11:30

It must be a real joy to work with flat, sedimentary rock.
You have done a very good job. Our rock in the Cascades is just about all igneous or metamorphic. I know of only one sandstone quarry.
I usually work with quarried basalt.
Mike


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Here is my weekly update. :)

The task this week had been to put the daylilies in along the top of the wall. There will be 19 daylilies with a 20" spacing between them. They are a mixture of orange, red and yellow and are all divisions from elsewhere in the yard. The daylilies are for my husband because he enjoys them and the garage is his domain.

Tonight I finished planting all the daylilies but the ones on each end, which I will hold off until I am certain the grade is finalized. The photos here is a few days old but you get the idea.

Let's see, you can also see the infant stages of the concrete paver walkway, and then there's Inga the cat who is making sure the wall is up to snuff.

Botann, yes, by all means this rock is a pleasure to work with. Igneous rocks are probably the hardest as they lack any layering and just don't want to lie flat. Some metamorphic rocks can be fun and they often have intriguing textures and minerals. Have you done anything with columnar basalt? I have attempted that with rocks from some nearby lava flows but it's hard to make it look natural.

Catkim, muscles and joints are holding up well, thank you! It's great exercise.


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  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Tue, Sep 11, 12 at 23:02

Yes, I have worked with basalt columns, but like you say, they are hard to arrange to look like they 'belong'.
Eastern Washington State has a lot of those naturally occurring basalt columns. Some are very old and weathered.
I have a picture someplace. If I find it I will post it.
Is the Devil's Slide close to you? We drove by it last summer on our way to Belgrade, Mt. from Yellowstone.
Mike


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  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Tue, Sep 11, 12 at 23:03

Yes, I ave worked with basalt columns, but like you say, they are hard to arrange to look like they 'belong'.
Eastern Washington State has a lot of those naturally occurring basalt columns. Some are very old and weathered.
I have a picture someplace. If I find it I will post it.
Is the Devil's Slide close to you? We drove by it last summer on our way to Belgrade, Mt. from Yellowstone.
Mike


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Mike,

Oh yes, columnar basalt seems to be the official state rock of Washington. They are so interesting! It would be neat to see successful installations of them into a landscape if you have any photos or links. I have tried them in two places and neither was successful. In one spot I used them as corner posts in a stone wall and they offer zero structural support as you can't tie them into other rocks as you'd normally do in building a corner. So now they are leaning out all catywampus and I need to rebuild the corners.

In another spot I tried to build a little lava flow, which looks like a miniature Devil's Tower (which is not the look I was going for). It never looked good since day 1 so I'd like to give it another try. I collected all my basalt columns via mountain bike and after the intense effort to gather these things I need to do them justice somehow!

Devil's Slide is about an hour from us and that is some impressive landscape around there. We are not far from Belgrade though. Yellowstone is totally wonderful to visit - I hope you had a fun trip.


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Okay Mike and Karin, you should tell some of us more igneous people what you are talking about with the basalt being more difficult to work with, as we might not know a basalt from a block of salt!


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Those basalt column rocks are also all the rage down here in California.
Most of it is coming from Canada.
We've been using them as corner posts, water fountains and I have a job out at Stinston Beach where I've spec'ed them as a sculptural element in a sea of native meadow grasses.

The nice thing about the stone is the variety of colors on the exterior and the gray tone in the interior. That gray color can be polished up to a sparkling black surface.

From In praise of Stone

The fountain above was cut from one piece that was about 13 feet long.
It was sliced into 3 pieces, fitted , carved, polished and set into a concrete basin with a recirculating water pump.


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What I don't understand is, what is it about the rock that makes it "difficult to work with"... and do we mean for wall building?


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Columnar basalt is difficult to work with because it's shaped like hexagonal columns. Like pencils. The columns can be massive or relatively slender. They form in a vertical orientation so that's how they are generally used. I think the large ones like Deviant's example look nice, but they need to be situated with the proper context and framing so they don't look like a cliche. Again, the example above is artfully done, which is not easy.

Not to mention that rocks of that scale are beyond my lifting power. The columns I have are smaller in diameter. One way they look great is stacked into whimsical balancing formations. In the lava flow that they come from, there is no shortage of little cairns where people have stacked them up. Kinda fun in an Andy Goldsworthy way.


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My mind was blown by the devil's causeway in Northern Ireland:
Basaltorama!
Hard to take a bad photo of it, but I can't imagine stone-working those hexagons out of context.

Here is a link that might be useful: gia


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Yes! Giant's Causeway is certainly one of the very best examples of this wonderful rock. Lucky you to have visited there.

Iceland is another place that has an abundance of columnar basalt of all shapes and sizes.


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  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Fri, Sep 14, 12 at 12:25

Here's some very old, or maybe it's the exposure, basalt columns near Sprague, Wa. These are not sharp edged like you see in stone yards.
Basalt columns

Basalt columns

The colors are caused by lichens. Rock is facing south.
Mike


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from a sculptors point of view basalt is modestly challenging to work in comparison to other stones such a granite or sandstone , which are usually pretty predictable in their voice.
It can be challenging to sound the stone ( tapping and listening for the stones voice that gives you a hint on how it is going to break as well visually seeing the voice ) and the tightness of the grain doesn't always split in how one would predict.
In regards to cutting it's in the medium hard range.
Dressing it from my perspective is totally delightful due to the internal and external color variation and how it takes on a totally different personality when texturized and or polished.

We don't use columnar basalt for building walls normally. It is too expensive here. The columnar basalt is mostly used as sculptural elements and or sliced and textured and used as stepping stones ( quite beautiful when set into a hillside )

Regular native basalt field stone is regularly used in walling.

From Hillside development


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Basalt columns

  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Wed, Nov 7, 12 at 15:29

I was visiting Klamath Falls, Oregon last month and came across this entrance to an upscale housing development. I think they did a pretty good job.
Mike
Photobucket


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That's a nice example of columnar basalt as it approximates the way you see it in nature. Thanks for sharing the photo!

Since our discussion of basalt columns this summer I have decided to remove my little sculpture that I made from basalt and replace it with something else entirely. After the fun I had with this summer's dry stack project, I'm going to make a cylindrical column with the same sandstone I used for this summer's wall. I'm thinking like 3 feet in diameter and maybe 5 feet tall. If I could pull it off it would be very cool. No doubt I will have fun working on it. I will have to find another use for my basalt columns.

Karin


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