What I Learned From Building A Dry Stone Wall

The lessons were worth the tired back and the smashed fingers.

I’d always wanted to build something from stone and a dry stone wall surrounding my garden seemed like a good idea at the time.

my dry stone wall under construction
My dry stone wall under construction

I’m a retired specialist plant nurseryman who needs firm boundaries to control his plant collecting. If I want to expand this garden, first I have to move 15 tonnes of one of the rock walls enclosing the garden.

I note this first load of 26 tonnes is only half of what I’ll need to finish this project and what you’re seeing is roughly the half-way mark along the front. The brown on the top of the wall is soil. I’ve filled the top 3–6 inches (between the two outer walls) with soil (the bottom 2.5-feet between the outer walls is hearting stone — individual smaller stones placed one by one to stabilize the wall.)

But with my plans exposed, and the stone delivered, a member of the dry stone wall association suggested I could have a group of professional wallers here to help and finish this project in an afternoon.

But this is my dry stone wall

It’s my project. To lift, sweat, bleed when a rock and fingers collide, and celebrate when a stone lands perfectly. And to celebrate at the end of each work session when the wall is longer or taller.

It’s my wall, my life. For all its faults, it’s an unbroken chain of hours and days spent in a significant project.

And I learned a great deal in the process

  • The biggest heaviest stones should on the bottom. But it takes all sizes and shapes to make a wall strong.
  • The biggest stones are nothing without the smaller hearting stones holding them in place. (Wallers individually place hearting stones to interlock and fill the spaces between the two outer walls)
  • A good foundation is essential.
  • The strangest looking stones fit in the most interesting places.
  • A stone put in the wrong place will crack and ruin the wall.
  • Every stone depends on its neighbours to work properly.
  • A well built wall will last for centuries.
  • Removing stones of any shape or size makes the wall unstable.
  • A wall of all — the — same stones is boring and doesn’t get a glance from passers by.
  • A wall of different stones is admired and people comment on it positively.
  • Cracked stones need to be removed and replaced with good ones. This would not happen in a well-built and maintained wall.
  • The cracked stones will likely fit somewhere else. As will very small, very big, very thin, very fat, different shaped and coloured stones.
  • And it’s all these different stones that gives the wall its unique character and appeal.
  • And this makes it stand for centuries.
  • Old walls mark our world with grace

A dry stone wall also makes it a perfect analogy for my neighbourhood, country and world.

I also learned something from the oldest walls

stone wall at Jericho
The Wall at Jericho.

What can this ancient dry stone wall in Jericho teach us?

Jericho was inhabited 11,000 years ago and this wall dates from 7000BC (or earlier). Jericho is the earliest known walled city and was on my bucket list for places to see on a recent trip to Jordan. I was fortunate to be able to take a side trip up into the West Bank to see and touch parts of it.

This wall endures and has endured for over 9000 years. Even when it was buried 8 metres down in the sand, ignored and finally uncovered a few years ago, it endured.

It tells me the story that my wall building shares a history, a tradition and a story with my human ancestors.

And that message and story, of sharing values with people from that long ago, from an entirely different culture is one to cherish.

Dry stone walls connect me to the world, to the peoples in it and our shared history even as I sweat by myself on my own.

And what connects you?

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Six Options in Landscape Edging

The use of landscape edging, if done properly, can reduce the time and effort any gardener takes to maintain the garden. Here are some options and thoughts for you to consider.

First, edging is normally used to “divide” one section of the garden from another. It’s important to think of it that way because there are some other kinds of edging other than the traditional ones.

Traditional Landscape Edging

The traditional edging beloved by English border gardeners is the use of an edging tool to cut a line between the lawn and the garden. This is a lovely “look” but a high maintenance activity in the garden.

Plastic Edging

There are different grades of plastic edging on the market and the problem is that beginners sometimes tend to make decision based on price. Cheaper is better. (note – I don’t garden this way but some folks do)
And this is where they get into difficulty.

Cheaper edging has several characteristics: the plastic is thinner (degrades in the sun faster) and not often as “tall” so the amount that actually goes into the ground is shorter (allowing grass roots to go underneath the edging) or it doesn’t come with enough holding stakes and easily bends out of shape or worse yet, pops out of the ground.

So cheaper isn’t necessary better. I have installed this in several garden areas in the past and wouldn’t touch the bargain stuff with a long pole after one gardener provided the cheaper stuff themselves, it and was never happy with it (or me) again. It didn’t matter that it was her decision, she believed I had installed it wrong because it broke in the sun quickly. Right – I told her it would but it was still my fault. Sigh.

The professional, heavy duty material will last for a longer time. The one thing you need to consider with a good plastic edging is to install on a hot sunny day if possible (lay the strips out in the sun to warm up) Or at the very least, allow the edging to warm up before you install it. It is usually thick enough that a bit of heat will make it far easier to bend and work with.

There are also plastic “boards” that you hammer into the ground. These interlock and some gardeners like the look of them. I don’t but then again, it’s your garden.

Aesthetics. I don’t want my landscaping edging to be the star of the garden so I want it to disappear after I’ve installed it.
This brown color landscape edging is well reviewed so it’s worth taking a look at.


Aluminum landscape lawn edging is more expensive than plastic, is slightly harder to install but it outlasts plastic seemingly forever.

You’ll go through a lot of plastic before you’ll even dent the aluminum.

The problem is that it can be tougher to find. The big box stores don’t often carry it because of the price. You’ll have to talk to your favorite garden center and beg them to order some for you.


There are a great many paving stone landscaping edging systems on the market now. These manufactured stone pavers work very nicely but grass does tend to invade through the cracks between stones or bricks.

This is expensive edging compared to plastic or aluminum but it can be extremely attractive if done properly. The easiest way to do is is to lay it down flush with the lawn to form a mini-walkway between the garden and the lawn. I’ve seen people put it on edge but this only creates a lot of maintenance.

When it’s on edge, you can’t mow the lawn right up to the edge of the garden. There’s always a bit of grass you can’t reach next to the edging and you have to use some kind of string trimmer to get it cut. If you put the pavers flush with the soil, you can run your mowing machine right over top of the edger and cut the grass right to the bed. No string trimming!

I note that manufactured stone is weather resistant and won’t usually crack in cold winters. Brick on the other hand will deteriorate quite quickly in areas that have severe winters.


It is possible to use wood landscape edging in various ways. The most common is the landscape beam – usually a 4×4 that is set on the soil line. The problem with this is the same as the stone, you can’ t mow over top of a beam sitting on top of the soil, you have to use a string trimmer to clean up the area. Putting the beam flush with the soil is the solution here.

In our case, we have had to construct raised beds (no soil in our garden area) so the weeds and grass really want to crowd up against those beds. To fight this off, we install either a horizontal landscaping edging – a wood plank laying on the ground next to the bed or we use some old roof shingles leftover from construction (that would have gone to the landfill) and lay them slightly under the beam and out onto the lawn area. I can mow right over top of the shingles so the lawn is well maintained next to the beams and I don’t have to use a string trimmer.

Those are the pro’s and cons of basic landscape edging. I hope it gives you something to think about.

Fibreglass Edging

This is not something you normally see in retail shops or box stores because of the price-point. The advantage is that it is very long lasting, doesn’t crinkle or bend out of shape easily. Here’s a source for some comparison shopping It is not as expensive as brick but more than plastic so it’s a halfway point that some people like.

The trick with all these things is getting the “look” you want. In my case, when I used to use this material, the “look” was to disappear. 🙂 (now I build raised beds because of our shallow soils.)

Note: fibreglass edging is NOT as flexible as plastic so if your designs have some radical corners, then you may want to avoid this material. It will handle 90-degree bends if the material is warmed up in the sun (a good trick for plastic too) but not happily anything more than that.

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