Friday, 12 November 2010

Behind The Scenes - Minimalist, Stone Garden

I've been planning a garden over the last couple of months that has made me quite excited. The house itself is quite contemporary, and in a great setting. Its flanked on one side by 2 magnificent, verdant green fig trees, and on the other side by amazing views over Beechwood Golf Course and out to sea. Its quite close to the existing house next door, which makes for an interesting challenge in trying to soften the views from both sides whilst not creating too much shade.
The owner and the architect had some great ideas, which gave quite strong direction as to what the garden should eventually look like. They wanted to create an almost minimalist, oriental feel with rock and grasses. After several concepts, we settled on a simple approach to the design, which would would require some very large rocks, which would in turn compliment the natural stone that has been used as a strong design element in the house.

Our first step was to remove the alien vegetation on site, which would also open up the views from the house. This would also create more space for the main rock garden area.
The almost blank canvas...
Using the initial concept sketches, I finalised the design, and worked out the position and rough size of the rocks that we would need for the space.


To get a better feel for the size of the rocks, I drew the site on Sketchup, and moved the rocks around to find the best position, shape and size. I wanted to also plan the position of the rocks around the possibility of adding some decking into the design at a later stage.

Sketchup drawing of the area showing the volume of the rocks
The drawings and sketches are more of a guideline to use when the choosing the rocks, because its quite easy to be overwhelmed by the size of the rocks when you're looking at them by themselves in a quarry.
Shorty stands in front of Rock No.9
The tendency is to choose smaller rocks when you're looking at the rocks by themselves. I went into the quarry armed with my sketches showing the shapes and measurements of the rocks that I wanted. I took photographs, and numbered each rock according to the position it was going to fill.

Even with all the preparation there are always a few slight hiccups. Unfortunately this job was no exception. The crane company I had hired to move the rocks got cold feet the day before the rocks were due to arrive. They were nervous because there was no way that we could know (and plan for) the weight of the rocks until they had been weighed on the weigh-bridge and were on their way to site. I had been given figures of anything from 1-7 tonnes per rock. Fortunately, after several anxious hours of phone calls, I managed to get a rigging company - Lovemore Brothers, to step in at the last minute (for a considerably higher fee), to handle the process of moving the rocks from the truck into position.


True to their word, the 55 tonne crane arrived at 7h30 the next morning. After several days of rain I knew that we had a window period of a few hours of good weather, so I began to grow quite anxious when I was told that the rocks were delayed by a broken down truck.

Eventually, at 14h30 the first load arrived, just as the clouds began to roll in. We worked quickly knowing that a storm was approaching, and that we had only a few more hours of light to get the remaining 16 tonnes of stone onto site. We finished the first load as the lightning began to strike around us. (An especially worrying thing when you have a 30-40m lightning-conductor sticking out above everything around it.) The very cold rain began soon after, which was just the precursor to the large hailstones that followed. It seemed like everything that could make our work harder, was going to happen. Fortunately, as is the norm with storms like that in Durban, it didn't last long.

3 long hours later, the second load arrived - just 25 minutes before the cut-off time that Devan (the very capable rigger in charge) had put in place.
With the light fading, and the dangerous prospect of positioning 3 tonne rocks in place in the dark, looming quickly, we tried to work fast. But before we knew it, the light was gone, and we were literally positioning rocks by lamplight.

That's the last rock being lit up with a light in the top left corner
 Next week, I'll do a follow up, showing the completed garden, with the rocks and plants all in place.
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