Documents: Kidz Korner:

Stones & Bones; Sticks & Bricks
by Jeanne I. Graybeal-Thrane, RLA
November 10, 1999

"Men learn to build stately sooner than they learn to garden finely, as if gardening were the greater perfection...." Francis Bacon, On Gardens, l620

So often the structure of a garden truly depends on the construction of the "hard" elements in it; the stone, brick, wooden walls, paths, terraces and edgings. Russell Page, the famous garden designer, is quoted as telling one of his clients that he really couldn't have a garden because the area was so vast. "A garden has walls:" he said, "You have a vista, a view."

Well, that is one designer's "viewpoint"...and of course he does have a point, and that is, a garden needs to be defined, to have definite edges, a definite shape, and preferably a shaping that will be more permanent than ephemeral plantings. This is best done with walls and/or edges of "hard" materials, although in great age and in the proper location, walls of two-hundred-year-old-yews and boxwoods do a magnificent job of defining the space. It's a bit difficult however, for most of us to decide to build a garden for our great-great-grandchildren to enjoy, hence the reliance on "hard" materials to do a faster job. Immediate gratification is great when we can get it...

Garden "walls of wood" are especially quick work and the narrowness allows plantings to be placed on both sides. I often plant both sides of a garden fence, especially if is an entrance, or front fence, with identical trees (perhaps two flowering cherries on one side, near the street, and one flowering chetry on the inside of the fence nearer the house entrance so that one walks under the cherry trees on the way to the front door. This is very nice all year but especially when the trees are in bloom.

But walls of stone or brick, and this always depends on the appropriateness of the material in relation to the house, will definitely stay a while and they offer wonderful opportunities for plantings because of the stability and their added texture to the garden. Roses climbing over a wooden arbor and fence are romantic and cottage-garden cozy; roses climbing over a stone or brick pillared arbor with walls on each side of the portal becomes an entirely different experience. The texture, stabillity, and permanence of these garden structures immediately set a certain "tone". They can be planted as a cozy cottage-garden, but there will be a different feeling over-all, more of an "estate" evolves because of the characteristics of the materials and the way in which the space is "set", is defined.

What goes for walls is also true for paths and edgings. Gardens can be edged with wood (2x8's, pressure treated, installed on edge, staked every two feet and placed at grade level work well) but they must be replaced in 10 to 15 years. Hard-burned brick, sunken on end last longer, maybe a hundred years, which is long enough for most of us, and of course stone will be around for the great-great-grandchhildren to enjoy, and the garden edge will remain (unless someone dismantles it...).

These "hard" surface elements are the bones, the structure of the garden, which are then fleshed out with plantings. The plantings may well change many times over the years, but the garden will always be there enticing the imagination and urging the person with gardening in their soul to get out there and do something!

Jeanne I. Graybeal-Thrane, RLA Landscape Architect

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row