Stone walls in gardens create secluded spaces of beauty that can act as a personal paradise, whether in a busy city or in your own backyard. The presence of a stone wall in a garden provides a sense of privacy and quiet, but can also act as a useful trellis base, vertical garden, sound barrier or shade caster. Learn the basics of how to add a useful rock sculpture to your garden with our short guide on building a stone wall, and get inspired to start your next garden design project.
Deciding the function of the wall is the first thing to do when designing one for your garden. Next is considering the alignment and profile of the wall; should it be sloped, have rolling curves, or be completely straight? Also consider the addition of drainage pipes, stile steps for displaying plants, stairs, passages or gates. Stone walls can be extremely sculptural and intricate. Experiement with the design of your wall by incorporating different artistic elements in between the layers of stone. The height of your wall will determine its function: lower walls act as a hedge, seat or even raised bed, while higher walls act as a base for a shelter or an acoustic barrier.
There are three main types of stone to choose from; igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. Some of the most common rocks found in these groups are granite, basalt, limestone, shale, slate and marble. Choose a type of rock that you can source locally, or possibly even obtain from your property.
You’ll need a sturdy wheelbarrow or cart for moving stones around, as well as a good digging spade, stakes that are at least a foot taller than the height of the wall, and a line and a level for marking out your wall. Chisels, hammers and pick axe will also be useful for working the stone into the right shape and getting it in the right space on your wall.
Plan and lay out your wall with your cord line and stakes first, grubbing out any tree stumps or brush that might be in the way. Square up the four end corners of the wall and make sure that the stakes you’ve driven are level.
Prepping the Ground
Make sure that your wall has a good, level base to rest on. You may need to dig a series of notches if your wall will be on a slight slope. When working below the soil level, keep large stones several inches apart, filling the open space with smaller rocks which helps provide better drainage.
Once you start laying the stones, make sure that each stone sits firmly on the stones below it. If there is a wobble or knob on a stone that obstructs a steady fit, chisel or hammer off the problem spot. You can also choose to set aside stones with larger knobs, placing them in spaces with gaps in between two adjacent stones. Place smaller stones on the interior of the wall to fill gaps in between larger stones, but refrain from placing them on the outer face of the wall, as they tend to come loose there. It’s a good idea to place a tie stone--a long stone placed width wise as opposed to lengthwise--every 6 to 8 feet along the width of the wall.
Save your best, sturdiest and thickest rocks for ends and corners. It’s a good idea to have your corner and end rocks particularly well crosstied. This means that you place a stone large enough to completely cover the gap in between the two stones in the layer below. The edges of stones in different layers should not line up at corners or ends on the inner face of the wall, but should for appearance sake on the outer edge of the wall.
Finishing and Maintenance
Once you’ve finished laying the stones, shovel the sod and soil removed from the footings to the base of the wall. This dirt will settle and provide a slope for rain water to run out on. Make sure to dig any ditches for drainage if you live in an area with heavy rainfall or large snow melts in Spring. Care for your wall by keeping it free of rooting vines and invasive plants, and don’t let too much moss grow on it.