Gardening: To build a stone wall, a solid foundation is essential – News –


Several years ago, when I was young and stupid, I decided to build an 80 foot long terrace for fruit trees, and border it with a pretty field stone retaining wall with stones. that I could find on my property or on a friend’s neighboring property.

Several years ago, when I was young and stupid, I decided to build an 80 foot long terrace for fruit trees, and border it with a pretty field stone retaining wall with stones. that I could find on my property or on a friend’s neighboring property. It was a lot of work, a lot of fun and I made a lot of mistakes. This wall is still standing 30 years later, but I have had to repair it several times.

If you want to build a retaining wall, do your homework! Learn about the process before you begin. This article will give you some basics, but taking a workshop, working with an expert waller, or reading a book or two will help you a lot.

I recently went to Dummerston, Vt, to speak to Master Dry Stone Mason Dan Snow. He is a founding member of The Stone Trust on Scott Farm in Dummerston. Here are some of his suggestions.

Building a wall that stands the test of time, it is important to start the wall on a good base that drains well. He recommends digging a trench and filling it with crushed stone ½ to ¾ inch in diameter. It is not gravel, which contains “fines”, that is to say particles of sand and clay. This is not what you want.

The higher the wall, the deeper the base of crushed stone should be. The general rule he suggested is that the depth of the crushed stone should be half the height of the wall. Build a three foot retaining wall? An 18-inch ditch filled with crushed rock is a good start.

The exception to the rule of starting with a crushed stone footing is if you place the wall on a heavy clay base. Clay can seep into the spaces between the stones and obstruct the drainage. Sand, however, will not and can be used as a base. If the wall sits on a base that is flooded in the spring, you may need to install drains to drain the water.

Snow suggested the 1-2-3 rule for retaining walls. These numbers refer to the proportions of the wall: width greater than width less than height. A three-foot-high wall should be about two feet wide at the base and one foot wide at the top.

When building a wall, free-standing or retaining, it is important that each layer of stone is level. And a gentle slope or a step to the outside of the wall is also required. Many wallers use ropes and a wooden frame to establish the paste or step of the wall. In general, for every 12 inches of wall height, two inches of point to the rear is good.

Another basic principle of building walls, as explained on The Stone Trust’s website (, is to turn long stones into the wall instead of placing them along the wall. This is a mistake I made many times when building my retaining wall. A nice 30 inch stone placed lengthwise along the wall gives you a nice look, but it doesn’t hold the wall in place like it would if inserted back and forth into the wall.

Snow also reminded me of the old adage: “Two stones in one, every two stones. This means, never stack stones of similar size on top of each other. You want each stone to be in contact with more than one stone above and below.

I asked Snow to use landscaping fabric behind a retaining wall. I thought this was a good practice, as it can prevent soil from entering the wall, filling in gaps, and clogging the drainage. If a wall holds water behind it and it freezes, he explained, the frost can push a wall forward. But the snow is not great on the fabric of the landscape; he just prefers to have very good drainage so that is not a problem.

Many gardeners who have a hilly site want stone steps to make it easier to climb up or down hills without slipping on wet grass. We looked at the stages of The Stone Trust, and Snow explained the basics: start at the bottom and build up. Make sure that each subsequent stone rests on the back of the stone below. The weight of the upper stone will hold the lower stone in place. Finally, make sure that the front of each riser is either vertical or suspended above the supporting stones. He said it is important when you step down that your heel does not hit a piece of stone that is in front of the ledge of the step.

For the past nine years, The Stone Trust has offered multi-day courses and workshops to home gardeners and dry stone masons to equip them with the skills to work with stone. I wish I had taken a workshop before trying to build a wall.

Snow has two excellent books on stonework: “Listening to Stone: Hardy Structures, Perilous Follies and Other Tangles with Nature” and “In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall”. Much of what he builds is art or fantasy, and Peter Mauss’s photos are remarkable. Snow’s website is

Another great resource for working with stone is that of Gordon Hayward, who is a neighbor and friend of Snow, an excellent garden designer and the author of many fabulous books. His book “Stone in the Garden: Inspiring Designs and Practical Projects” is full of great photos and very specific and useful advice. I highly recommend it.

Don’t be intimidated by the stone. Learn how to use it well and it will make you happy every time you go to your garden, even if your walls are not perfect.

– Henry Homeyer’s blog is published twice a week on Write to him at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a SASE if you would like a response by mail. Or send an email to [email protected]

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