Continuing the Terraces

This weekend saw our warmest weather for almost 5 months, so it was an absolute pleasure to get outside and work in the garden. And with the mild sunshine it was a lovely excuse to focus on something other than the areas that have been badly damaged by winter.

I continued the retaining wall project, which, due to the constant snowy weather from July is quite behind schedule.

To be environmentally friendly, EVERY stone was dug up from the garden while preparing the soil (this gives you an idea of how AWFUL my soil is) and all the walls are dry-stacked.

So apart from the new plants and mulch this new garden area has had almost no carbon input as it was all dug and laid by hand.

I’ll be removing the old hills hoist which, while super-practical, has all of the charm of a high-tension electricity pole, so it was lovely to get the second terrace and new drying area constructed and planted out all in a couple of days before the rain set in.

These stack-stone walls are surprisingly strong…the early ones I created have stood up to floods, frost, destructive hail, heavy snow, fallen tree branches and unsupervised children.

The other benefit is that without mortar, the wall won’t crack in hard frosts, water can’t build up behind the wall and push it over, and gaps in the stones are the perfect insect hotels (and when the soil fills the gaps, plant nooks!).

And there is the environmental and financial benefits of not using huge amounts of concrete.

But to be on the safe side, and given that I mostly have rather small stones to work with (if you were buying stones from a quarry you would want at least double the size), I’ve made sure that these walls are no more than 500-600mm / 1′ – 2′ high.

Here is a detail of the new drying area, showing how fiddly the work is:

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Fiddly stone details

The drying area also has the Leylandii hedge along the perimeter which will hide it completely from view. It will be trimmed once it reaches 1.8m / 5’10”.

I only have a 1000m² (¼ acre) garden, so screening utilitarian areas is a must!

When the weather gets warmer I will cover the grass patch with black plastic to kill it prior to laying pea-gravel.

I have been lucky to have enough space to be able to make the garden beds at least 3 – 5m / 10 – 16′ wide to accommodate the trees and shrubs:

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Future drying area behind hedge

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Looking East towards the stairs

This is how the terraces meet up with the stairs to get to the upper garden and shows the curve around the hill to larger trees (behind that ‘fingers of god’ effect):

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The lower terrace curves around the slope in distance. This will eventually be a patch of oval shaped lawn

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Back in January when I started the project

There is one more terrace to go in front of the lowest rock wall before this part of the project can be called complete.

Even though it isn’t evident in the picture, it’s still uncomfortably steep and will need another half a dozen new stairs to link up with the bottom of the back garden towards the house.

The rocks all look very raw, but they age quickly and beautifully, and these stone walls are a large part of the vernacular around here.

Here you can see similar walls in an award-winning garden nearby:

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Not my garden…..

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Not my garden…..(both images from Google)

Once covered in lichen and plantings, it shows what can be achieved with exactly the same stone….but the real reason for doing this was to not have to push a mower up a 35° weed-covered slope, or to try and keep plants hydrated during summer…the terraces slow the movement of water down, and allow it to soak in (another plus for the environment).

Now, where’s my back-brace 🙂

Happy Gardening!

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50 thoughts on “Continuing the Terraces

  1. Your stone walls have a charming rustic look. I’d never thought about the problem with water backing up. I’ve seen walls where plants grow in the crevices, and they’re lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Judy – they are an acquired taste (I have to admit I didn’t much like the dry-stone walls when I first moved here) but unless I want to send tonnes of rock to the tip, it’s about the only thing I can do with it!

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  2. Grin … I really like what you have do with tour removed garden rocks(stones). No bad luck intended but I’m sure happy that I do not have to contend with a rock problem.
    Happy back pain free gardening

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s looking great, Matt. You’ve made so much progress; I can see just how many thousands of hours have gone into it so far. It was fantastic having some lovely warm weather on Saturday, although it is thunder and lightning here now! Mind you, I’m appreciative of the rain. Can’t wait to see your garden grow through the spring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Janna! It has been a long project digging, moving and sorting stones…there are still many more retained areas to make, but in other parts of the garden (I’m keen to avoid a biblical hanging garden look). We’ve had storms all afternoon as well, including a lot of tiny hail (which looks like snow…just what I want to see more of!)…spring is so close, so this thunder and rain will do wonders for the plants.

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  4. patsquared2 says:

    All those stones came from your garden? That is “bad dirt.” But you did make me smile. Lots of lovely pictures of all your hard work and then the “not my garden” series. I am leaving the house to get yet another surgery scar on my face remodeled (skin cancer) so smiling was not on my mind. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pat – yes, all these are just 1 spade depth below the surface, so at least I don’t have to dig too far to unearth a quarry…goodness what is below that 🙂
      That’s terrible news about the surgery, I do hope it all goes well. Skin cancer is so common here as well, I’ve had numerous ones cut out…fair skin and subtropical sunshine don’t really go well together, I’m afraid….

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  5. It’s good to see all your progress Matt. You have worked very hard… but at least once the walls are in you can relax a bit and enjoy taking your time with the planting. Making a garden is very much like having a baby I think. Once you’ve got it the way you want you forget about all the pain!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gillian – that’s a good analogy (although I’m always amazed at how women cope with the pain of childbirth!)
      This new garden area is probably an extra 200m2, but it’s exciting to think of how many plants I can cram in between now and next autumn!

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  6. The stacked stones look great. This kind of work will save you a gym membership! Over here in New England, those kind of walls have stood for a century or two. Alas, on the Gulf Coast we have no rocks and must pay for them. No high stone walls here.

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    • Thanks – who needs to use an exercise bike when there’s gardening to be done! They are very durable: the two last pictures were built in the 1920s, so maybe my walls will still be here after I’m long gone 🙂

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    • Thanks! I’m trying to keep my eye out for the ice plants and sedums to fill the cracks (these stone walls face the sun, so ferns won’t do well). It’s odd, around all the rocks I dig up are clay blobs which is quite odd for soil that resembles the beach, so I guess over millennia clinging to buried rocks is how organic matter gets converted from rubbish sand soil to rubbish clay soil!

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    • Ha-ha! Thanks Tina, I should have mentioned that when taking into account the ‘carbon neutral’ aspect of this sort of work…the need for an electric heat pad to ease lower back pain 🙂

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  7. I’m very impressed with your dry-stack walls, Matt, all the more so because you collected the rock on-site. Our entire neighborhood is the site of an old (1940s) rock quarry but there’s little left for us to use other then pebble to fist-sized rocks. We’ll be buying stone to finish off the half-completed dry-stack wall in our glen area. Perhaps it was only half-finished because the prior owners ran out of stone on site. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the physical demands of that project. Please take care of your back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kris, I always bend with the knees, but no matter how hard you try, working on the sloping ground comes with some risk…thankfully it clears within a day or two.
      It is so expensive trying to buy rocks that can be dry-stacked….and then the chore of laying them. Will you be doing it all yourself?

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  8. First, I have to say ” due to the constant snowy weather from July is quite behind schedule.” just is hard for me to believe..snow and july in same sentence-LOL

    Your wall is PERFECT! I wish I had that wall-love the colors! My father has property up north and dug all the rocks out of his property. He has acreage, we do not in the city. I love how his wall. How it looks with flowers bloomng.. It is a lot of work-I have no doubt.

    Your garden is quite lovely. Your walkway up to the upper garden is so inviting-great job. I can’t wait to see your garden when our snow flies…but still can’t get over snow + july-lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny isn’t it. It’s like when we say ‘we spent Christmas day down at the beach’ Lol 🙂
      Thanks, I do love the colour of the rocks here – they are a mix of sandstone and ironstone which has a nice purple and red tint to it so it will work well with so many different types of flower colours.
      Hopefully your winter won’t be as harsh as the last few years!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. you have done a lot of work Matt and it all looks good, you are lucky your stone is relatively flatish so you can build with it, the stone on Orkney is apparently like that too, here it comes out in all sorts of odd shapes which is why most of it only really works as hardcore for paths, still better than none, they say using local stone looks more natural too and yours could hardly be more local!
    nice you have some warmer weather now, Frances

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    • Thanks Frances, there are plenty of odd shaped stones too, they have gone behind the main walls as rubble and then the left overs (which will be lots as I have only dug about 1/4 of the garden) will be used as swales to help keep water away from the foundation of the house.
      I love the Orkney stone – it is so much longer an regular than the stuff I’m digging up (although that said, I’m sure I could chip away at them if I were so inclined)

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  10. I am twitching thinking about removing every stone from the soil. Stevie-boy once dug a hole to concrete in a fence post. We removed just on 20 stones from said hole and most of them were heavy. The rest of the soil on the property is subject to varying degrees of “stone” and massive clay down a foot. I hear you! Your terracing is going great guns. I am too lazy to terrace and will be using hugelkultur to get my raised gardens (a good way to use up all of the branches and leafy debris from our 4 acres). Can’t wait to see how your gorgeous landscape pans out. We had a sunny day yesterday. I didn’t make stone walls, I basked like a lizard 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I would have preferred to bask like a lizard 🙂
      The stone wall at the front of the property that is still to be built is the one I am least looking forward to as it can’t be as ‘home-spun’ as the ones in the back, so I’ll have to perfect those stone-wall skills 🙂

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      • When they are constructed properly, they are gorgeous long lasting things. Can’t wait to see what you come up with. About 6 months ago, a house owner in our neighbourhood decided to use the stones that were removed from his house plot when the house was being built to create some really gorgeous corner “stones”. They are incredibly well made pillars that are perfectly square. I doubt that he did it himself and they echo the Mediterranean feel that he has decided to implement in his garden incredibly well. Nothing like a nice recycle of free natural resources in your garden, constructed well, to add bucket-loads of appeal to your garden and give you a sense of satisfaction in your engagement in the process 🙂

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      • They last for ages…when you fill them with mortar (and leave a gap to emulate drystone), it’s very easy to get them perfectly square, as you have a little squishy bed to raise and lower stones into a line and you only need to worry about one face looking nice as the rest is taken care of by mortar and fill. Whereas with the drystone, you can’t always use the best face as it might give a better bond sideways (if that makes sense). The mortared ones look lovely, but for this project I would have needed huge amounts of cement, so I opted for cheap, because I know I won’t be able to help myself buying a zillion plants, so it won’t be seen anyways!!!

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  11. Oh gosh, I know how hard that is. In places here it is also very stony, I’d been planning on using them to restore a cobbled path but that is on the long term project list! Your terraces are looking fabulous already Matt and the steps work really well.

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    • Thanks Jessica! I’ve been using the steps for a while – once this part of the stone-work is finished, I’ll get a load of gravel to finish off the paths/steps. But the nicest part of it is all of the extra planting space 🙂

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  12. I don’t know if I should be happy for your success or sorry your soil has so many rocks in it!
    Looks great and I think it will only improve with time. You have a knack for rocklaying, but by the sound of it I don’t think there’s much hope for a career in it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! It’s a bit of both, I think 🙂
      You’d be surprised how much is charged for building these sorts of walls (with a mortar stack to hold the centre together) – it comes in at about $300 p/sqft, and not many people can do it, but it is generally only for the wealthy at that price!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter! It’s a case of do it now while I’m still young or suffer the ignominy of paying someone to mow a weedy slope when I’m older and cant hold a mower in one arm while abseiling down the slope!

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    • Thanks Jason! Originally, I was going to have just one terrace and do it with mortar, but then I would have needed re-bar, sand/cement plus tonnes of new soil to get the levels, which becomes pricey and in the end I will just cram it full of plants anyway, so dry-stack was a no-brainer!

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