|The garden structure to be accessed by a set of rough slab steps|
Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. Our perceptions of need spur the action that finally gets things moving and, one day, done. Here it was a matter of finishing up a set of rough slab steps begun, but left incomplete, by a landscaper rushing to finish other pieces of a complex job with his excavator. He was focussed on completing the stone retaining structures pictured above - the steps were simply an add-on from his perspective, so rudimentary work sufficed. Their original purpose was to allow people to safely climb a steep slope up to the garden gallery or terrace, comprising a secondary access to a level directly connected to the house by its own pathway from above. It fell to me, a gardener who dabbles in stone work, to fill in the gaps and complete the flight of steps. While finding a fix wasn't nearly the top priority in that baffling new landscape, it was an important one for security in access. So unaccountably one very hot day I found myself taking the plunge.
|The corner to be turned: first of the new stones placed|
I'd been fiddling with step-making in other locations around the house, figuring out how to make them ascend far gentler inclines than this one. Here a much sharper rise was involved, with the final flight of steps (about a third) simply left as slope. While someone could clamber up or down to paths from where the slabs ended, the shale slope they rested against was loose at the surface - clearly it would only be a matter of time until someone lost their footing on it. And as we are older folk with a social realm of increasingly older folks, it was important to act on this access, and that meant figuring out a way to turn a corner to bring the steps in level with the gallery above them. Not rocket science, but if you haven't done it before, a challenging enough puzzle. Fortunately I was guided by the need for utility first and foremost, so was prepared to be flexible in finding a fix. What mattered most was here security, refinement of aesthetics was secondary. And these were quite rough working conditions, and the work done in the excruciating heat of August on a south-facing slope.
|A significant rise on a shale slope, showing the corner needing to be turned|
|Second stone placed, illustrating the switchback needed to reach the landing|
I had certainly chosen an unpromising time to start this sort of work: high summer, during a prolonged drought in the intense sunlight, in a location that concentrates heat. A few hours in that exposure would see me woozy, even with a hat and sunglasses and lots of water. I found myself going through work tee-shirts non-stop. But as I've discovered over a lifetime of gardening, the best time to tackle any task is whenever you can find the time to do it. Fact is, I'd been shying away from this job, as I was a uncertain how I'd move some biggish chunks of stone down the long incline to the job site. The slabs already in place were gargantuan, placed by excavator. I couldn't match these for scale with the stones I'd be moving there by hand (and there was now no possibility of using a machine without degrading the settled part of the landscape). Also material of their size simply wouldn't do for the remaining part of the climb.To complete the job with any consistency, I would need to move smaller but substantial pieces of stone into position, without benefit of a machine.
Enter the new rock dolly, above. Figuring I might need to shift pieces as heavy as a hundred pounds or more, I'd finally sourced a dolly or truck built to take that and far heavier weights. With this device in hand, there was no longer an excuse not to begin the job. So one hot Saturday, in impromptu fashion, I began the job. First I scoured my rock piles for candidate chunks. I'm not a trained stone worker, and my hands and wrists won't take a lot of concussive action, so I needed chunks that were ready to go and could function immediately as as steps - flat, thick, but not too deep. And, capable of forming a turning alignment, a switch-back of fairly sharp degree.
|Jockeying a candidate slab into position to function as a step|
The corner to be turned was essentially a full ninety degrees, on a sharper than ideal gradient, and tucked around a gigantic corner stone. Turning the steps would allow the path to access a landing at level, thus taming some of the sharpness of the rise. I calculated roughly four eight-inch steps (not an ideal rising height, but still climable) needed adding to the existing slabs. What follows is a photo-story of the choosing and placing of these steps.
To state the obvious, you begin by adding to the last completed step. You build upwards, so each step rests on or is tucked in behind the previous one. So this entailed excavating a pocket in which the first stone would sit. After a lot of inspecting of possibilities, I trundled a candidate stone down to the site, measured it in situ and then transferred its shape roughly to a pocket excavated in the shale.
|Third step placed into the run up to the landing|
|Four steps added in all, to make ascent safer|
The next shot shows the abutments evolving and a threshold stone set in place for orientation towards the landing. This process will go on for a while, indeed there's still an evolution of the edges of the steps. I've been exploring the addition of tumbled granites, random chunks of granitic rock smoothed off by glacial action. I don't feel that I'm at the end of that piece just yet, adjustment is ongoing. I feel the need to continue reworking the slope side of the path, as the retention there feels a bit awkward still.
Here are a couple of shots of how it's looking these days, as vegetation and rock collections evolve.