I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Day (3)

Several years ago, we undertook a big remodelling of our garden. When Paul bought the house over twenty years ago, there was a big cement section and a big grass section and that was about it. He planted lots and lots of trees, then later dug up the cement section (after keeping a big sandpit there several years for Joel and friends — I well remember the "volcanic panic" he built with his cousin Imogen there), and grew vegetables, but it was time to introduce some kind of water feature, and get rid of the grass. Yes, the house still has lots of unfinished parts and there are always more things in an old house that require attention, but a garden takes longer to get established. It's all about the priorities. We love our home and plan to stay here forever, so while it was a "grand design," we were building for the future. The very first things Paul planted when he moved in were a couple of lemon-scented gumtrees and a little copse of silver birches down the side of the house and they now tower up, and frame the garden. The big manchurian pear has come and gone and the maple now shades the back door. The trees had given the house its own history already, and this design would give the garden a new frame to grow into for the next couple of decades.

Anyway, back to bluestone. I'm not going to post big pictures of the garden but today I'm focussing on the bluestone retaining walls. We worked with a garden consultant who used to have a regular TV spot, and later wrote about our garden in a book, and a brilliant team of builders (and a rather bigger budget than we had planned), but now we have a mini-system of fishponds and retaining walls that control the slope of the land. I was also very keen to have ledges to sit on for parties (note also the little light)...

We're not sure where this bluestone came from, but it came in big chunks that often had to be re-cut and shaped, and then chipped again into rough shapes if they had been sliced into a smooth edge. It took a few weeks of the team cutting and laying the stone to size. To cut it they used a diamond-tip bench saw that ran water across the stone and screamed with a high-pitched intense whirr. There was dust and noise and water for weeks as they cut the stone for the pond and the walls. (We bought several cases of wine and went to visit and apologise to some of the neighbours later.)

The garden plan became a bit gothic in appearance (more on that next week), and we broke up the darkness of the bluestone walls with sandstone paths, which are lovely to walk on. (The sandstone is another story: it came in large slabs in wooden crates, imported from India, we realised to our horror, but with lots of plant fossils embedded in it.) We also wanted little nooks and crannies for plants to grow, so these spaces were part of the construction, while the walls themselves were supported by concrete.

From the front, then, they look like drystone construction (without mortar), but David saw the first version of the walls without reinforcement and said they would only last five to ten years, and made the builders re-do them.

The ledges came as smooth rectangular slabs, but David also got the masons to chip along the edges. They are smooth and comfortable to sit on at parties, though not immune to stains from melting candle wax... Looking at them again in the light of this project, I observe the fineness of their construction, and the way the masons have been able to make lovely round curves from this very blocky stone.

Its "affect" here is domestic, home-bound, built for us. 

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