Gardening with Nature on the Edge of the Atlantic

Semi-dry-stone walls

7 December 2020

I don’t know why I am consistently surprised by the weather because I have learned that the one constant here is that nothing is constant. Yesterday I awoke to a hard frost. The temperature reached a heady six degrees in the middle of the day. The robin almost pushed me out of his way to get to the food as I was filling the bird table and a blue tit was almost as cheeky. The clear blue skies and sunshine made it a perfect day for a swim in Roaringwater Bay and it was positively warm in the sunshine afterwards.

Today the wind is howling around the house and it is pouring with rain. With a temperature of nine degrees, one would think that it would be a good day for another swim, but as I don’t like getting wet hibernation is the only option! Gardening is out of the question, so I am spending my time reviewing the stone work in the garden and designing my tree planting in a part of the field below the house. Most of the walls in the garden have been built with stone from the property. I am already accumulating another mound and I will need to decide what to do with it. The frost-covered wall above was created from some of the largest stones in the garden, but there is another technique for small flat ones.

The technique for building semi-dry-stone walls is very different to an old-fashioned dry-stone wall. In my garden it has been used in those areas where a reinforced retaining wall is required. The wall in the photo above is a retaining wall for the drive that runs behind the house. It is very sturdy but not very attractive. To soften this look, mortar is placed at the back only and the wall is faced with small stones built in waves. I find the look much more appealing than cement.

The completed wall at the back of the house. The stonework matches that on the extension.

Another benefit of these walls is that the spaces are home to all manner of tiny creatures, but are too small for the dreaded rodents.

A semi-dry-stone wall at the back of the house. This is covered in cobwebs throughout the summer.

Leaf-cutting bees are particularly fond of these walls for making a nest with rolled up leaves as seen above. These provide food for the bees that will emerge next summer.

A picture of the area beside the house before the extension was completed. The need for a retaining wall is obvious. The area on the left was earmarked for a patio and this was completed in the same stonework.

The completed patio with the reinforced concrete wall now perfectly disguised.

A view of the patio looking towards Cape Clear which happened to be covered in mist when this photo was taken, so not ‘Clear’ at all.

The patio has now become a herb garden and I have gradually added three raised beds for my smaller vegetables. Ironically, I have decided not to face these in stone as you can have too much of a good thing.

Details of the walls around what is now the herb bed.

18 December 2020

Frost on my vegetable bed covers.

The mixed weather continues. More heavy frosts have been followed by an ‘orange’ storm coming mainly from the south. Last year I had hydrangea flowers throughout Christmas. This year many of the plants are black and wizened. It is too wet to start my tree planting and only indoor gardening is possible. Time to plan a new wall! The good news is that the Hellebores by the house are beginning to flower. I am keeping my fingers crossed for those planted further away after last year’s destruction by rabbits although the fate of my clematis dos not fill me with optimism.

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