Walls of perfectionism

Give a perfectionist a pile of rough old walling stone and a straight string line, and watch him squirm.

A little over a week ago I took delivery of just such a pile of stone.  I’ve been dreaming of, and fretting over, this wall for what probably amounts to years.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford really good stone, and the challenge was to hit the point of greatest value – the best outcome at an affordable price.

Part way into the dreaming phase I was offered a heap of old bluestone for nothing, but rejected it on the basis that I didn’t think I’d be capable of doing anything fun with it (too consistent in size, much of it in that clunky bluestone-pitcher proportion), and that by the time I loaded and unloaded about twenty trailer-loads by hand, the whole thing looked like false economy.

So I bought, and now I’m building.  It’s sort of fun.  It’s getting funner.  Starting out, you’re just not sure what to expect from the stone, and how much time you should spend over every decision of placement.  You soon grow comfortable with a time/outcome balance, knowing that you could do a little better if you spent a lot more time, but that’s always got to be kept in proportion.  I’m breaking down walls of perfectionism while constructing seriously imperfect walls.

The best bit, so far, has been the placing of plants into the wall during construction.  In this I’m following advice from Gertrude Jekyll’s Wall, Water and Woodland Gardens, in which she recommends tilting the stones backwards slightly to direct water in (hardly ever possible with the berserk stone I’m using), and planting during construction.

As is so often the case, I’m not using what I’d really want to plant (most of which would be either too expensive, would take too long to procure, or isn’t commercially available).  I’m using what I have on hand, and what’s been easy to come by.  I have a few things sitting around in pots here, and a quick dash to the local school fete turned up a nice little box of appropriate stuff.

It’s incredible how those little plants contribute to an immediate sense of establishment – and how quickly they come to terms with their new horizontal position and turn themselves upright.  It’s all giving me stupid amounts of joy, and even when I’m busy with other stuff, I can’t help but visit the site several times a day.


  1. OMG I know what you mean! I’m packing our new curved gabion walls and tessellating all the pieces of broken sandstone is seriously doing me in. Put that rock in, search fruitlessly for one to go with it, take that rock out, start again……I agree that imperfection begins to look most charming. As do your walls and those tiny plants. Can’t wait for a larger, more revealing photograph.

    1. You might be waiting a while, Catherine. As you no doubt guessed, that pic was very carefully taken to block out all the bits I didn’t want you to see.
      But on that, I’ve gotta say, that concrete wall of yours is a total sensation (and for any readers who haven’t seen it, check it out at http://gardendrum.com/2013/03/04/how-to-build-a-reused-concrete-wall/). I can only imagine the joy of working with units with parallel sides!

  2. People who build with stone and rock on Grand Designs always say that once you’ve picked up a rock/stone you must use it, rather than putting it down and trying another. Are you going by that principle?

    1. Sorta. I was warned by the bloke at the quarries that if I start thinking of this thing as a jigsaw puzzle, and try and find the exact right piece, I’ll go mad, and was given that your advice with slightly different wording. But occasionally you pick up a piece that any way you hold it looks like the summit of the Matterhorn. There ain’t nothin you can do with a bit of rock like that.

  3. Stone walls – love them all. I’d love to put one in my garden but alas, garden has already a retaining wall and my husband would kill me if I suggested ripping it out. Nope, I’ll leave that for the next garden….I did, however, place some rocks in my bulb garden area under my crabapple and that was hard…so I can just imagine what you must be going through, only 1000 times greater. In the end, it will be worth every moment spent examining and sorting….great work.

  4. I have always been fascinated with drystone walls and how they are built.
    I got the chance at TAFE many years ago to have a go at building one as part of my course. It was a lot of fun, but a challenge. Love to have a go at building one again someday.
    Where I live in Southwest Victoria, there is hundred’s of Km’s of drystone wall still standing today

    1. And what’s so amazing about those walls in SW Vic is that they’re largely made of round, lumpy volcanic rock. I think I’ll stick with parallel sided rock for another life-time or two before I try something like that.

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