This is the sixth in a series 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.
The gardens and grounds of Rice Mountain are a remarkable achievement. To know that they were created from scratch in a relatively short period of time by a local labor force makes them all the more amazing. Two masons from the house construction came down off their chimney scaffolding to work with me on the barn foundation silo. The design of the barn foundation ruin would have been incomplete without the remnants of a feed silo in evidence. Here, as with the half-dome feature in the entrance garden, cement would be required. Like the concentric rings of an onion, the silo would have layers of masonry.
Greg and Scott took a sketch I made and transformed it into the brick and cobblestone core of the feature. When they were finished with the wet-work I added a layer of dry-laid field stone and a granite, post and lintel passageway. It took some coaching and coaxing to sway Greg, a master bricklayer, away from standard craft and toward the skewed lines and warped surfaces required for the creation of a folly. By the time he reached the top, Greg was smitten with the distressed look and feel of the silo’s masonry. He jokingly said the experience had spoiled him for doing straight and plumb brickwork, ever again. Mrs. and Mr. Berg allowed the craftspeople they invited to Rice Mountain the freedom to create. We were affected by the quality of work going on around us and infected with the desire to take the next step on our own professional paths.
When the Berg’s asked me to build a series of simple terraces to hold beds for a new perennial garden Gordon was designing I saw it as a chance to make a classroom for dry stone walling instruction. Under my direction a number of people contributed to the construction of the terraces. The driving aesthetic of the design of the walls was to make the stone invisible from the house. To that end I devised a system for continuing the soil of the planting beds across the top of the stone walls. A heavy mesh, landscaping fabric was rolled out along the back of the finished walls and draped over the front. A layer of soil was spread on the fabric and up over the top stones. The draped fabric was folded back on itself and more soil added to finish off the terrace height. As ground cover plants and mosses took hold, the fold of soil-filled fabric along the top of the wall disappeared in the vegetation, giving the appearance, when viewed from the home, of a solid mass of plantings cascading down the slope, spilling over onto the green sward of the north lawn.