Working with stone is physically satisfying. It requires precision, strength and stamina. Stone is rugged and permanent, and its roughness feels good to my touch. It’s comforting and warm in the sun and cool in the shade.
There was a lot of hardscaping in place when we moved to this house. A long, mortared stone retaining wall stands next to the patio that was created from square concrete pavers. Melon-sized rocks border two of the gardens and trail alongside the steps to the “Lower 40.” Small boulders weighing a couple hundred pounds each are scattered throughout the center garden. Bricks set into the ground diagonally in a rickrack pattern also border several areas.
Building the patio for my secret garden was my first attempt at working with stone. Suddenly, stone began to catch my eye … a neighbor’s dry stacked stone retaining wall … huge boulders parked in gardens of the large homes in the wealthier areas of town … wire enclosures containing potato-sized rocks at the garden center.
A friend joked, “When you start coveting piles of gravel at the stone yard, you’re out of control.” I was just about at that point.
After 3 boulders were delivered for a project last year, I wanted to hug them. Yes comma that is weird.
My 2nd hardscaping project was an easy one: make a brick border for the mulched paths, to help keep pine needles in the gardens and mulch on the paths. I dug trenches, spread sand, set the bricks, spread more sand, and the borders were done. They looked fine.
My 3rd project was more daunting. Bianca had used dozens of flagstones as individual stepping stones around the center garden. Despite my repeated attempts to set them into the ground in a comfortable pattern for walking, they were awkward – the path was sloped, the stones were slippery, and visitors had to keep their eyes on their feet instead of the garden. Replacing the flagstones with mulch was an easy solution, but it left me with a jumble of jagged rock sitting in a corner of the garden.
In the Lower 40 is a 30-foot-long path that connects 2 entrances to that area. Grass wouldn’t grow in the deep shade there, and the hard-packed dirt turned to mud in the rain. It was the Devil’s Tramping Ground of our garden. With the flagstones I’d removed from the center garden I built a walkway there. It took a couple of weekends to dig out the bed, spread sand, and arrange the unevenly-shaped stones in the sand. More sand and then pea gravel filled the crevices. Landscape edging helps keep the sand, gravel and stones from washing away in our heavy rains.
It’s not a professional-looking job, but it will do. Along one side I planted variegated liriope. Along the other I tacked down a dead vine that my husband had pulled out of a tree, and I planted sweet woodruff to soften the vine’s rustic look.
This led to hardscaping project #4. A small and shady dirt pad near the new flagstone walkway was useless space, but there was room for a chair and a small table. Tucked next to a heavily wooded area, it would be the coolest spot in the yard on the hottest afternoons.
Some old moss-covered pavers from the side yard, too slick to walk on, made the perfect 4’x5′ patio. A nandina, when full-grown, will provide a little privacy. An old wicker chair, a cheap metal table and pots of impatiens and caladium completed the project. It’s a lovely spot for reading in the late afternoon.
Above that patio is a long, hilly, dry creekbed that I created 2 years ago. One of the dogs had dug into the ivy there and revealed an old clay drainpipe. I pulled away the ivy, lined the gully with rocks of many shapes and sizes, and planted ferns, horsetails, hostas, and other plants. I assumed the clay pipe led from the house’s gutters and that water would spill into the creekbed when it rained. But no — the pipe is cracked somewhere, and water burbles up out of the ground and spills down the steps instead. Now I dream of digging up that hillside, using rain barrels to catch the runoff from the gutters, and installing a real water feature with boulders and waterfalls, splashing into a pool beside my tiny patio.