Building Garden Walls and Steps
The character and appearance of a garden can be enhanced considerably if features are constructed with decorative stone. Great strides have been made in recent years by manufacturers and a wide range of attractive stone is available for all purposes. Textured surfaces to several types of walling provide the gardener with an opportunity to create a layout which, after a comparatively short period, looks as though it has been established for many years and is, to a certain extent, a natural feature with its slightly uneven of irregular surface.
Several types of bricks for walling have a rough cut surface and give the appearance of having been hewn out of natural stone. Colour has been added to walling materials and this innovation certainly brightens up a patio or terrace — provided the colours are subtle.
Quality walling is expensive but is a very sound investment. It will add value to the property and will last for many years without the need for maintenance. Selection of sizes, texture and colours is easy because the leading manufacturers provide well-illustrated colour catalogues.
There are several types of walling stone. Some are similar to house bricks in size but much heavier as they are made from reconstituted stone. Screen walling blocks are available with either a solid face and a design in relief on it or with a delicate tracery of pattern. Random walling is also available in several different shapes or sizes. Used in various combinations, a very effective pattern can be built up although much more care and time is required during construction. Flat slabs of stone can be used for dry walling — an intriguing system of building walls, between the courses of which suitable plants can be established.
No matter what type of wall is built, the initial preparations are the most important and these include consolidation and levelling. To obtain a level, a master wooden peg should be driven in to the desired level and, using a straight piece of board and a spirit level, further pegs are driven into the level of this master peg and spaced along the trench according to the length of the level board. The master level should take into consideration the amount of soil excavation or movement necessary and this should be kept to the minimum. On lighter soils plenty of rubble must be rammed into the foundations which consist of a trench a little wider than the maximum width of the wall and about 6-8 in. deep. A layer of concrete 3-4 in. deep should be placed on top so that its surface is just at ground level.
One of the most attractive wall features can be made with screen blocks. Several components are required to make up this type of wall. There are the pilasters or pillars which are available in different designs such as the end pieces and corner pieces. The centres are hollow and should be filled in with concrete and steel rods if a tall wall is built. Capping pieces and add theto the wall at the top. Various screen block designs are available and each, with its mortar joints, forms a 1-ft. square module.
On slopes, the wall can be stepped or this treatment can be used on a level site to provide an attractive design. It is useful to use this system where a patio is constructed because the low section will provide shelter and will not obscure the view in the garden or from a house window.
Screen blocks can also be used to add patterns or relief to a brick wall. Panels or sections of the screen blocks can be built into the wall. The textured-faced bricks produce an attractive wall in a garden, and if the mortar courses are slightly scraped out where a profile type of brick is used, a three dimensional effect will be produced. Brick sizes are about 12 in. x 4 in. x 2-1/2 in.
Blocks or bricks of various shapes and sizes can be built up to form a rather unusual wall pattern and the extra effort and care required in its construction is worthwhile. This type of walling can be obtained in natural or coloured stone. Sizes range from about 8-3/4 in. x 4 in. x 2-5/8 in. to 17-5/8 in. x 4 in. x 5-5/8 in.
Raised beds add character to a garden design and rough or natural textured bricks and coping stones can be used to construct this type of feature. A raised bed will be appreciated by the elderly or handicapped gardener as it will reduce stooping or bending to a minimum. Furthermore, such raised beds allow gardeners with sight problems to appreciate better the full beauty of the plants.
Another type of wall is a dry wall which is built up with flat broken paving stones. The base for such a wall should be excavated to a depth of about 6 in. and the base consolidated. The largest stones should be laid on the base and soil packed in between. These stones should be sloped slightly inwards and the wall should taper towards the top. As each layer of stone is placed in position it should be covered with about 1/2 – 1 in. of fine soil. Smaller stones can be used in the centre of the wall to fill in any gaps. The top of the wall can be finished off with large pieces of slab.
Steps are essential in a garden which has pronounced levels or which slopes sharply. A combination of bricks and paving slabs will produce a neat effect. The steps should be dug out of the soil bank, allowing about 8 in. for the riser (the step face) and about 12 in. wide for the step tread. The front of the steps can be formed with one or two courses of bricks and the treads of the steps with large precast paving stones. All must be securely mortared in position as the work proceeds.
Another very attractive way of constructing garden steps is to use a mixture of materials. For example, the face or riser of the steps can be built up with random stone, ie. pieces of stone of different sizes. The individual pieces should not be too large otherwise you will be faced with the problem of having a rather high and somewhat uncomfortable step to negotiate.
Using this random size walling stone, about two courses are all that is usually required. These should be bedded securely on a layer of cement for the first course, making sure that each piece of stone is carefully levelled as it is laid. All pieces must be bonded well and a generous mortar joint allowed to ensure strength and rigidity. Natural coloured or coloured stone can be used for this type of step construction.
The tread or top of each step can be constructed from large slabs or, if the step is wide, several random size slabs can be laid. The latter plan is- most suitable where the riser is constructed with random stone. The tops or slabs should be bedded in a mortar mix made up of five parts of sand with one part of cement.
To avoid the possibility of wet mortar adhering to the face of the stonework as work proceeds (this can mark the stone unless removed immediately) the mortar mix should be on the dry side-never too wet when the joints are being pointed later.
There is no need to use a lot of mortar when the slabs are being laid as the ‘spot’ method is quite adequate. For the smaller slabs one central ‘spot’ or trowel-ful of mortar is sufficient and the slab is pressed evenly down on it. For larger slabs five spots of mortar are required-one at each corner and a central one.
Steps can be built with crazy paving to provide a rustic or natural finish, but a little care is necessary during the work to make sure that all the irregularly shaped pieces are securely seated in their mortar bed. Special care is necessary at the step edges to produce a reasonably smooth outline or edge without having too many pieces jutting out, which could be dangerous, especially in the dark.