One day a landscaping customer, pointing to a picture in a magazine, asked me to build a dry stack wall–a concept I hadn’t even thought of but it intrigued me. So, I apprenticed with a mason and learned how to set stone and support it with dirt behind the wall. All my years of physical labor finally had an artistic outlet. This was my opportunity to combine my strength with art, my two favorite things. I learned a lot from building my first 5×100 foot long wall — that’s 150 tons of rock.
The second job I took on was quite an undertaking. It was eight long rows in a garden going up a steep hill. The walls incorporated long wooden stairs up the center. When I first envisioned this job, I could see the ends of each wall flowing down to fade into the pathway so they would appear to grow out of the earth. I constructed it so the wall blended into the pathways that led to each raised bed.
This design became one of my dry stack signatures. The other trademark I developed is making thick, wide caps on the top of the wall. To increase durability I also gave my walls a better foundation that provided excellent drainage. Instead of dirt, I started backing my walls with rock and gravel to make them more permanent and endure rain and others stresses of nature. This stopped mud from creeping through the wall, which weakens it. I call it a “dirt free zone.”
At a class in San Francisco, I learned to chisel stone, which opened up even more possibilities. Chiseling allows me to build a tighter wall by fitting the stones closer together. I now favor the look of this tight face with smaller gaps between the stones. I also began adding flats areas in the wall to provide a seat or place to set a pot.