Years ago, when I set out to dig my first flowerbed, I optimistically stuck my shiny new Smith & Hawken spade in the ground — and struck a big stone. Five minutes later, I realized that no matter where I stuck my spade in the ground on this property, I’d hit a stone. Carving out my beds was more excavation than gardening. And when the excavations were over, I had to cope with the astonishing amount of stones and rocks I’d dug up. I laboriously jettisoned about 20 million small ones down the riverbank across the lane, but the larger ones, whose beauty I appreciated even as I cursed them for being in the way, I used for pathways, or as edgers, or to build low stone walls. I even used some of the big, flat ones to build a patio. (OK, it’s a little rustic, but I’m proud of it anyway.)
One thing I learned right away is that stones are much, much heavier than they look, and seem to have a mind of their own about how they’ll be set down. So my amateur struggles have increased my appreciation for beautiful stonework.
A patio of tightly laid stones in different colors
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Christopher Layman, who lives in Hannacroix, Greene County, describes himself not just as a stoneworker, but a “stonescape artist.” His “budding business,” Fox Stonework (which has been budding quite successfully for 10 years now), has the tagline Ancient World Design, and although he can make walls, steps, patios, paths and all the usual stuff, his artistic side comes out in “focal points,” like the fabulous, 4-foot tall, vase-shaped pillar he built on his property with dry-laid stone (as in: no cement).
Layman, 43, also likes to make meditation rooms, which are essentially walls and pillars enclosing a space. His (which came about “by accident” he says) has curving walls about three feet high, with three sets of pillars about eight feet tall and decorative stones here and there. “I use local stone as much as I can, but I love to accent with Maine rocks in pretty color greens,” he says. Another project in the works is a lighthouse-like tower, which will have very large stone petals at the top and will be up to10 feet high. “Once you get to a certain level, the stones decide how tall it will be.”
Layman lives with his son, Ryan, on an eight-acre parcel of what was once Fox farm, his great-grandparents place. “I wanted to stay home,” he says. “It’s more than a piece of property.” He quarries about one acre, and will eventually replace the quarry “with a nice body of water.” (There’s already a big, pristine pond in front, used by wildlife year-round, and “where frogs sing at night.”)
“Stonework is slow,” Layman observes. “But once it’s done, with a good foundation, it’s forever. Although actually I see a lot that’s not done forever — a lot of eroding stonework. I’ve spent half my career redoing bad stonework for nice people who spent thousands on crappy work.”
Although he prefers to dry-lay stone, Layman will use mortar if a client asks for it. To see a range of his work, check out www.foxstone.weebly.com.