Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Creative Hardscapes

Tuesday afternoon and the outside appearance is no different now than it was at 7 this morning. The temperature lingers at 37 degrees as a fine mist drifts to earth, now mixed without choice, with the gray wood smoke which floats about horizontally. I tried writing last evening but the weather conditions and Cyber Monday slowed our new satellite connection so much that Gail felt dial-up looked good again. With anything new, there is a period of adjustment.

The weather last evening was interesting. My son Adam lives in Seattle and it was 31 degrees there. A lady wrote from British Columbia and offered pictures of 24" of snow which shouldn't have been there. It was 50 degrees here in Marshfield at the very same time I was checking out other geography. I have seen times in Vermont when today would be 12 degrees below zero with a howling wind and 2 feet of snow. The current temperature puts us one day closer to spring gardening and gives a few more precious hours to walk the gardens and make notes for winter's garden design projects.

Hardscapes are the supportive skeletons of our gardens and they can take many forms. Here in Marshfield where glacial erratics are common, a few common tools and primitive knowledge of mechanical advantage can lead to some interesting hardscapes. Like a chiropractor says he realigns vertebrae, the gardener can rearrange stones to enhance plant life, define garden rooms and accentuate paths and garden architecture

As rock is degraded by nature, the sizes and shapes we are left to work with have great variation. Depending upon our skill and resources we can incorporate stone from bonsai sized pebbles and sand reminiscent of aged coastal Maine rock to Volkswagen sized boulders tossed off Vermont mountains or left along volcanic pathways.

Many have written about using stone in horticulture and volumes are left to be composed. It's not that techniques will change a great deal but more artisans will wish to share their mix of stonework, plantings and photography. Any online search will produce numbers of books which can assist your decision to get involved with stone or not.

My personal library has a few books on stonework and I go back to each at different times of the year. They serve as reminders to the potential beauty of stone and also caution me to work carefully so that the weight of the beauty doesn't become a physical weight on me personally.

Last winter I had a chance to attend an evening lecture at the Cabot Library. Connie, the Cabot librarian, does a special job with lots of interesting folks. The lectures draw good crowds and fine conversation for days to come. She invited Dan Snow to discuss his profession of dry stacking stone. He has written a book I am fond of entitled In The Company of Stone. Between the book and the lecture you want to grab some tools and go to work.

The Granite Kiss: Traditions and Techniques of Building New England Stone Walls by Kevin Gardner is another good resource. I like the title because it warns of the danger of stone work when the laborer put hands where they do not belong and they are "kissed" by the rocks as reminder to who is in charge. I don't like to be kissed that way and to this day have a dented, rippled thumbnail that reminds me.

Gordon Hayward from southern Vermont has those manicured garden thoughts in mind when he suggests uses for stone. In his book, Stone in the Garden: Inspiring Design & Practical Projects he presents pictures and writes about stone from an organized perspective. This is a good resource.

Sometimes simple is best of all, and my favorite book is also the best of all. It was written by Curtis P. Fields who I knew from my earlier days growing up in Woodstock, Vermont. His book is entitled The Forgotten Art of Building a Stone Wall. It was first printed in 1971 by Yankee, Inc. and by 1986 when I was gifted a copy it was in its 12th printing. To have known the man and to have touched the walls he built firmed up a memory and some benchmarks for working with stone.
I have tried to describe my enjoyment with working with stone and some of what I have accomplished on two pages of our website, Vermont Flower Farm. In each one, I've tried to show how the stone and the gardens evolve over time.
Building A Hosta Garden http://vermontflowerfarm.com/building.html and Stone Steps

Using stone doesn't have to be any more dramatic that I did in 2000 when I started the lower hosta garden here at Vermont Flower Farm. 7 pieces of granite ranging in length from 6 feet to 11 feet, randomly set in the earth with no real plan have become a discussion piece for visitors and a backdrop for a future hosta garden. The ground beneath is carpeted with several varieties of epimedium and there are probably 35 different hostas mixed among the stones. The backdrop is formed by Hosta 'Tall Boy' and Lilium superbum and over time the grouping will flow nicely. In the meantime, a different application stands tall as an example of what you can do when you get creative with your garden hardscape!
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the mist hangs tight and Karl the wonder dog barks gruffly at the kid by the mailbox leaving off the weekly buyers digest.
Gardening wishes,
George Africa

1 comment:

Susan Tomlinson said...

I agree, George. I love stonework in a garden. It's a lot of hard work, though--a most excellent exercise in every sense of the word.