A month ago, the area at the top of the front steps at Glen Villa looked like this.
Now it looks like this.
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….
and short ones.
There are old ones…
and new ones.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.