DryStoneGarden

Plants, Stone, California Landscapes

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Monte Albán Stone

On my Oaxaca trip I went to Monte Albán, a Zapotec archeological site just outside of Oaxaca City. It’s one of the best ruins that I’ve visited, wonderfully sited on a ridge with views of the surrounding valley, though the air was depressingly smoggy when I visited. I’ve read a bit on the history of the site, but for the most part I just admire it as a stonemason and designer. The thousand plus years of builders did a terrific job, with a beautiful layout and detailing.

Virtually everything on the site is laid out orthogonally except this one building with a strange pentagonal shape in the main plaza’s central cluster. It’s sometimes called the ‘Observatory’ because it’s believed to be aligned with a a star cluster. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the shape and alignment add an element of mystery. It felt like the masterstroke of the site.

The stonework is beautiful, with coursed, rectangular stone and crazy-patterned, irregular stone often combined in the same wall, sometimes with carved stelae as well. There are several kinds of corners: plumb, battered, lazy, and corniced; and three kinds of vertical surfaces: plumb and battered walls, and the angle made by the steps to the buildings. It’s great how they all combine; there’s enough repetition to give it cohesion but enough contrast to make it interesting.

That’s a beautiful corner detail no matter what century you build it in.

Some of the mortar joints have pebbles in the mud, probably for practical reasons but also creating a nice ornamental effect.

I’m note sure if these are original or replicas; a lot of the stelae were moved inside to the site’s museum for protection, and that’s not the original mortar around these ones. The stelae are subtle but quite nice, worth clicking on to see them larger. I’ll add photos of the ones in the museum in the future.

Jorge Yazpik Miscellany

This is a selection of Jorge Yazpik’s work that was on display inside the museum, an interesting mix with a progression from sculptures to architectural models. I won’t say much about them, which is apparently what he prefers. He doesn’t give titles or explanations or even call out his materials, and in videos talking about his work (in Spanish), he talks about letting people interpret the works however they want, letting them see without predisposition. He says when you listen to music, no one tells you how to listen. So, I guess, just have a listen, take a look. Read the rest of this entry »

Jorge Yázpik Basalt Sculptures

While I was in Oaxaca, I got a chance to see an exhibition of sculptures by Jorge Yázpik at the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. I’m not sure how well known he is, but he’s at the top of my list. He does abstract sculpture in several mediums — stone, wood, metal, some kind of polycarbonate — and I’ll show some of the work that was on exhibit inside the museum, but in this post I want to focus on his large basalts that were outside in the plaza. Really interesting, a little hit or miss, but the ones that hit are terrific.

With this one, from a couple of angles it doesn’t look like he has done much to the stone. But then from another angle you can see he carved out the entire heart of the stone, enough that you can climb inside it. I’ve possibly seen something like this in other media, but I can’t think of another sculpture that lets you climb inside a single monolithic stone. People loved posing for photos inside it.

But the one that got me is this one here. It’s not terribly striking at first glance, a dark, vaguely heart-shaped chunk of basalt, roughly the same form that came out of the quarry. But that’s not the sculpture per se, it’s more like the mould for the sculpture.

The sculpture is the void he has carved out, the negative space he made within the stone. In the photo it has a graphic quality, but in person the void is really strong, really three dimensional. He could cast a bronze of it, but he doesn’t need to, it casts the form in your mind.

It does the same thing from the other side. The outer form is a little more compelling from this angle, rising to a prow, but again it’s the negative space that’s the subject, this time with sort of a jack-o-lantern smile. I also like how the stone is wedged with a chunk of rock from the floor of the workshop, seemingly chosen without much care but important enough to be packed with the sculpture and shipped from Mexico City.

I don’t know of anyone else who is this effective at creating negative space within a stone.

This vertical one is also great. It’s more about the overall form, sort of an abstract version of a moai.

The close up has a beautiful geometry, both the polished interior and the natural skin of the stone.

One more is below. Read the rest of this entry »

Recycled Countertop Patio

This patio was an interesting one-off. I built it with a friend of mine as an addendum to his project. He wanted a sitting place up here on the hill above his house. There’s a good view, but more importantly there’s a feeling of separation from life down below, from the demands of work, kids, bills, etc… A place for respite. We called it the chill spot though I don’t think he meant that literally and we’re getting a little old to be using that phrase.

We made the patio from recycled countertops that someone was giving away. I don’t know how replicable that is, it was just dumb luck that I stumbled on them, but I loved working with them. They’d be a little slippery for a more conventional patio with regular traffic, but they work great up here. I cut a few of the pieces in order to align the joints and edges but they came with mostly regular dimensions and went together lickety split, the quickest, cheapest patio I’ve ever built. Carrying up the dog statue, made of solid concrete, was the hardest part of the whole project.

A couple of photos with the grass cut back are below.
Read the rest of this entry »

Another Lawn to Garden Conversion

The New Low Water Planting

This lawn conversion is around the corner from the last one I showed. The lawns were similar, full sun and gently sloping, and we used a lot of the same plants, emphasizing purples, yellows, and green. It’s a bigger space, though, so things are on a somewhat bigger scale. Instead of one Chinese Pistache, we planted 3 Raywood Ash, and instead of one Plum we planted three Nyssa sylvatica. Instead of Sesleria autumnalis we used a larger grass, Lomandra ‘Breeze’, instead of fifteen Salvia nemerosa, there are twenty four. Overall though, it’s fairly similar, a plant palette we use regularly for front yards on that side of the hills — low-water, lowish-maintenance, deer-resistant, a mix of natives and other mediterranean species emphasizing purples, yellows, and green.

Star Jasmine and the Old Lawn

We covered this lawn with mulch from cutting trees in the yard and left it for six months while there was work done on the house. The mulch layer was partly to smother the lawn, but also to protect the soil from the construction workers, who always seem to park on the lawn despite efforts to dissuade them.

Google Earth View of the Front Door and the Old Tree

The original landscape didn’t have a pathway to the front door. There was one from the driveway to the door, but visitors parked at the curb and walked across the lawn. I’m not sure how that was tolerated for so many years. Visitors should have a proper way to get to the front door.

The New Pathwy to the Front Door

The path uses three different types of stone. The stone sleepers are flamed basalt, the fill pavers are handcut setts of black limestone, and the soldiers are tumbled granite.

Nepeta

Moonshine Yarrow, Salvia nemerosa, and Nepeta

As I was said at the top, this is one of our standard Contra Costa lawn conversion plant palettes. Purple and yellow/gold with mostly green foliage. Nepeta, Salvia nemerosa, Penstemon heterophyllus, and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ are the purples blooming now. Lavender and Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ will add more purple soon. Moonshine Yarrow, Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’, and Geum are compatible yellows. Lomandra ‘Breeze’ is a nice green backdrop, gives it a meadow-y feel. There are young shrubs in the background and of course the trees which are still getting established, but for now, while everyone is first looking and judging the lawn conversion, these are the plants they see.

Salvia nemerosa and Moonshine Yarrow

Penstemon heterophyllus and Lomandra Breeze

Coleonema Sunset Gold, Penstemon heterophyllus and Geum

The geranium and geum can be eaten by deer depending on the garden and where they are located in it. Salvia nemerosa ocassionally gets nibbled as well. I’ve never seen any of the others eaten.

Coleonema Sunset Gold and Geranium Rozanne

That concludes lawn conversion week (month) here at DryStoneGarden. There are a lot of resources out there for people considering doing it. Davis has a thorough pdf that I was looking at recently, the latest one to catch my attention. Anyone considering it should go for it. A garden is so much better than a tired old lawn.

Lawn to Garden Conversion with a Weed Cloth Phase

This is how we usually do lawn conversions these days, a modified version of sheet mulching. Unlike the last lawn I showed, which was mostly just regular turf grass, this lawn had bermuda grass in it, a tougher beast to slay, really tenacious at fighting its way up through newspaper or cardboard. Instead of immediately sheet mulching and planting, I find it better to first cover the lawn with weed cloth and mulch for a few months — letting the Bermuda grass expend energy trying to fight up through the cloth — and then attack it wherever it makes it to the surface. It takes a little more patience, but it doesn’t add much labor or cost. It’s easy enough, once I’m ready to plant, to sweep the mulch off, pull the cloth, and finish off the Bermuda grass while I do the grading and prep for the new planting. Then, I do the new planting and put the mulch back on top of it, take the weed cloth off to use on my next project. Lawns are easy to kill, it’s the weeds in the lawn that sometimes take a little extra care.

Above is a before view from google earth, below is the lawn covered by mulch during the summer. The Bermuda grass came back especially strong at the edges, where it had roots going underneath the concrete of the front walkway and the curb. We got it pretty well by the time we finished the installation, but it still requires vigilance along the walkway.

A lot of lawn conversions involve adding a path through the new planting. This one needed steps as well.

Before and after views from a couple more angles are below. As I said in my last post, a front garden’s a lot better than a tired old lawn. Read the rest of this entry »