The hardest part was getting started, but a bit like a bag of potato chips once you get going, it is hard to stop. One more bucket full. One more big rock. Ok one more.
There was a major change in the plan for building this wall. I decided to dry stack the stones instead of setting them in mortar.
As fate would have it, I met a very nice stone mason at my new clients last week while I was working in the garden. We chatted for some time and I mentioned I was about to build a stone wall. He mentioned that he had written two books on the subject that I might find useful. When I said I would be mortaring the wall because it was a retaining wall he said a dry stacked wall was just as durable and might be better.
A few days later when I was back there planting 392 Tulip bulbs with an electric drill and bulb auger, my client loaned me his office copy of one of the stone mason's books, "The Art and Craft of Stonework."
Is the universe trying to tell me something? Like read the book before you build the wall.
So I did. It seems I can build a perfectly stable three and a half foot tall dry stacked retaining wall that is better drained, less expensive, easier to build and hopefully more attractive than a mortared wall.
Now in the book there were mostly fancy, very rectangular, straight edged, store bought stacking stones being used to build these walls. Well the rocks on site that I am using to build this wall could best be described as a rockpodge. They are a lot like the stones on Maui, very irregular, but a bit smoother. Also the stones here appear to be of several different types and colors. On Maui there was a more uniform type of lava rock in a given location.
So I am following the directions in the book. The landscape fabric is to keep the soil from moving into the wall and the gravel back fill with rain and freeze thaw cycles and then causing future freeze movement in the wall. The gravel helps fill the empty spaces in between my irregular rocks and adds more stability. I am also doing a double thickness dry stack as opposed to a single stack of stones. This should also give the wall more heft and stability.
I have stacked a fair amount of irregular stones in my time. Never to hold back a slope though. These were free standing objects and they have stood for a long time. Still I do have a certain trepidation about not using mortar. It just seems like cement is more permanent and less subject to movement. The wall will have a batter (lean into the slope) like it should and dry stack retaining walls have been done for a long time. It should be fine. If not, well than I'll do it over.
As the wall rises, the soil behind it will be moved and packed in behind it. Stack some stones. Fill with gravel. Lift fabric and fill with soil. Stack some stones. Fill with gravel. Shovel and pack some soil.
If only the stones were as light and airy as these Milkweed seeds, particularly the stones at the bottom of my grassy hillside. That's were most of the really big rocks went during the lot clearing and road building. I have big plans for them, closer to where they currently rest.