DryStoneGarden

Plants and Stone for California Gardens

Flower

The Oldest Living Things

A few years back, after a visit to the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains, I included a link to a collection of photos by Rachel Sussman, a photographer whose project is photographing living things more than 2,000 years old. She has a book out now, The Oldest Living Things on Earth. Some amazing plants. I like to think that stonework should be designed to last 100 years, but 2,000 year old plants make that seem like short-term thinking. There’s a TEDTalk on her website, also worth watching.

Piet Oudolf Documentary Trailer

Piet Oudolf documentary teaser from Thomas Piper on Vimeo.

There’s a Piet Oudolf documentary in the works. I’m looking forward to it; even the trailer is worth watching.

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

Other Garden Show Gardens

Here are the photos I took during the show. I may be biased, but I thought the gardens were really good this year, with a lot of cool things to see. This first one was probably my favorite, a nautical/waterfront themed garden by McKenna Landscape. All of the wood is repurposed from old fences and decks. The seating area was great and I liked the discrete little water feature reminiscent of the bilge holes of a boat.

Terra Ferma had a great trellis built with old grape vines lashed onto a metal frame, and most of the plants around it were native.

Greenlee made a sublime meadow with grape vines, grasses, and scattered flowers. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

The water wheel and submarine were both fun.

This garden did a great job of making stormwater tanks (the black plastic drums inside the metal frames) look good. I also liked the dry streambeds designed to hold the overflow water from the tanks.

And I also liked the chairs made out of old propane tanks in the garden by the students at ASU. I sat in them for a while during a slow point in the show; very comfortable and one of the many nice places to hang out during the show. IIt was great to have seen all of these gardens get built and then to spend so much time at the show amongst them.

Garden Show Photos

Here are the photos of my display garden in the flower and garden show. I thought of doing posts during setup and during the show, but, wow, the garden show has a way of swallowing you up and not giving you a moment of free time.

Even after doing the show twice, it still kind of blows my mind that the gardens are all setup indoors on top of concrete slabs and that it all gets built during a few hectic days.

Two similar views from the side of the garden, early in construction and then during the show.

Meadowfoam was one of the plant stars of the garden. The garden also had Species Tulips, Irises, and a Western Azalea in bloom, and a Redtwig Dogwood cultivar, ‘Arctic Fire,’ that had everyone admiring the orange-y red stems.

The Western Azalea was intensely fragrant the first few days of the show.

This is the stone basin from my last post, after I polished it. I floated hellebore flowers in it.

And a photo of the fountain I made. The Irises in front of the fountain were full of flowers when we setup the garden, but I accidentally knocked them off while I was adjusting the flow of the water. I took photos of some of the other display gardens too. There were a lot of nice ones this year. I’ll probably post those photos in a few days.

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.