Anyone who knows me knows I am crazy about gardening. This year we changed our garden from the traditional style rectangular dirt patch to three large raised beds — see photo on left. Our old garden (seen below on the right) was about a foot higher than the lawn and the dirt was held in place with a stacked stone wall, three stones high. Gerry dismantled that wall since it was no longer needed in the new garden plan.
That meant I suddenly had 90 stones available for whatever I wanted! Gerry and I decided to remove the two-foot strip of lawn that encircled our round stone patio/firepit and replace it with a raised bed flower garden that would run halfway around the highest end of the patio. Since our lot is sloped, the patio is ground level near the house but is about two feet above the lawn on the opposite end of the circle.
Building a stone wall on a slope is quite simple if you have two essentials (sand and a spade) and three simple tools (a level, a measuring tape, and a rubber mallet). Obviously you need landscaping stones as well. You can start anywhere you want — in the middle and work to both ends or at one end and work to the other. That’s what I did. As you can see in the photo to the left, my wall began at the firepit and it was two bricks high. As I turned the corner and headed around the slope, the wall eventually became four bricks high. At that point, I decide I didn’t like the look of the wall that high and I dismantled it and started again with one fewer row of bricks. The final result was a wall that was three bricks high at it’s highest point and one brick high, almost level with the lawn, at both ends.
Here are the easy steps for constructing a wall that is level, even though the ground slopes.
1. Dig out the sod in the area where the bricks will lay. Have a couple of 50 lb sandbags on hand — no problem for the average Canuck who keeps a few sandbags in the back of the truck for better handling on icy roads in our endless winters.
2. Put some sand in the trench where you are going to lay your first brick — the sand is easy to shift and that’s the secret to getting your brick to lay level. Place the brick on the sand and the level on top of the brick and tap the brick with the rubber mallet until it is level. Be sure to check it from side to side and front to back.
3. Add stones and sand, being sure that you use your level to keep everything flat. You’ll be able to tell when it’s time to dig in a new level of stones because as the ground slopes away in front of your row, you will see that it will take too much sand to keep your stones high enough to be level with those already laid. When you start a new row, you will have to dig the first couple of stones in a little deeper than the natural slope of the ground. As long as you keep checking with your level, it will turn out fine. Be sure to stagger the stones so that the spaces between the stones do not all line up.
4. If you are following the line of an existing stone wall, as I was, use your measuring tape to check each new stone to be sure it is the same distance away from the wall. Since landscape stones have imprecise edges don’t be worried if you are over or under 1/2 inch on your stones. Fairly close is close enough.
5. Keeping your top row level is so important that several times you will likely take down an entire section (because, like me, you’re an amateur!) and by adding or removing some sand at the base and then replacing the stones, you will achieve a level wall. If the wall is level, not only will it look better, the stones will be sturdier so that you will be able to sit or stand on them without that tipsy wobbly effect.
6. As you come around the curve and the ground slopes back up, you will stop adding rows and start removing them. Toward the end of a given row, your last bricks will be dug in more deeply than the ground around it until the top of that brick is level with the ground and the row above it will have a brick sitting half on the last brick and half on sand in the trench. Take your time to be sure this brick is completely level before continuing or you’ll be coming back with your spade and sand to fiddle with it until you get it right.
As you can see by the photos of the finished wall, it is a nice feature to add to the yard especially since it also removed a strip of grass that was difficult to mow. Now all we have to do is stick in some blooms in the spring, pull a few weeds in the summer and the result of a day’s work is quite lovely and enduring.