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  • Writer's pictureJ Knill

Building a Stone Wall Garden

This client hired me to design and build a network of stone-walled garden beds with meandering paths between them in their front and back yards. I also designed and installed the plantings in the beds as well as retrofit the existing sprinkler heads into a drip irrigation system. The site had a max slope of 10%, street/material access was limited, a large existing tree was to be incorporated, and the soil had very bad drainage so there were some extra logistics at play.

Here is a photo of the backyard before:

First, I limbed-up the pine tree, adding more light to the space, and removed two dying juvenile trees (to be replaced in garden). I also moved any existing plants the homeowner wanted to keep to a safe, shaded area behind the garage to hold until it was time to transplant. Some of the more tender plants, like the hellebores, I kept in the ground for as long as possible to reduce future transplant shock.

The backyard planting map with general wall/path placement. This design features a large island bed in the middle of 3 large border beds and pathways that lead to 3 different exit points.

Next, the pathways and walls are plotted out and marked for homeowner consideration and excavating footings once approved.

Footings are excavated and backfilled with road base gravel and compacted in layers. This photo shows the footings about 2/3 full.

Our first delivery of stone. About seven tons of 1-3" flat fieldstone. Each delivery was shuttled into the yard daily to ensure the client had garage access every night. While being shuttled, the stones are being organized into four categories (base, wall, cap, and oddities).

Pressure treated lumber is installed to protect wooden surfaces from soil in future beds, anchoring them with 36" metal form stakes.

The base stones, set aside earlier during shuttling, begin to be pointed and leveled. Having a laterally level base with a perfectly slight batter toward the soil is paramount to a wall's longevity. This step can not be rushed and is vital to a smooth wall build.

The stone walls are complete! Getting soil into the beds promptly is imperative since the stone walls are designed to be countering the soil's weight.

No time to waste! Ten yards of 3-way blended planting mix is delivered.

Soil and deco bark nugget pathway getting installed. Looking like a garden!

Plantings, irrigation retrofitting, and decorative boulders installed. Camellia, heather, lupine, rhododendron, and Japanese maple are some of the main elements of the planting. Various natives and grasses are also featured. Due to the overhead tree cover and nearby houses in close proximity, all plants had to be able to thrive in or at least tolerate some shade.

The same process was used to create border beds in the front yard with a similar planting theme as the back yard, but with more sun-loving plant varieties; Poppies, magnolia, pigeon point, lupine and heather to name a few.

Stay tuned for more. Thanks!

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