Land Art for the Moment

The notion that great things come from small beginnings is canonized in the proverb; “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”. And so it was with Pumpkin Seed, the dry stone garden enclosure that grew on a windy knoll in southern New Hampshire last winter. What started as a concept in clay, the size of my hand, turned into a ring of stone too high for me to see over.

Growth is a logical metaphor for a construction that rose from the ground one stone at a time and is intended to shelter raspberries and sweet corn, but “conjure” is the more appropriate verb for how I feel about its coming into being. The magic ritual involved didn’t include a sorcerer’s hat and robe but it did require the donning of many layers of winter gear to perform the trick. February 2015 was the coldest on record. In the case of working on a spring-fed, heavy clay site, the deep freeze was welcome for maneuvering around on four wheels, shifting weighty loads.

Two building methods were employed in the process. First, a double-skinned, knee-high wall was laid up with cobbles set akimbo. Next, flat bottomed boulders were carefully lowered onto the construction. After gaps between them were filled, progressively shorter single stones were laid across the wall’s width, finishing with a line of coping. Doubling on the lower section and singling on the upper is the reverse of the typical fence building technique seen in the New England landscape. The style (absent the “akimbo” stacking method of the lower courses) can be found criss-crossing miles of countryside in Scotland’s southwest corner, near Galloway, hence, it’s often referred to as Galloway dyking.

Shortly, Pumpkin Seed will enjoy the attention of planners and planters. Until the soil within its confines is tended, the Seed stands profoundly purposeless, as only works of art do best.