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Fieldstone Gardens Ardmore OK

Correctly built, a fieldstone garden wall can seem like it has been part of the landscape for generations in Ardmore. It can stand for generations, too. But achieving that look and stability isn't as simple as it appears. Behind that random, earthy appearance is a series of well-considered choices and techniques.

Des' Veggies Plants & More
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Fieldstone Gardens

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The old New England farmers would probably shake their heads at one of today's hottest trends in home landscaping - fieldstone walls. After all, settlers struggling to feed themselves 200 years ago had to deal with a legacy from the last ice age and move the megatons of rock that the glaciers deposited across their fields. The miles of dry-stacked stone walls these farmers built had a practical application - they fenced in livestock. No one was dragging rocks into their dooryards just to create rustic appeal or complement the color of their homes. Today, however, fieldstone seems to be popping up almost everywhere in suburban yards across the country, in the form of retaining walls, garden planters or simply for decoration. The appeal of fieldstone is its natural, timeless appearance.

Correctly built, a fieldstone garden wall can seem like it has been part of the landscape for generations. It can stand for generations, too. But achieving that look and stability isn't as simple as it appears. Behind that random, earthy appearance is a series of well-considered choices and techniques. Some of these choices are worth thinking about, even if you're planning to have a contractor or mason build your wall. They are especially crucial if you're taking on the task yourself, as many homeowners are doing. First off, it helps to narrow down the kind of wall you want to build. Maybe you saw an example in a magazine. Better yet, perhaps you were walking in your neighborhood and saw a retaining wall you admired. From there, you could find out who built the wall, the kind of stones that were used and what the job cost. This sort of information will make it much easier to explain what you want to a contractor, or to help you choose the right stones for a do-it-yourself job. Unlike the settlers, you probably won't be pulling rock out of a farm field. Your next stop will be a good stone center. The Blue Rock Industries Stone Center in Westbrook, Maine, for instance, sells roughly 500 tons of fieldstone a year. Half of the sales go to contractors, the rest to homeowners. The fieldstone is baled in wire cages and stacked on pallets, making it easy to deliver to the home. The average pallet holds a ton and a half - or 3,000 pounds - of rock. The center sells 14 choices of fieldstone for walls.

Some comes from existing walls that have been dismantled and sold wholesale. The remainder is pulled from the topsoil from Maine to Pennsylvania. At first, says Eric McDonald, the center's assistant manager, people are overwhelmed by the choices and possibilities. But sample walls at the center help customers narrow things down. The most popular seller at Blue Rock is a fieldstone called Old New England. Pulled from the ground in midcoast Maine, it has a worn, natural look and a bright granite color. It comes in both blocky and flat shapes, which cost $300 and $350 a pallet, respectively. Also topping the list is a stone called PA Weathered, which is taken from existing stone walls in Pennsylvania and New York. It has a darker, clay look and sells for $360 a pallet. Another stone called PA Antique has a blue patina with some streaks of iron. It comes in a thickness - or rise - varying from 1 to 6 inches. A stone line that refers to "uniform rise" means the stones are roughly the same thickness. Thickness, color and spacing are key considerations in fieldstone walls. Some masons blend different rock lines together to achieve a wall with beautiful texture and style. Again, this is not as random as it appears.

Mark Pilipski, owner of Barns are Noble in Westbrookville, N.Y., is known in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania/Connecticut region as the "Rock Man." He has actually made an academic study of why some fieldstone walls look better than others. By asking volunteers to select the most attractive walls from photographs, he studied the effect of what he calls "lacunarity," which is the amount and distribution of gaps between adjacent stones. He concluded that people liked walls with a higher degree of lacunarity or a diversity of texture. "For actual dry stone walls," Pilipski wrote, "this finding implies that given two similar stone walls, the one that exhibits the inclusion of some very large stones and more horizontal lines will appear more attractive than the one that has a uniform texture and more vertical lines." But most stone-center visitors have more basic questions. Among the most common queries: How much do I need, what will it cost, and what do I need to do for site preparation? For amount, Blue Rock uses this formula: Calculate your wall dimensions (length x width x height = cubic feet). Divide cubic feet by 27 to get cubic yards. Multiply cubic yards by 1.5. That equals the number of tons required. From there, you can know the cost by deciding on a choice of stone.

A key to preparation includes a familiar caution for all fieldstone projects - pay attention to drainage. The path your wall will follow should have the sod removed and be dug out to around six inches. Fill that trench with gravel or crushed stone. Your wall sits on that. Without good drainage, McDonald said, water running underneath can undermine the wall. Years of freezing and thawing will actually heave the stones, which is why homeowners call him sometimes and say their wall is falling apart. Customers also ask about mortar. They wonder if the wall will be more sturdy if they cement the stones together. McDonald recommends dry stacking for fieldstone walls. It looks more natural, he says, and works better with the freeze-thaw cycle. Besides, homeowners are more comfortable stacking stones than messing with mortar. Blue Rock gives out a list of local contractors and masons who work with fieldstone landscaping. The center also offers a free video for do-it-yourselfers on how to build a fieldstone wall. Check around at your local stone or landscape center and see what they have for information. Do your homework before building with fieldstone, and the finished job will look like it's been there for 100 years. Chances are, it will be standing 100 years from now for someone else to enjoy. Tux Turkel

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