Monday, May 30, 2011

I did promise you a rose garden.

Nearly forty students and eighty tons of stone and exactly four years in the making, this 160 foot long garden enclosure wall is finally completed this weekend after a series of four weekend DSWAC workshops near Garden Hill Ontario between 2008 -2011 . Congratulations all of you who worked on it. You know who you are.

A special note of recognition to Bobby Tamo who collected the granite fieldstone from a nearby farmer's field and moved all the stone onto the property with his little trailer. It was a massive feat but well worth the effort Im sure. Cheers to you Bobby.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Who's in charge here?

Lots of walling this weekend with a great bunch of people. It seems to me that it is actually the stones that are in charge. They want to be built into walls and and have this ability to call people together from all over to assemble them into beautiful dry stonewalls without our knowing it. We are not able to resist their influence. We think it's our idea to build with the stones but we are merely their pawns.

Thankfully the stones allow us to eat really well during these hypnotic work parties. Case in point was the fabulous meal we had at Bobby Tamo's up in Garden Hill Ontario where Alice and Bobby prepared a wonderful chili lunch for the students before we dutifully went back to doing the stones bidding.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stone walls and flowers- Hands Down a Winning Combination at the Show

I was delighted to see that dry stone walling has taken such a front stage presence at the 2011 Chelsea Garden Show demonstrating the superior skills of the Yorkshire walling community. Though these three linked videos, one can see the development of this Silver Medal winning garden from concept to completion.
Posted today on The Guardian.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blockwork Orange

We had fun last night after supper trying to build a little wooden arch with Kurt's son Otto. Epi wood is a very dense,hard, heavy wood from Brazil. It has been compared to steel. It makes a great material for building miniature walls and bridges because its weightiness gives it more structural grip.

I had made building blocks from the wood cut-offs from an epi wood deck that someone had been building. Several short pieces of 2x6 had been thrown away. It was a shame to see the scraps of valuable wood being wasted.

Anyway, we dry stacked the specially cut blocks into various shaped structures and then tried spanning them over an orange, using it as a makeshift form, to support the roman arch we attempted to build.

It nearly worked. Otto and I continued and experimented with several different ways of arch-vaulting using the same orange. Even though it never quite worked, the whole thing was still a good learning experience. It wasn't just some fruitless exercise!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rethinking and Rebuilding

The aged cheese wedge - June 11, 2006
Picture taken May 21, 2011

The newly restored cheese wedge - May 24, 2011.

Am I disappointed that the original cheese wedge had some settling issues? Of course I am. Do I regret having attempted to build it? Not at all.

It was worth it for the amount of interest it generated and the number of students and visitors who have since marveled at the cheese wedge and been intrigued to learn more about this method of construction.

The restoration was as rewarding as the original build. There have been lots of other pluses along the way too. Having seen that it has lasted as long as it did, we were able to make some important changes based on what we learned and so were able to rebuild it even better. It is gratifying too that not just the same stones but the original concept could be actually reused.

What would we have learned if we never tried to build the cheese wedge? Nothing.

What did we learn by committing our selves to doing it?

- That the project was actually possible and successful on many levels. Rather than discrediting the profession of walling, the structure inspired and in its new state still continues to inspire all who come to see it.
- That it lasted well for 5 years without any maintenance.
- That when we rebuilt it, we will were able to make something that will presumably last even longer.
- That the design worked. Though it looked like a challenging design and though it had never been done before we had every confidence it was something that was worth trying.
- That beauty, even though it sometimes ends up being a bit more transitory is still worth striving for because of its power to lift the soul
- That good can come from having attempted something as unusual as this dry stone structure, even though along the way it may require some maintenance.
- That unplanned rearrangements of stones sometimes happen to give opportunities for people to work together again (rather than just criticize each other) and share new insights, and further encourage each other's creative skills and so experientially come to grips with structural constraints that we could only try to imagine before.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

There is no Time Capsule like the present.

The updated time capsule is re-installed inside the refurbished cheese wedge.

Signatures of enthusiastic participants with greetings to the future and various words of wisdom

Ready to take the old cheese wedge down before it supposedly 'falls' down.

Numbering the stones

With six enthusiastic students signed up, again all from the the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture school, we began the work of carefully numbering the dry stone wedge voussoirs and cornerstones, and then disassembled and stockpiled the material, taking it down to below four feet of its original twelve foot height in order to systematically 'reinstated' it. Half way down we uncovered a metal container wrapped in plastic which was time capsule that we had put there when it was originally built.

Along with myself and a few guest wallers, Sarah, Chris, Andrea, Kara, Leslie and Ben worked hard to rebuild the wedge over the three days and did a fantastic job. A new shape and smaller height of the wedge was decided upon and the see through tunnel opening was reduced from 18 inches to 12 inches. The new cheese wedge structure now has heavier bigger copes sitting on a much wider top. The weather cooperated and we were happy to finish the structure in less time than the three full days we had allotted for the workshop.

Mellisa and Dan cooked some fine lunches and suppers to keep us all well fed and energized. The meals were all excellent. They provided great opportunity too for me to learn more about the school and to talk about dry stone walls and the place they have in Canadian gardening design.

Thanks to Melissa Spearing who coordinated this event and James Smith and Tom Laviolette and Charles Hunter who work at the school and gave their support for this Niagara Parks restoration project to proceed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Cheese Process

About 6 months ago a rather mean spirited colleague of mine took it upon himself to discredit me by uploading poor photos onto his walling blog that he took of something I had designed and had the opportunity of building 5 years ago at the horticultural school in Niagara Falls, along with several volunteer students and 4 volunteer wallers. We were asked to do something unique out of the stones they had on site at the park during the three days of the Niagara Garden Show. We were honoured to be asked and excited to do something for the school that was not going to have to be taken down after the show. Often we build things at garden and highland events that are very structural agreeing to take them down afterwards, even though people tell us they wish that the walls could be left there for their friends and family who missed the event so they could come and see later.

Our idea this time was to create something unusual that would generate even more interest in dry stone walling in Canada by showing a new aspect of what could be done than just walls. While the whole event was a great success and the much loved 'Cheese Wedge' still remained the pride of the school, it was starting to look like it was going to need a bit of restoring. Frankly we suspected this would be the case and have been monitoring it since it was first built. Last year 4, years after it was built when I went to inspect it, it still looked in mint condition. The picture below shows the condition it was in 2 months ago when I visited it again. It certainly didn't look as if any part of it was about to fall down. However we decided to make arrangements to have it repaired.

We had really stretched ourselves with the original cheese wedge project at the Niagara Botanical Gardens and knew we were pushing the envelope back in 2006. For this reason a site was decided upon that was out of the main foot traffic and it was understood that if or when the structure began to look the worse for wear, we would gladly come back and tend to it - which we in fact we did last weekend.

It had been worth it for the amount of interest it generated and the number of students and visitors who have since marveled at the structure and been intrigued to learn more about this method of construction.

Interestingly when I initiated the idea to the school of taking down the cheese wedge and suggested doing something different, less ambitious instead, the school wrote back to say they preferred that the existing Cheese Wedge be merely 'reinstated' as it was so unique and drew so much interest. I realized that the abuse the wedge had suffered was more in my own mind due to reading some naysayer's post than from any significant structural defects. Obviously the aging cheese ( like real cheese) was not seen as some big failure or the few signs of showing a bit of 'wear and tear' as anything to be criticized.

Tomorrow and the next I will continue this story of the cheese wedge and the recent workshop we ran in conjunction with the Niagara Horticultural School this May 24 weekend at which time several of us gathered again and successfully restored it without any great fuss.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Feeling comfortable around big rocks

Eric Landman recently sent me some pictures of the rock lady he and Ryan made from some of the big rocks they were working with last week. From the looks of it Eric is very comfortable working beside large rocks. But actually he doesn't seem to be getting much work done, does he?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thinking in a circle.

Two renderings of the dry stone circular 'Venusgate' Amphitheatre idea members came up with at last weekend's DSWAC Hart House Farm retreat. We are planning to have crew of international wallers come and build it during the 2011 Roctoberfest in October. The opening is a variation on the round moongate design.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thinking on top of the box

We made this miniature dry stacked wood block arch last weekend. It was strong enough that I could virtually stand on it too. Who needs Photoshop?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Miniature ideas for dry stone projects

These are some of the other ideas we experimented with during the three days of our DSWAC retreat in the country.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Abridged Designs

On Saturday of the DSWAC weekend retreat in the Caledon hills we experimented with several different designs for arched dry stone features for the upcoming Rocktoberfest using small stones. This miniature bridge was cleverly constructed by Doug Ball and Angus E in a window opening between the dining hall and the enclosed porch. In an effort to prove how strong arches can be I offered to step up on it and try to put my full weight on it. The tiny bridge didn't collapse, proving what a good design it was and how well it was constructed. The window opening, on the other hand was designed a bit too small.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A site for wall seasons.

The grounds manager Steve Warn showed us around the U of T Hart House farm property to let us see the many features that make this property a perfect place to hold this years Rocktoberfest. There are several old quarries there which are filled with crystal clear spring water. This one (above) which has a dock and a sauna is where we gathered Friday for a bit of a group photo before the others arrived.

A section of another old quarry on the the property isn't filled with water and has an abundance of random sized 'slag stone', perfect for using during the festival for walling events.

There are several historic dry stone walls on the property. This is one that students will likely be rebuilding under careful supervision.
There is even an old , very well built stone ruin on the property. We hope to restore it at some other season and add some dry stone component to it perhaps during next years 2012 Rocktoberfest.

And of course there are plenty of field stones lying around in piles all around the farm fields. These will be challenging to build with. We have a special project we have designed that will incorporate a lot of this stone. It's also good for balancing and making dry stone sculptures with.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A meeting of the minds

Last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, fifteen members of Dry Stone Walling Across Canada met for a lively retreat at the new site where Rocktoberfest will be held in the Caledon Hills, in southern Ontario. Hart House Farm, a property owned by the University of Toronto was chosen for the location of our annual DSWAC gathering as a convenient way to become familiar with this large country property where we will be presenting some exciting walling events during our four day Thanksgiving dry stone walling festival.

As well as walking over the property to look over the many facilities on the farm, we spent time discussing the new direction of the DSWAC. Everyone cooperated in designing a special festival dry stone amphitheatre project for the farm and brainstormed together to come up with a new approach to running several of the other regular festival attractions. We attended evening presentations including one by Chris Lea director of activities at Hart House and Evan Oxland who recently returned from Japan where he studied dry stone castle construction.

Members participated in some pretty challenging miniature indoor dry stone building activities and kept busy the whole weekend despite the rainy weather. The gourmet meals were prepared by a highly skilled professional Toronto chef and included fresh rainbow trout, wild leaks and shatike mushrooms picked fresh off the farm property. Everyone who attended this three day gathering agreed that it was a spectacular success.

All this week I hope to post pictures of some of highlights of this event and to present some of the creative ideas we came up with

But first let's look at a few pics that show the caliber of the meals we all enjoyed during this special DSWAC Hart House farm retreat.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Party on the Rock, Star!

I thought I might find some appropriate music to go with this photo which I took of a starfish in Newfoundland as he raps on this rock and enjoys being high at low tide.

I think this piece by Shop Boyz may do the trick.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Conveniently Making Hearting

Dry stone walls need to be filled and packed and pinned with sharp broken stones called hearting. It is like the cement of a mortared wall. The stone we work with a lot is a quarried dolomite limestone that comes in random shapes and sizes. Often we don't have enough small hearting pieces to complete a wall. Now and then we also need to shape the builder stones themselves as they might not fit quite right otherwise or they might not have a good enough face.

It always amazes me that when you shape such a stone with a hammer to get a flat face on it you often end up with the very hearting pieces you need to fit and nestle that stone into your wall. It kind of seems like the universe is trying to be economical or maybe it's natures way of telling you you're doing things right. ( Like clearing a field and making a wall with the stones instead of burying them.)

The stone that you see laying in the wall at the end of the clip, with the bucket leaning on it, has been bedded and pinned with the scalloped pieces that came off it when the stone was being shaped earlier.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hand held camera

Went to visit this hut that we built back in 2008. It looks well suited to and well settled into the landscape. I did this little video of how it looked yesterday. Should have held the camera steadier.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fifi's House

Granddaughter Fiona is excited to show her mom the tiny new dry stone house she has found at the back of our property. She seems to be pretty happy about the size of it. It looks to be made just for her. Her mom thinks the whole thing is pretty funny. I think Fiona has very good taste.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Granite and Limestone Mix

The big granite stone that we split three days ago (see..Hand Splitting ) fit into the dry stone wall we are building perfectly. It extended right back into the other side of the wall. Granite and limestone work well together in a wall. I have seen old lime mortared house foundations here in southern Ontario with a mixture of half granite and half limestone and surprisingly it always looks good. Again it proves that when you use local stone even if it is a mix of geological material it likely to do the job and be pleasing to the eye. We often mix dolomite limestone with granite fieldstone in a lot of the dry stone projects we do here in Southern Ontario.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Rock space

Unlike some, stones can always find room for you, no matter how busy they are.