In a previous post I explained the history of our house and its previous owners. One of the nice things the original owners created was a tiered rock wall with flowerbeds along the stairs to our front door. I’m sure it was beautiful at the time but the second owners completely neglected it. When we bought the house it looked like this:
Well not exactly…there were some small trees growing in there that we cut down right when we bought the house. As you can see over 35 years the dirt made its way through the rocks and mounded on the tier below it. It became impossible to keep mulch there because every time it rained it would spill over the side. Originally, we tried to fix the area by just digging down the flower beds but we ran into another problem. There was still an angled pile of dirt between the driveway and the rock wall for weeds to grow in. I tried growing Vinca Minor (aka. Periwinkle) a hardy groundcover there but between the winter plowing and occasional salting it didn’t do too well. After digging out the beds last year:
Notice how small the rocks look…
Flannel Man (FM) insisted on tearing out the rock wall and redoing it this year. We started by digging out the hard compacted dirt between the rock wall and the driveway. Then we took apart the rock wall piece by piece. What seemed to be a straight forward task of course became a much more difficult one when we realized many of the boulders were much larger than they appeared. We wouldn’t have been able to move some of them if we hadn’t dug out the area in front of them.
After we had moved all of the rocks we dug down where the rock wall had been and added gravel. After having done many projects involving gravel we’ve found that the cheapest place to get it is straight from our local quarry. You need to have a trailer though as they load the gravel with some big machinery that doesn’t have enough finesse to load a pick-up truck. This time we got ¾” limestone with fill which basically means it has both rocks and sand. It is the recommended base for patios and other hardscape since it compacts down very well. We also added landscaping fabric behind the wall to help keep soil from coming through the gaps.
Because this is a natural stone (aka. field stone) wall we didn’t need a drain pipe nor did we need to bury the bottom layer of rocks for a base. A cut stone or cement block wall should have 1” of buried wall for every foot of exposed wall height.
Since the new wall was going to be taller than the old one we had to come up with some more boulders. At stone yards we’ve seen medium sized boulders for $100-150 a pop since the price is based on weight. $150 for a rock! And not even a pretty colored one, those are more. Instead we turned to a great local source, farmers. Living in farm country we know that every farmer has at least one pile of rocks they hit when plowing their fields. So we visited a friend’s farm who said he “had a few rocks.” After driving through a long, muddy field (4 wheel drive trucks really come in handy in the country) we saw his 8’ tall 40’ long rock pile. We were in rock pile heaven! So we dug through the pile picking out our favorite rocks which sometimes meant moving ten rocks to get to one but hey they were free. We got about 20 rocks which would have cost us $2500 at the stone yard.
Here’s what the finished 40’ x 3’ wall looked like:
For a few of the really heavy rocks that we couldn’t move back into the wall we had to have our neighbor move with his tractor. One of them became a step for the transition between the end of the rock wall and the lawn. The other two are now in our woods.
**Public Service Announcement**
Note the beautiful tulips in the background of the picture above. This is the time of year to plant your bulbs for next year. Last fall I bought a bag of 50 tulip bulbs and planted them on either side of our driveway for some nice spring color. Not all of them came up as I found out that squirrels love to eat them and a few others came up in the ditch (now I know I didn’t plant those there!) because the squirrels moved them but overall it was a success. For $13 from Costco I’m happy with the results.
**Back to the rock wall**
We also dug down the upper two tiers of rock wall in a similar fashion to even everything out. To edge the flower bed we ended up using a composite material because we thought the brick border that we used on other flower beds would look strange next to natural rocks. Then to finish of the space between the rock wall and driveway we added flagstone with polymeric sand. This makes the space easy to plow and walk on plus the rock wall has become a make shift seating area. Here’s what the finished product looks like:
Most of the flowers were done blooming at this point but they will put on quite a show next year. I’ll follow up with a separate post on the polymeric sand for those of you who are interested.
Now that the rock wall is done we’ve moved onto another flagstone project that is still in the works. More on that later.