Getting Stoned

If you like to garden, February is more of a planning month than an active planting month, but if the weather cooperates it can be a good time to hardscape. Hardscaping is pretty much anything man-made that is incorporated in your garden, ranging from paths to patios, and birdbaths to barbeques. 
I’ve always been a fan of incorporating natural stone into a garden. Placing rocks strategically in with your plants provides a nice contrast in the growing season, and adds interest to dormant beds over the winter. Once they are in place, they are virtually carefree. I’ve killed hundreds of plants over the years, but never one rock. 
I’m also one of those rock-obsessed goofballs who yell “Pull over!” when I’m in the mountains and happen to pass an almost accessible creek bed or spot recent rock falls on the shoulder. Stones must pass two tests to make it into the car. First, the character test. There should be something of interest about it, like its color, shape, wear, or patina. Then there is the hernia test. Said rock should be large enough to stand out in the landscape, but small enough that the strongest person with you can barely carry it back to the car. 
Another way to incorporate stone into your garden is by using it to define borders or areas of your yard. My favorite way to do this is to build a dry stack stone wall. Dry stacking is the technique of simply stacking stones on top of one another, and they are held in place by gravity and soil. If they are under 12 inches high, they are a great DIY project that can transform your yard. 
Start by finding your stone. For this project, finding your stone means finding a landscaping supply or garden center that carries the stone in the size and color you’d like. Dry stacking is popular, so most places will have pallets of flat rocks in various colors and thicknesses. I’m fresh off a dry stacking weekend, and I chose a green-gray. Since I was only going three courses high, I chose stones ranging from 1 to 3 inches thick. 
Next, use a shovel or a stick to outline the front of your wall. If it’s a long border, consider letting it curve in and out a bit to add some interest. Once you have the area outlined, dig down about two to three inches and put a layer of gravel down to help with drainage, then start laying down your first course. When you have about ten feet of your first course in place, start on your second course, and when that is almost as long as the first, start on your top and final run.
You can only see the front of the bottom two courses, so use your irregularly shaped stones for those, and keep your more uniform, prettier stones for the top course. A good 25-dollar investment for this project is a masonry hammer, which you can use to knock off any parts that are causing a poor fit. Just make sure you use safety glasses.
When you’re done, stand back and eyeball your work, and make any adjustments necessary to fill small gaps or level the top stones. After that, add a little gravel behind the wall to help with drainage, then rake in or fill the back with soil just below the top course. That’s it! Rock on sister and take a bow.

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