GIMME SHELTER- Rock on! Building a wall takes patience

William Vlasis
Ivy Corner Gardening Center & Landscaping

Q: I want to build a simple rock wall in my yard, but I've never done it before. What should I know before I get started?

A: Building a rock wall can be hard work. Not only are rocks heavy, but setting them and arranging them in a pleasing way can be a challenge. That's why preparation is key. Before you lift a stone, define the grade of the wall and what line you want it to follow. How high and wide? What about water drainage? Find out how rainwater will flow past the wall by running a hose or sprinkler or simply observing water flow during a storm. 

Next comes the most important part of your wall: the foundation. You'll want to excavate the ground your wall will be laid on, removing any loose dirt or organic matter, and making sure the line is level. Remember, the bottom line of your wall must be level, even if your wall is on a slope or if you want to add something more artistic on the top line. If your wall is on a slope, step it down and make each section level. Next, you'll want to lay down crushed stone on the path of your wall and pack it down real tight. Now you're ready to start laying your wall. 

Of course, the next step is choosing good stone. You can buy stones on pallets at a garden store, or in bulk, or you can harvest your own. Pallets are easier because they have all the different stones you'll need; foundation stones, face rock, and the more beautiful capstones for the top. 

Once you've laid your foundation and selected your stone, you're ready to arrange and set. Just remember, it's a step-by-step process, kind of like doing a puzzle or putting a broken glass back together. It requires some patience. Whenever you lay a rock, whether it's the first one or the last one, make sure it is as solid as possible. You can even use a little mortar to tighten the joints. Don't worry about how the wall looks as you're building it. If you follow this simple process, making sure each rock is tightly jointed, then the wall should come together more or less naturally.

The above is a "best of Gimme Shelter," i.e. a reprint–editor.