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» Build a Stone Wall

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Why build a wall? It could be for a boundary, for a border, to hold back a slope on your property or to add some structure or texture to the garden.

It could even be to house the garden itself, such as in the case of a flowering wall. Whatever the reason, a different approach is going to be needed for each of them.

Dry stone, or mortarless walls are the most popular variety and are not at all difficult to build. All you really need is stone, a chisel, time, and a good strong back. ( not to mention the massage you are going to need at the end of the day)

A dry stone wall will take about 300 pounds of stone for ever 2.5 cubic feet of wall surface, so plan on moving a great deal of rock before you start.

Using flat, somewhat angular stone will help you to be able to do the job more easily, and keep some small wedges around to fill cracks and assure stability of the wall and make sure to lay some “tie” stones, whcih are long stones that are laid perpendicular to the length of the wall.

Shaping your stone is not all that difficult. You will need a stone chisel and a sledge, score it first and then lay it on a support
and tap it until the excess breaks off as in the pictures at the right.

Make sure that you wear goggles when you do this. I tend to be somewhat lax about wearing those but with this project the stones fly literally several feet.

To figure your width, which will help you to find the correct placement of your wall, you will want to figure that it needs to be about a third of its height in thickness, to assure stability. for instance a wall that will be three feet tall, should be about a foot thick.

Set your wall on a gravel foundation that is at least a foot wider than you plan to build the wall and extend the gravel at least six inches into the ground. Eight inches is better.

Set each stone of a top course so that it covers the space between two stones below it. In other words the stones will be staggered so that where two meet on a lower row, there will be one in the center of that above it.

You can use a line, or cord strung out between two stakes to make sure that you keep your course straight, and check it frequently with a level. Raise the cord every time you begin another row, or course, so that your fence is not higher on one end than it is at the other.

If the reason for your wall is to be used as a retaining wall, it will need to be placed with a slightly backward sloping positioning, so that it can handle the pressure from the earth behind it. This is called a batter and needs to slant about an inch backward for every one foot in height that the fence has. You can check to make sure that you have the right angle of slant by using a plumb, or a plumb bob, and a wooden batter frame, such as is pictured here below.

While you are building your wall, if you should desire to make it a walled garden, and many people build the wall specifically for use as a wall/garden, you can plan ahead for that as well by starting from scratch, so to speak, or in this case, from seed.

Enclose a seed inside a small ball of very moist soil and plant it in the wall as you move up each course. You can do this multiple times, so that flowers or greenery begin to grow within just a few weeks of the wall being set. The roots taking hold in the soil between the rocks will have the added benefit of helping to hold the wall as well.

The face and the top of a dry stone wall are the perfect place to grow trailing plants such as phlox and sweat peas, which flow downward over the wall in a graceful manner and make a lovely welcome for your guests.

Once you’ve packed your soil and seed into the wall, when you have moved upward a couple courses, pack more soil into the wall around the seeds if you can. Keep these areas moist every other day or so by spritzing where you placed the seed balls with a water bottle until the seeds germinate and the roots take hold in the wall.

If you want your wall to have the mossy weathered look that is popular in rustic landscapes, one sure trick to accomplish that is to chop some moss and mix it with buttermilk to which you have added two tablespoons of corn syrup. This will encourage the moss to take hold and grow on your wall and within just a short two or three months, your wall will appear to be half a century old.


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