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Wurrungwuri Sculpture

The Making of Wurrungwuri – Short Documentary from Brain in Hand Productions on Vimeo.

Two posts ago, I said Andy Goldsworthy (to his credit) might be over-represented in the stonework videos I find on the web and sometimes re-post here on this blog. So here’s a video of another artist who works with stone, Chris Booth from New Zealand. A lot of his work involves stone supported by a steel armature. I sometimes struggle to fully appreciate stone that is used that way — I’m more inclined towards things like his dry-stacked homage to New Zealand’s sea stacks — but I always find it intriguing. I’d need to see this sculpture, Wurrungwuri, in person to really judge it, but a great deal of intent and technical skill obviously went into its creation. There’s info about the design and the construction at the website for the project.

Goldsworthy Arch in Grand Rapids

Arches- Andy Goldsworthy (Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park) from Dog & Pony Communications on Vimeo.

Almost fifteen years after Rivers and Tides, I wouldn’t mind seeing someone other than Andy Goldsworthy starring in a video about a dry-stone project. But it’s a tribute to his work and his uniquely charismatic persona that if you see footage of interesting stonework, there’s a good chance it will feature him.

This video has some good footage of the construction of a large dry-stone arch constructed for a sculpture park in Michigan. Dry-stone arches are always compelling and this one is the biggest I’ve ever seen.

There’s video of another of his arch projects, built for a sculpture farm in New Zealand, here.

Drystack-Look Seatwall

It’s been a while since I last posted due to an unofficial blogging break to watch the world cup. I’m a big world cup fan; I kept working, but I made sure to fit my schedule around the important games. What’s the point of being your own boss if you’re not going organize your schedule around the world’s biggest sporting event? Despite watching a lot of soccer, I finished a few projects, including a new path, patio, and seat wall for this Berkeley backyard.

Before

The garden is intended to be an eclectic Berkeley-style garden. The owner has lived here for a couple of years and he had already created a lovely little planting in the front yard, but his backyard needed large-scale changes. The previous owner had left behind a few interesting plants, but the layout of the space — with a pink concrete patio, narrow concrete paths, cramped planting beds, and a weird turquoise trellis structure cutting the space in half — was severely limiting. The garden improved as soon as we took out the concrete and moved the existing plants around, even before adding the flagstone and the seatwall.

After

The paths and patios are built with a sandstone called Mahogany Red. The seatwall is a slate-y stone called Cabernet. I’ve built with it a number of times, but this batch turned out to be trickier than usual, with few right angles and a lot of cracked pieces. Only one stoneyard in the Bay Area carries it, so I had to just do the best with what I could find. The client didn’t want a conventional capstone or a visible mortar joint. Personally, I don’t have anything against a visible mortar joint, but our clients never seem to want one. He took it as a compliment when a neighbor asked if the wall was dry-stacked.

The View towards the House Before

The View towards the House After

Before

After

The owner is doing all of the plantings himself. He’s very enthusiastic, with an eclectic taste in plants, and he started adding things before I even finished the stonework. I’d never heard of a couple of the plants he bought and I liked all the ones I did know, so it’s going to be fun to go back to see how it all fills in.

Making the Stone Fountain

The Fountain Concept

This should be my last post from the garden show, though I’ve been installing a lot of the materials used in the show — the basalt, the limestone pavers, many of the plants — into real gardens, so they’ll probably show up again in photos at some point. But this is the last post specifically from the show. And actually this fountain was the starting point for the garden; before I signed up for the show, this was the first idea that got me thinking I might actually want to do a garden and what kind of garden I might want to make. It’s a fountain I had seen in photos from a temple in Japan where the monks place a leaf each morning for the water to spill from. I loved the concept and the closeup image, but the actual fountain is not very graceful. I wanted to do something similar, but with a less formal piece of stone. I spent some time looking around for a suitable piece, but I couldn’t ever find anything I liked. Everything was either very rough or very slick, nothing in between, and nothing had the lip or overhang that I was looking for. I ended up having to fabricate the stone for the fountain myself.

The Original Block

The best prospect I could find was this chunk of basalt at the stoneyard. The stone had a weakness in it that I thought I could exploit to get a suitable shape for the fountain. I went all around it with a big chisel and then a heavy sledgehammer, tracing the weakness, hitting it softly at first and then harder and harder. I was very patient with it, so slow that the folks at the stoneyard who were watching me work got bored and wandered away. This was far and away my best prospect, so I can’t describe how pleased I was when it finally broke in the shape I wanted. In the photo below, you can see that it didn’t break perfectly straight, but the ragged section of the break was low on the stone where it would be out of sight, so I was very satisfied. I may have even danced a jig.

The Block Split in Two

Reverse Angle of the Split Block

After breaking it out of the block, I had the stoneyard drill a hole through it, and then I carved out a basin at the top. I cleaned up the edges at the top a little with my chisels, but I left the shape pretty much as it came out of the block. After that, I fed a hose into the hole, hooked it up to the pump, and tested it. I thought it might take some finagling to get the water to spill properly from the leaf, but that worked fine almost from the beginning. I tried a Camelia leaf first — the leaf the monks use in Japan — and then switched to Arbutus ‘Marina,’ a plant that’s more to my taste. Toyon and Madrone would also work but I couldn’t find good specimens to include in the display garden and I wanted the leaf to be from a plant that was in the garden. In the future I plan to try Western Spicebush and Redtwig Dogwood leaves as well, but they weren’t yet in leaf at the time of the show. The stone holding the leaf in place is one I found on the beach in Baja. The flower is a Hellebore. I think a Spicebush flower might work; I’m not sure what other natives to try. If anyone has one to suggest, please let me know in the comments. I’m pleased at how it all came together and the reaction I got from it at the show, so I’ll probably make at least another one like it in the future.

The Final Stone Fountain

Basalt Pieces

Getting ready for the garden show, I’ve been having fun playing around with some large pieces of scrap basalt from the stone yard. Their fabrication shop has been making benches out of hexagonal basalt columns; they cut big rectangular pieces from the center of the hexagons and then sell off the parts that they cut away — the irregular outer ‘skin’ of the basalt column — for cheap. The skins are really interesting stuff, unusual shapes with a smooth cut face that can be flamed or polished to several different textures and rough natural faces that contrast nicely with the cut face. I bought a bunch of the long pieces to use as a low retaining wall and edging, and also some randomly shaped ones to play around with. I need to make an upright fountain basin by the time I’m done, but to get used to the stone I made a couple easier pieces first.

I hadn’t really done this kind of stonework before. Building walls, I mostly just clean up the stones, shaping edges or squaring corners or removing high points. I hadn’t ever really tried to break into the mass of a stone like this, so I started with this relatively small, trapezoidal stone as an introduction. I scored a grid into it with a grinder and then knocked the pieces out with a point chisel. I hadn’t worked with true basalt before, and it has a much different feel from other stone I’ve worked with. It’s hard stone, with a high, glassy sound when I hit it, and it’s noticeably heavier than other stone, always taking a little more effort to move than I’m expecting. But the work actually went pretty quickly.

The photo above shows the basin after the first pass. I scored it a couple more times after that, making it deeper towards one end and in the middle. Apparently, larger birds like a two or three inch deep birdbath, while smaller birds like the water only an inch deep. So far, though, with it set up temporarily in our yard, I’ve mostly just seen our dog using it as a water dish, though I have found bird droppings on the rim, so I know something is using it. In the garden show I’m going to site it at ground level, but after the show I might give it some sort of pedestal to raise it up out of cat range. I still need to sand the rim to make it darker, and I might change the surface below the water level, where you can see chisel scars and one cut mark from the grinder. I could polish the part under the water so it gets dark and glassy, but I kind of like the chisel marks and I might pock mark the whole surface for a bigger contrast with the smooth rim.

After the trapezoidal piece, I moved onto this larger one. I liked its polygonal shape well enough, but I wanted to see if I could make it round. I thought I might have to cut around the edge with a grinder, but it was surprisingly easy to shape with a big handset chisel.

Like the trapezoid, it still needs to be polished. I’ll probably do that next weekend, and then a week after that it will be in the show. I’m pretty excited to see how it looks with plants around it. I’m about halfway finished with the fountain basin I need, and I have a large block I want to make into yet another basin, but so far the large block has pretty much laughed at my efforts to shape it (my sledgehammer broke instead of the stone). I’ll have the fountain ready for the show, but the block is probably going to sit in front of my house for a while. It’s been fun working on all of it, and should be fun finding a final home for each of the pieces after the show.

Healthy Joints

Sort of an interesting before and after on this patio. I did a design for the backyard of a rental property a friend of mine owns, one of those San Francisco backyards that you can only access by walking through the building. A general contractor, or rather the guys he delegates everything to, did the installation. I tried to keep everything really simple, designing the patio as a simple square made up of 24″ x 36″ Connecticut Blue rectangles, which in the Bay Area cost just $7/sq.ft., making it it one of the most cost effective materials after you factor in the simplified installation.

The contractor’s crew butted the stones up against each other as if they were pavers. You can do that with some stones, but these are a little too irregular. I’m not sure how bad it looks in the photos, but in person it didn’t quite look right. It almost looked right, and my friend signed off on it, but it bothered me enough to spend a couple of hours with a helper spreading the stones to give them the quarter inch decomposed granite joint that I’d spec’d. No doubt it’s partly just my personal preference, but it looks much better with the joint. The joint also lets the patio drain better and allowed us do a better job with the DG bed underneath the stones.

With the stones butted together, your eye is drawn to the places where the stones don’t match up perfectly. With the joint absorbing the irregularity, your eye lands on the stones themselves.

Giving the patio a DG joint also made it match better with the stepping stone path leading to the patio.

A couple of before photos. The garden used to have a lot of roses and fruit trees before the owner passed away and everything fell into neglect. There were several grape vines, which confused me at first because there was little chance of them fruiting, but I think they were grown for the leaves.

For now, we only installed the larger plants in the design and everything is sheet mulched in an effort to suppress oxalis. The plants are all nice but fairly common — a fernleaf Japanese Maple, a Lemon tree, a Star Magnolia, a Variegated Buckthorn hedge, Spiraea, some groundcovers — but if a gardener moves in and embellishes the plantings it could be a sweet space.

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