Garden Walls Come First

My garden is the place I come at the end of a day to forget the trials of running my remodeling business, a place to momentarily forget the difficulties of the world, a place to get refreshed. Designed environments should do that.

It took eight years to create the garden at my Northwest, Washington, D.C. home shared with my wife. It is a work-in-progress. Happily, our circa 1920 house was placed forward on its lot, 120' x 55', leaving ample space for a rear garden.

With the help of landscape architect, Mark White, we created our garden’s master plan allowing us to implement work in phases as it was affordable. Getting the design ‘right’ meant building the brick fence first; more than 160 linear feet of it!

DC city zoning laws require that fences be built at, or inside, property lines and not more than 6’ in height from grade. We hired a licensed surveyor to mark our property lines to ensure that placement of our brick fence could not be questioned.

We quickly learned the importance of our garden’s master plan because even the brick fence was too expensive to build all at once and required two phases:

1- The first 100' was built at the south and east in 2001,

2- The remaining 60' at the north side more than a year later.

The fence is the important design element of the garden because it provides closure and the architectural framework for the walled garden. Following our master plan, new planting was restricted to the newly fenced areas.

Visitors are quizzical when they learn we went to the effort to build a brick fence around our garden, until they tour the garden. Fence and plantings act as a couple, working together to complete the experience. The fence blocks the view of a wrap-around alley and with the help of a contained bamboo bed screens an adjacent office building. The enclosure creates a micro-climate, gentle on plants and its brick piers form plinths for cast-stone urns, adding height and enclosure.

For aesthetics I wanted a repeating pattern of brick piers, each capped with 2" thick flagstone, linked by brick walls. The piers are spaced 10' apart which creates visual rhythm but primarily serves a structural purpose to support a thin brick fence. A focal point, at the back end of the garden, was created with a round opening, called a ‘clairvoyee’, and embellished with scrolls of ironwork. The length and height of the brick fence required a structural engineer design a proper footing. For strength and economy a continuous 24"d. x 24"w. reinforced concrete footing was designed for an 8" wide fence, and a 24"d. x 36"w. footing was built for each brick pier (twice the thickness normally specified). The large footing, disliked by the mason because of its size, provided a cost savings because it allowed for less brick with a thin 8" wide wall between piers; whereas smaller piers and footings would have required a 12" thick brick wall. The fence has not settled or cracked in eight years, evidence of a job well done.

As a couple we joke that we’re both a bit introverted and if left alone could become hermits. We entertain often in the garden, which helps overcome our natural inclinations. At the end of the work day there is nothing I like more than to arrive home and walk in the garden. In the warm weather I open the French doors leading to our porch and soak up the lush garden aromas of this little urban oasis. It was all worth it.


Kathleen said...

Your garden walls are amazing. Very handsome work.

Kathleen said...

I love the walled garden.

Less is More said...

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