Monk’s Brewery Garden

This is the fourth of ten short essays on the design and stone work I did on Rice Mountain for the Berg family over an 18 year period beginning in the late 1980's.

As the house construction under Mr. Berg’s direction expanded to the east, Mrs. Berg’s “re-wilding” of cleared land continued to the south. While not a competition, exactly, there was a struggle between the interests represented by the the house builder and those of the garden maker. The couple was a team with the same ultimate goal but the process to achieve it could sometimes look and sound like a turf battle for the top of the mountain.

Mrs. Berg’s vision for the space around the house was more that of an environment than of simply a garden. Ground covers would weave into planting beds of grasses and shrubs. They, in turn, would intertwine with trees whose canopy would add a layer of life overhead. Anchoring this living, breathing, ever-changing organism to its place on the land would be stone. As the house would be a home for the Bergs, the stone work should become a home for the garden.
By her own admission, these were not words that Mrs. Berg could articulate. For her, the garden was an expression of feelings that did not necessarily translate into words. She was an artist relying on the hands of others to create the environment she envisioned. She and I gained trust in each others creative process as we went along, always with the faith that we held each others best interests at heart.

With the Monk’s Brewery Garden a strong sense of play began to enter the picture. Layers of fantasy emerged as the stepped retaining wall was topped with a free-standing wall punctured by a small square aperture. The stone for this construction combined old, sill stones with freshly quarried laying stone from Ashfield, Massachusetts, the dark blue of the soft Ashfield contrasting dramatically with the “salt and pepper” of the hard granite. Next to it grew a round turret, its face pierced by a narrow slot, not unlike the defensive fenestration of a medieval castle.  

Joining me from Scotland in building the turret was John. “Dry stane dyking” was a part-time profession for him back home in Achmelvic. He was a water colourist, first and foremost. Weighing in at 150 pounds, with slender hands and a broad-brimmed straw hat on his head, John looked more the part of a French Impressionist than a caber tossing Celt. Nevertheless, he tucked into the rock and became the first of many drop-in craftsmen from around the world to lay stone alongside me. After returning to his Highland studio, John painted a fantasy from memory and imagination of what life on Rice Mountain might look like in some future dream of the distant past.