Before and After: A New Entry for Glen Villa

A month ago, the area at the top of the front steps at Glen Villa looked like this.

This view shows the driveway and the parking area in front of the house, out of the frame to the right.
This view shows the driveway and the parking area in front of the house. The house itself is out of the frame to the right.

 

Now it looks like this.

A newly-built wall uses stones in gabion baskets, to create a more architecturally interesting look.
Stones in gabion baskets create a more interesting wall that better suits the architecture of the house.

 

 

We built the drystone wall that appears in the ‘before’ picture a few years after we moved into Glen Villa. We needed a wall because we had cut into the hillside to create enough space for parking, and a stone wall was an obvious choice since stone walls appear in many places at Glen Villa.

There are tall ones….

 

Glen Villa is built on a hillside and this wall is part of the building's foundation. There is a terrace on top of the wall, one story higher than the ground floor room on the right of this photo.
Glen Villa is built on a hillside and this wall is part of the foundation of the house. There is a terrace on top of the wall, one story higher than the ground floor room on the right of this photo.

 

and short ones.

This wall formed part of the foundation for a summer cottage, torn down in the late 1960s when our house was built.
This wall formed part of the foundation for a summer cottage, torn down in the late 1960s when our house was built.

 

There are old ones…

 

This low wall, now held together by a stone coping, dates from 1902 when Glen Villa Inn was built. It is now the wall around the Yin/Yang.
This low wall, now held together by a stone coping, dates from 1902 when Glen Villa Inn was built. It is the wall around the Yin/Yang.

 

and new ones.

This wall is part of The Aqueduct, a project finished last year.
This wall is part of The Aqueduct, a project finished last year.

 

There are walls that draw your eye, others that almost disappear, attractive walls and ones that don’t look so great. The parking wall was one of the latter. The wall needed to be repaired — stones were starting to fall off and the wall starting to bulge from the weight of the earth behind it. Worst, though, was the mismatch between the strong straight architectural lines of the house and the rough workaday character of the wall itself.

 

One end of the parking wall abutted a stone outcropping. An unattractive little wall was above it and a pathetic bed I used to trail plants was beside it.
One end of the parking wall abutted a stone outcropping. An unattractive little wall was above it and a pathetic bed I used to trial plants was beside it.

 

Several years ago we began work on The Aqueduct, an area below the driveway that adjoins the house. This multi-purpose project took several years and involved replacing dangerous steps, changing the shape of the land and transforming a hidden stream into a major feature of the garden. It also involved building a tall stone wall. After investigating various options, we decided to build the wall using gabion baskets.

A gabion basket is simply a heavy wire container which can be filled with almost any material. You sometimes see the baskets filled with rubble along highways, holding back banks of earth. They aren’t very appealing when stones are dumped in randomly, but when the front layer of stones is carefully placed, a gabion wall has a clean neat appearance that I like very much.

 

Stones partially fill two of the many gabion baskets  used in The Aqueduct.
Stones partially fill two of the many gabion baskets used in The Aqueduct.

 

When we decided to replace the drystone wall by the parking area rather than repair it, building a gabion wall like the one at The Aqueduct was an easy choice. Although it is hard to see both walls at the same time, I knew that repeating the same style would add continuity to the garden and link one area to another.

The new wall is practical — the parking area is about 2 feet wider now which means cars can make a three-point turn to back out . Because it is higher, you can see the wall from inside your car; this means you know how close to the wall you can park.

The new wall is attractive.  Its clean lines suit the modernist architecture of the house much better than the old one. It suits my aesthetic much better, too.

In this view, the house is to the left.
The wall follows the slope of the hillside. As the hillside rises, the wall becomes taller.

 

Enlarging the parking area exposed more of the naturally beautiful rock outcropping that marks the end of the space. I wanted to integrate the gabion baskets into the curving top of that rock, to give the sense that one grew naturally from the other. Making a clean join between the two meant that the bottom side of several baskets had to be cut and shaped individually. That  took time.

 

The gabion baskets were cut to follow the line of the natural rock.
I haven’t yet resolved how to handle the area above and to the left of the stone outcropping. I’d like a line as clean as the line formed by the gabion baskets.

 

Of course, one thing leads on to another. The plantings around the stone outcrop need attention. Those around the cascade, at the other end of the wall, are  crying out for a total re-think.

 

Blowsy plantings matched the old stone wall but do not suit the new.
Blowsy plantings matched the old stone wall but do not suit the new. That burned out beige patch is newly laid sod.

 

The clean contemporary lines of the new gabion wall demand a crisper, more modern planting scheme. I want to reinforce the horizontal lines of the gabion wall but I don’t want to tear the cascade apart entirely. Repeating the pattern of the gabion baskets as they step up the hill near the rock outcrop offers some interesting possibilities. Adding a short section of rock-filled baskets midway up the slope, somewhere below the trees shown in the photo above,  offers others. Replacing the small fuzzy-leafed plants that surround the cascade now with plants that are more strongly architectural is almost a given. But I can’t go too far in that direction — the cascade is a transition point between the contemporary lines that surround the house and the natural exuberance of the grounds beyond.

The area also needs a name.

Ideas, anyone?