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Teardrop Park


The day after seeing Four Freedoms Park, I walked along the Hudson River from Battery Park up to the High Line. There are a number of interesting bits of stonework along that stretch of Manhattan including the fort walls at Castle Clinton, the anachronistic Irish Hunger Memorial, and the carefully detailed 911 memorial. I also walked the High Line but its famous plantings were cut back and leafless. It’s a nice site, though, and I enjoyed it even if it wasn’t at it’s horticultural peak. But my favorite spot along the river front was Teardrop Park, a small park with a stone wall about eighteen feet high. Technically the wall is veneer, but it’s built with oversized blocks that make it much cooler than any typical veneer.


To my surprise, the posted park rules didn’t say anything about prohibiting climbing, so I went up it a few times. It would be too easy with climbing shoes, but in street shoes it was pretty fun.


The park won an ASLA award a few years ago. The project description called the stone ‘Alcove Blue Stone’; in the Bay Area, the stone’s trade name is Cabernet.


The diagonal courses of stone are meant to recall geological striations.


Other areas of the park use the striated stone as well.





I would have loved this park as a kid, and I heard several different kids cry when they were told it was time to leave.


A big slide with rocks to climb to reach the top, you can’t get much better than that. A great little park.

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 but some other things got put on hold as I made sure to fit my schedule around the important games. What’s the point of being your own boss if you don’t 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.


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.


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 mortarless.

The View towards the House Before

The View towards the House 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.

Wall Lighting

A little before we left for Belize I finished a project in Walnut Creek that I’d been working on for a while. No garden is ever truly finished and there are still a few things to do in this one — redoing the handrailing, painting the wall — but I’m not the one responsible for that phase so I get to call it done. Much of this project was done during the period of heavy winter rains in December and then there was a long delay while the light fixture for the wall was decided on and then fabricated. Landscape lighting generally gives more immediate gratification than any other aspect of landscaping, but we had a hard time finding the right fixture for this one. There are tons of lantern-style lights designed for eight-foot-high stuccoed walls, but not many for a three foot retaining wall of stone.

Some photos of lighting (which for some reason has attracted the biggest flurry of spam that I’ve seen in a long time) are below. (more…)

Elk Mtn. Tumbled Edging with Flowers

Thursday while I was down on the peninsula, I passed near a house where I did a small stone project last fall, so I stopped by to check out the planting that the client did afterwards. Pretty nice, and fun to see someone else’s plant choices. There wasn’t a drawing or anything when I did the project, just a request for an 8″ high wall to give a back drop to a low planting of color, and I didn’t know exactly what would go in afterwards. You can’t see so much of the stonework at the moment, but it will reappear as the plants finish their bloom cycles.

The yard had nice trees and shrubs before, but it’s a lot more interesting now. This photo from when I finished the project was in my 2010 wrap-up post.

Japanese Dry Stone Walling

Rather more on-topic is this video. The footage is from the Stone Foundation’s January workshop and symposium. 14th and 15th generation Japanese stone masons came to California to demonstrate their traditional method of dry stone castle and wall building, and to supervise the construction of some ramparts at a park in Ventura. Most noteworthy in the technique is that the walls are battered with a subtle arch/concave shape for structural stability and that each of the structures has a ‘mirror stone,’ an especially large stone meant to reflect the strength of the builder or owner. The caption says the video is a documentary in progress, but I like it as is; it’s not fast-paced, but that’s appropriate for a stonework video, and there’s some good footage of rock shaping.

The Stone Foundation has an article about the project with info and photos. The Ventura County Reporter did a writeup with a slideshow, and the Ventura County Star put video footage in theirs. I’ve never been to any of the symposiums, but I know a few people who have, and they speak really highly of them. Looks like it was pretty cool.

Connecticut Blue Tumbled

One of the other forms Connecticut Blue takes in the Bay Area is as tumbled stone for edging and very low walls. It comes in a few different widths, but the stone in this garden is 6 inches in width, which is a bit undersized for retaining walls; the stones just don’t have the mass to lock in securely. Also, the tumbling makes the stone kind of low on friction. But, that said, the stone has been in this garden a long time (since before I first saw it five years ago), and it’s really easy to re-stack any sections that shift. It’s probably one of the best stones to use if you don’t have much experience at stacking; you just try to keep the stones level and break your joints. I like it for this type of cottage garden with the plants growing around the stone, hiding it in the summer and revealing it in the winter.

In the last photo, you can sort of see from the wide joints that the stones on this section are slowly migrating down the slope. A rule of dry-stacking is to keep the stones perpendicular to gravity even on a cross-slope, like steps rather than a ramp. The more regular and rectangular the stone, the more important it is, but people don’t seem to follow that rule as much nowadays in this age of mortared stonework. It’s not a big deal with low edging that is so easy to re-stack, but it would be a problem in a larger wall. In this case, though I was spending a few hours re-stacking someone else’s stonework, I considered it more like garden maintenance than a stone repair job, and if I hadn’t been replanting the garden, the owners would have left the stone how it was. A few plant photos are below. (more…)

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