Gardening In Stone Walls – Ideas For Planting Flowers In A Wall

Large stone or rock walls can sometimes dominate or overshadow the home landscape. The commanding presence of so much hard, cold stone can seem obtrusive and out of place. While many homeowners may see just a looming structure, gardeners will see the crevices between the stones as an opportunity for a new planting project. Growing plants in a stone wall can soften and blend the stone into the landscape. Continue reading to learn more about gardening in retaining walls.

Gardening in Stone Walls

Living stone walls are commonly seen throughout Europe. In England, stone walls are considered the bones of the garden and are built with planting nooks for herbs or other plants. Planting flowers in a wall is an easy way to bring life to cold, dead stone and many plants will thrive in the unique microclimates of the wall’s crevices.

Plants growing in these planting nooks will appreciate the moisture and cool soil that stones can provide in the summer months. In the winter, these same crevices will stay warmer and quickly drain excess moisture away from plant roots, preventing rots or fungal diseases.

Most experts would agree that the best way to create a living stone wall is by planting in the crevices as the wall is being built. This method allows you to plan out specific plant pockets in the structure of the wall, place good growing media in the crevices and grow plants with larger root structures. Plants growing in a stone wall generally require a well-draining, sandy loam soil. The gravely soil fill that is oftentimes used in the construction of walls may drain too well, and usually lacks any nutrients to help the plants establish.

After the wall’s first level of stone is laid, rich growing media and plants are placed in the nooks created by the naturally irregular shape of the stones. Then a next level of stone is gently placed over the planting pockets, and the process is repeated until you reach your desired height of the wall.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to plant in a stone wall as it is being built, but most existing stone walls can still be planted in. Poor soil can be removed from potential planting crevices with a long bladed trowel or garden knife and repacked with good growing media. These designated planting nooks can either be planted with seeds or plants with small root structures. Take care when digging between rocks to not weaken the structure.

Ideas for Planting Flowers in a Wall

When gardening in retaining walls, it is best to avoid plants that develop large, strong root structures that could potentially damage the structure of the wall. The best plants for rock walls are alpine plants, succulents, and plants that are drought resistant. Generally, they can thrive with small root structures and little water or nutrients.

There are many plants that can grow well in the crevices of rock walls, so be sure to weed out any tree seedlings or other volunteers that may settle in between rocks. Below are some excellent plants for gardening in stone walls:

  • Alyssum
  • Artemisia
  • Campanula
  • Candytuft
  • Chamomile
  • Columbine
  • Corydalis
  • Creeping jenny
  • Creeping phlox
  • Creeping thyme
  • Dianthus
  • Hens and chicks
  • Lavender
  • Lemon thyme
  • Lobelia
  • Mints
  • Nepeta catmint
  • Primrose
  • Rockcress
  • Rosemary
  • Soapworts
  • Snapdragons
  • Snow in the summer
  • Stonecrop
  • Thrift
  • Wallflowers

The Gardening Bible

Established plants

Buying seedlings or making transplants from other parts of the garden is the best means of filling the dry stone wall with imme­diate colour.

Plants should be small and young so they can adapt to their new site. They will probably have come from richer, damper soil, whether they are container grown or trans­planted. Do not try to use plants which are fully mature and have reached their maximum size. They may not survive the shock of moving to a stressful and harsh environment.

• Find a suitable gap be­tween the wall stones or bricks which has enough room for the plant’s roots to grow into. There should also be enough space to add some more soil to cover up the roots completely. This gives them the best possi­ble start.

• Use a sandy mixture with loam (crumbly garden soil rich in organic matter).

• Push the roots well back into the recess of the crevice. Try not to damage them if at all possible.

• Transplant in autumn or spring, when there is plenty of rain. Do not transplant in very dry weather.

• Water plants if drought threatens during their first few months.

TIP

PATHS AND PATIOS

Wall plants usually grow well between paving stones and blocks on paths and patios. They soften the look of the stone and make it seem cooler in the heat. As the gaps are often small, plant seed directly into the cracks. The roots need to be in touch with the soil, which may mean breaking underlying foundations. Water often, until the seedlings are well established.

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Rock Gardens, Types of Gardens | Tags: plants for walls, rock gardens, rock plants, walls | Comments Off on Growing Plants in Walls

Gardening

Many, many people love and adore this flower but find it hard to get the right variety. By the right variety I mean the one that grows tight over rocks and stones and gets into crevices in walls. Well, ‘Mrs. Rosholt’ is the name of this variety. ‘Mrs. Resholt’ is a low-growing, spreading, semi-evergreen to evergreen perennial with small kidney or heart-shaped, toothed, mid-green leaves and racemes of star-shaped, mid- to violet blue flowers in summer. It is not a difficult variety to grow but a few rules apply:

Rule No 1

While campanula loves dry conditions it need to be well watered till it gets established .

Rule no 2

You will needs patience ,while this plants grows fast it does take a while to get established.

Rule no 3

The best time to stick this plant into crevices of walls is October, but you will not get this plant for sale then as it is always sold out in early May.

Rule no 4

Buy plants now and grow them on in the ground or in larger pots and containers – this will give you a ready supply of material that you can stick into crevices and holes. These will get anchored in over winter and start to grow the following Spring, giving you your required effect you had wished for.

Rule no 5

Campanula is good combined with other rockery plants, especially aubretia, the purple spring flowering rock plant that most people confuse with campanula. A combined planting will give you a prolonged flowering season from Spring right through to late summer.

Planting instructions:

Campanula loves well drained soil, so add lots of grit if you are planting in the ground or in pots. If planting into stones walls, just use some wet soil mixed with Westland slow-release fertilizer. Campanula can be evergreen in dry conditions, but in damper soils will lose its foliage for winter.

Description: A good neat, clone of this vigorous alpine plant which is smothered in deep purple flowers in mid-summer. It makes an excellent wall plant. Grow in a soil that is not too dry in sun or semi-shade. May-Aug. Height approx. 15Cm, spreading habit.

Dry-stone walls are a design classic, so beautiful they look good even when photographed in black and white. Judging by the amount of RHS medals they’ve won in show gardens recently, they’re not going out of fashion any time soon. But they’re not just a pretty face – they’re smart too.

Their cleverness lies in their simplicity. With a mortar-built wall, even the smallest gap will allow water to penetrate. When this freezes, the mortar cracks, which ultimately leads to the demise of the wall. Dry-stone walls have no such weakness, and hence require very little maintenance. The absence of mortar gives them impeccable eco-friendly credentials too: for every tonne of cement manufactured and used in a traditional wall, approximately a tonne of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. And they are great for wildlife, encouraging mosses, lichens, birds, toads, newts and slowworms to set up home.

Plants

Which plants can thrive in or on a wall? If it’s in full sun, you’ll need something that can tolerate hot, dry conditions, so try herbs such as thyme and marjoram, or the colourful Aubrieta ‘Blue Cascade’, the indestructible red valerian (Centranthus ruber), or the pretty Lewisia cotyledon. Avoid ivy and other invasive plants as they’ll muscle the others out. If you already have a dry-stone wall and would like to encourage some new plants, try placing seeds in the cracks along with a handful of compost. If making a new wall, you can speed things up by incorporating small plants as you build. Add a sprinkling of compost and lay them on their side to stop the foliage from rotting if it gets too wet. As with all new plants, water them in to help them get established.

If your wall isn’t in full sun, the beautiful yellowy-green flowered lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) looks great with the blue flowers of dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana). Or for something really shady and more architectural, try the hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium).

Design

For a modern look use finely honed Welsh slate, or for a more traditional style try rugged Cotswold or Purbeck stone. To construct a wall one metre long and one metre tall, you’ll need about a tonne of stone.

The cost varies from £85 a tonne for Cotswold stone to £55 a tonne for Welsh slate, available from Cotswold Stone Quarries or Welsh Slate Products.

Either would create an interesting raised border, retaining wall or free-standing wall. You could also use them to hide ugly brick walls.

So why aren’t dry-stone walls used more widely in gardens? One reason is that they’re perceived to be difficult to build. This simply isn’t true: if you’re good at packing the boot of your car when you go on holiday, you’ll be able to construct a dry-stone wall.

Build your own

A dry-stone wall actually consists of two thinner walls built very close together – about 50cm apart at the base, narrowing to 25cm at the top. (Seen from the end, therefore, the finished construction has the shape of a capital A.) As these twin walls are built up, smaller stones are used to fill the gap between them. Larger “through stones” that span the entire width of the structure are added at one-metre intervals to increase its strength.

To start with you’ll need two wooden A-shaped frames. Stand these upright at each end of where you want your wall, then run strings between the widest points of their bases; the resulting rectangle is the footprint of your wall. Also attach strings about half way up the frames; these will keep the wall straight as you build up.

Keeping within the string lines of your footprint, dig a trench about 15cm deep and lay the foundation stones flat and level. Select the largest and heaviest stones for this as they will carry the weight of the structure.

Construct both walls at the same time, starting with the ends but rising no higher than 50cm in one go. Once the ends are solid you can lay the rest of the stones, thus joining them together.

Build the walls layer by layer in the same pattern as you see in a brick wall, each stone bridging the joint beneath. Ideally each stone will slope away from the centre, to let rainwater drain away. As each layer is built up, pack the smaller “in-fill stones” into the gaps and place the “through stones”.

The simplest way to finish it off is by adding a layer of coping stones along the top. These should be large enough to span the whole width of the wall and heavy enough not to be easily displaced. Make sure they are laid flat and level.

• For further information about dry-stone wall construction, weekend courses or contractors to build them for you, visit the Dry Stone Walling Association.

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Dry-Stone Walling Techniques

Each rock should fit perfectly into its own place like a puzzle piece. Any gaps, as well as the inner section of the wall are filled with smaller pieces or stone chips. The tighter the rocks fit together, the stronger the wall will be. Alternating the seams of the rocks in the same way that one would lay bricks improves both strength and aesthetic appeal. Another way to improve strength is by angling the wall slightly and making the bottom wider than the top. This allows the rocks to lean on one another and distributes weight. A well-built wall can last for several hundred years!

The simplest example is a wall constructed to retain the grade of a slope by stacking rocks up against it. Other dry-stone walls are used frequently in garden settings for such features as functional raised beds, creating tiered beds on a slope, and placing rocks as decorative features in a garden bed. Stones become “the bones of the landscape” as they create a contrast against soft plant matter. Shape and design can vastly change the style of a garden to create a rustic or formal feel.

Having a dry-stone wall can change the feel of a property very effectively. They are not only long-lasting and beautiful, but each is also unique as no two walls can be the same. Each one becomes a very special work of art as it is assembled and then becomes a permanent piece of its landscape.

So what is a dry stone wall?

Previously living in Bristol not far from the edge of the Cotswolds and working mostly in Bath and the surrounds, I was often in contact with limestone. My journeys through the countryside from garden to garden were often guided by a labyrinth of limestone walls that define the aesthetic of the area. The light and warmth on a hot summer’s day gave the outskirts of Bath the air of a holiday in the Luberon. One could be forgiven for forgetting where they were, as I often did.

In the Poitou-Charentes old buildings are also characteristically built from limestone. So when contemplating moving here, my thoughts moved to incorporating dry stone walls in my designs. There are plenty such boundary walls already here; though many in a state of disrepair.

Earlier this summer, I flew back to the UK in order to attend a weekend’s course in basic dry stone wall building techniques organised by the South West branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association. Of course there are similar organisations here in France that operate such courses. However, my French is still developing. I felt that, I would learn much more about the skill if the course were delivered in English.

The idea of getting involved in the continuation of a traditional craft practised for centuries seemed much more appealing to me than the oft employed (although sometimes necessary) landscaping trick of erecting concrete block walls merely faced with stone mortared behind to give the illusion of a dry stone wall.

There is something about the elegance of a self-supporting wall that you have made with little more than your bare hands and a hammer. There is also, perhaps, something of the appeal of my childhood love for Lego about it too.

I couldn’t have picked a worse/better weekend for the course; the temperatures were unusually high for the UK – in the mid-thirties – and the venue offered no shade protection whatsoever. Lots of sun cream, hats and water was definitely the order of the day. We were situated in the middle of open fields charged with the task of dismantling and re-erecting a dilapidated section of a farmer’s boundary wall.

The staff on hand to guide us through the process were very helpful – one was called Barry! – and I took an enormous amount of valuable information and enjoyment from the weekend. It is a course I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject.

It is a wall comprised of irregular shaped stones erected without the use of any mortar to bind the stones together and is therefore ‘dry’.

Why would I need, or even want, one?

The use of dry stone walls dates back millennia and adds a timeless, aesthetic beauty to the countryside. Adding a dry stone wall to your boundary, or within the garden, captures some of that beauty. Dry stone walls are an alternative to hedging as a means of dividing the garden space. To me, dry stone walls are endlessly more beautiful than a standard brick wall or off-the-shelf DIY store wooden fence. Dry stone walls are thicker than the average wall adding a sense of stature and permanency.

Constructed and maintained properly, a dry stone wall will last considerably longer too; small gaps in mortared walls allow water to penetrate, which freezes in the cold and cracks the mortar. This ultimately leads to the mortared wall failing. Dry stone walls have no mortar and therefore do not have any such weakness. Water simply passes through the voids and drains away.

Dry stone walls offer habitat for many insects, reptiles and other wildlife offering a far greater haven than any garden centre bug hotel could hope to offer. They also support plant life, such as lichens, moss, ferns, sedums, and the ubiquitous centranthus.

Erecting a dry stone wall can be more sustainable than other types of structure. Cement and mortar are not sustainable products. They use large amounts of energy in their manufacture (I’ve read that for every tonne of cement manufactured roughly a tonne of carbon dioxide is produced). They often have to be transported many miles between source and end user. Then when on site the constituent mortar parts must be mixed, which requires water resources and the use of machinery.

Stone sourced locally (in the case of repairs in situ) can have a considerably smaller carbon footprint. Dry stone wall construction is far less messy work that other types of walling and requires little more than the stone itself, a hammer, string, a batten frame and a human being to work the stone and position it in place.

How does one go about building a new, or repairing an existing, wall?

A dry stone wall is more than merely a stack of boulders and stones. Although it is quite probably something that everyone can do, it is not something one should do without the proper knowledge and by employing the correct methods. The following images are examples of walls incorrectly built I suspect by an untrained amateur who has fallen into the trap of thinking stacking a few stones is easy:

This wall has many problems; small stones being used as a foundation, running joints all over the place and stones not being arranged with their flat side up.

Here the stones are not arranged with their longest sides protruding into the wall. Furthermore, the hearting looks to have simply been thrown in as a loose filler. It should be tightly packed in the voids between to lock the large walling stones in place.

It is a surprise that either wall in these images is still standing.

Are they easy to maintain?

Relatively, yes. Like everything else exposed to nature and the outdoors elements, dry stone walls do require some maintenance.

As a preventative measure they should be kept free of vegetation likely to grow through and force the wall apart. Typical culprits of dry stone wall damage include Ivy, Wisteria, Bramble and tree seedlings that have been allowed to grow in the cracks and force the stones apart as their stems mature and thicken.

Misuse of a dry stone wall, such as climbing over it, can dislodge stone.

Problems may be masked by summer foliage and winter is an excellent time to inspect walls.

Although dry stone walls can be built or repaired at any time of year, winter is a great time for doing so. Access and movement is far easier once garden vegetation has died back. Transporting stone is hefty work and so potential damage and disturbance to prized herbaceous planting at this time is minimised. Furthermore, walls requiring use of cement-based mortars may only be built when the temperature conditions suit; dry stone walls have no such restriction.

My own garden project

I have recently begun the renovation of my own new garden, which I am documenting elsewhere in this blog. Anyone who has been following this blog to date will know that integral to my new design is the building of several dry stone walls in various places throughout the garden. I will be creating a dining area exclusively for our gite guests. Also, there were be additional, smaller, walls around the garden to define areas and set off planting against.

I will be sharing the results of the build shortly via le jardin contemporain’s instagram account (the weather lately has been absolutely atrocious which has delayed the build slightly) so please follow us to see the results.

If you would like help with building or the repair of your dry stone walls, please get in touch here.

Look for contrasting shapes, foliage textures and sizes. But avoid so-called dwarf conifers that aren’t. If you want a conifer, check its vital statistics to make sure that it’s a genuine miniature.

When you bring your plants home, stand them – in their pots – in position on your prepared rock garden, so you can see how they look together. Try arranging plants in groups of three – one upright, one mound and one mat-shape.

Once you like the layout, tip the plant out of its pot and plant it, leaving the top of each root ball standing about half an inch above ground. When you’ve planted them, spread a layer of stone chippings over the surface so you just cover the top of each root ball.

Besides looking good, a stone mulch is good for the plants because it lets air circulate under low foliage and improves the surface drainage so that they’re less likely to rot in wet weather. And it also stops them from being splashed by mud, too.

The satisfying thing about planting a rock feature like this is that it looks finished straight away. And do water a rock feature if there’s a long dry spell. People imagine that because rock plants need good drainage, they are like cacti and can go for years without water – well, it’s a myth, they can’t.

It rains, even in the mountains.

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