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Winter 2009
 
John Cushnie On...
 

Plant A Stone Wall
3rd December 2009

Stone is making a come back and newly built dry stone walls are common in our countryside. Frequently I find that old, field boundary hedges have been planted in line with, and are hiding, a lovely natural stone wall.

The difference is that most of the modern walls are constructed using mortar but it is hidden from view leaving the cracks and crannies at the face of the wall unfilled.

Dry Stone WallWith “proper” dry stone building no mortar is used with each stone balancing on the lower slab.

Planting such walls is great fun but there are some conditions. The selected plants should be small, non-vigorous specimens that won’t cover the wall spoiling the natural look of the stones. They need to be tolerant of drought conditions and a restricted rooting area.

Dry stone wall with flowersTrailing plants work well but need to be well spaced otherwise they smother the lower plants. Avoid ivy varieties that will become invasive.
Small alpines are ideal and some such as Lewesia cotyledon with rosettes of leaves are best planted on their side as this prevents rain lying on and rotting the foliage.

It is possible to have a selection of herbs growing on a wall with chives, thyme, mint and marjoram growing in small gaps.
Foxgloves love the free draining conditions and if planted at the base of the wall look exactly as they would in the wild, growing beside a granite boulder wall in the Mourne mountains.

Snails may be a serious pest as they love to hide in such walls and constant attention and baiting will be needed to deter them.

Dry Stone wallIf the wall is being built then that is the time to insert the small plants along with as much soil as the crack or gap will hold. If the stone above the plant is sloped backwards then rain will trickle down to the roots of the plant.
For existing walls it is essential that the plants are simply rooted cuttings or seedlings that will establish and grow to fill the root zone available. Larger plants will sulk and probably die.

Don’t be tempted to use any of the multi-purpose composts. They will be prone to drying out without much chance of a good soaking. Use a sterilized soil without any fertilizer.

 

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