Forfar Botanist’s Garden

Today boys & girls we are going to be looking through the……

Forfar Window

Round Window!

Work on the garden is progressing apace now; as it moves towards completion the tranquility of the site has changed from it being my sole domain to somewhere I now have to share. Dave Christie is laying the paving and Ian Christie, committee member responsible for the planting scheme is doing what he loves best, spreading compost, digging & getting his beloved plants into the ground.

Forfar Pinus mugo

As elements become completed and plants take up their positions the integrity & strength of Inglis Thorburn’s design begins to emerge. Lots of little details of the build add interest to the overall scheme but you can now see that they will not overwhelm the space but add to the viewers enjoyment of the garden.

Forfar Bench

Response to the stonework from the passing public has been incredible they have been generous with their praise which has been personally very rewarding given the effort and work that I have put into it. The sheer number & diversity of people that have taken the time to stop ask questions and pass comments has really been amazing.

Forfar Double end

Steady progress – perhaps a little slower than we would all like

Forfar site tidy

Over the last few weeks various issues have contributed to progress on site slowing down to a snails pace. A few days off for an additional operation to my leg, choosing and siting of the feature stones, soil importation and the complexity of completing the wall ends have made it appear that very little is being achieved.

Forfar North wall end

To the casual onlooker this may be the case but with 3 out of the 4 complex curving corners now complete and the south wall fully finished a lot of the difficult areas that slow down the project are under my belt – as Gordon Ramsay would say – DONE!!

Forfar Stone drop

After another trip to Robertson’s Quarry at Guthrie the feature stones for the wall ends have been delivered & installed on site, with some of the many tons of top soil also now being put into place the garden is beginning to be transformed into the final desired layout.

With an impending Jury Duty commitment looming and the implications of being selected hanging over me – it appears my continued involvement in the project is in jeapordy. It would be such a pity not to be able to see this project through to completion but matters are outwith my control and I will just have to see how things transpire!

My ‘cheek ends!!’

Sounds slightly naughty but – ‘cheek end’ is the term many dykers and wallers use to describe the end of a length of walling.

These play a major part in determining the strength of most drywall constructions, they usually correspond to an opening where some form of access is required, this fact makes these a vulnerable point on the wall as there is potential for the stones at these points to be dislodged or knocked out of place, as in knitting if the ends are not tied off correctly the whole thing will begin to unravel. Care must be taken to ensure that the two opposite faces of the wall are tied together in such a way that it gives it the best chance of surviving day to day knocks.

Drystone walls though very simple structures are structurally very clever, their robustness and strength are inherent to their design. Stones are laid with their bulk set into the heart of the wall, random in size the middle gaps between the face stones are filled with smaller stones, gravitational weight then bears down upon each course tying both sides together. ‘Cheek ends’ need to be constructed in such a way that the wall is closed off and the courses of both faces need to be interlocked so that the corners work together, if not constructed well and tightly the chances of it failing increase.

Forfar Corner End

Inglis Thorburn’s Design for the walls at Forfar has the added design detail of having the top half of the cheek end curving up to the head of the wall. This is the first time I have built this detail and proved to be quite a challenge. This effort has been worthwhile as now that it is complete it adds to the overall interest of the walls giving it a strong unique character.

South Wall – installation of carved elements

Forfar Alcoves

After two weeks carving it is back to constructing the walls. As the South wall carries the carvings this has taken some time to build as careful spacing and attention to detail has been required so that all that hard work wasn’t let down by shoddy installation. I’m pretty pleased with how it has finally turned out.

Ensuring the carvings are secure in what will be an open public garden has meant installing them with a robust fixing detail – 16mm & 25 mm bar resined into each sphere and then built inconspicuously into the wall should keep them in place. Prior to being installed they looked a bit ‘Shrek ‘ like!

Forfar carving bolts

Alcoves and little niches are interesting construction challenges – for the sphere carvings an arched opening was designed. Below is a picture showing my very simple and basic method to achieve the end result.

Forfar Alcove construction

Protecting the carving with an old towel – the stones used to create the arch are supported temporarily with little stones wedged into place. A paper template is used to assess the size and shape of the final key-stone, which once in place holds everything tightly together the temporary supporting material can then be safely removed – simple!

Carvings Complete:-

Took a bit longer than I had hoped but after two weeks cutting, grinding, chipping & polishing the carvings for the south wall are now complete.Forfar GazeboOpening up the gate to the site & setting up a gazebo within to work the carvings have been an excellent way to engage the public with the project. Many have stopped by and had a chat about my goings on and what is planned for the area.

Central to my plans for the south wall are two feature spherical carvings, one to represent a spore the other a seed, two different mechanisms nature ensures plants reproduce.

Starting with a basic stone block each sculpture goes through a series of stages to arrive at the completed piece. This work tends to be done in the studio the end result can appear ‘magical’ – very few get to see the hard work and toil and constant decision making to get to the desired, or hoped for, end result.

Forfar carving sequence1

Forfar Carving sequence2

Drummond’s Revenge:-

With 5 name plaques to carve things were going too well, I should have kept my hubris in better check.

Hand carved lettering is time consuming but a highly enjoyable technical task, the rewards of which magically appear upon the stone with each tap of the mason’s hammer. Making no claims to be a master lettercarver, it is an art in itself and takes years to master the finer points of the craft, nevertheless I was very happy with my progress this week in completing the name plaques. At no point had my chisel slipped outwith my lines or had I made an incision into the stone without due care and attention, I was rather pleased with myself.

Setting up my banking table at the entrance to the site I have had many visitors drop pass to watch my endeavours, this has been an excellent opportunity to introduce myself and to tell them a bit more about the garden which is being created to celebrate the work of two local families, the Drummonds & the Don’s, members of which gained distinction in the field of Botony. Always quick with a witticism, on more that one or two occassions this week I have quipped that – ‘I don’t like the Drummond’s,’ – ‘why is that?’ – the visitors have replied – ‘too many letters!!’

I should have had more respect, the Drummond’s have had the last laugh and it’s on me. Completing the last plaque, that of George Don Jnr. There was a flaw in that slab which I had to cut off, chopping it back to the correct size with a grinder I was taking care not to let the offcut stone fall to the ground, I was catching it and throwing it onto the spoil pile. With virtually the last bit I went to throw it away when it slipped out of my hand right into old man Drummond’s name plaque, taking a chip right off the bottom of the stone! All that care & attention undone with a momentary lapse.

Forfar Drummond Chip

Assessing the damage it wasn’t an easy fix. It was too big & prominent to just sweeten in; to dress the stone down to get rid of the chip would have taken off nearly ten mm, which would have upset the placement of the name upon the block. Frustrated with myself, these things upset me I had to leave it & contemplate a solution.

Gluing was the only possible option. You can buy specialist stone resin which you can mix dust in with to achieve  nearly invisible results. Needless to say I don’t have any to hand at the moment. It is amazing how these little irritations can eat away at you and cause much consternation to the point where you end up dreaming about them. I couldn’t wait to get it fixed. A trip to B& Q’s was in order to see if I could find something that might work. £16 worth of various products later I arrived on site and set to work.

Trying each one separately I made little test repairs to assess the results, one didn’t mix with the dust very well the other two took the dust but became much darker when mixed. I was kicking myself about how much time and effort was being wasted because of such a silly error & it didn’t look like it was going to be successfully repaired.

Forfar chip repair

Letting the glue harden fully I set about getting on with other work and gave myself some time to think about it, then it struck me what if I took a riffler, (a tool used to file stone available in different grades) to it to expose the dust within the resin matrix. Having a try at this the dark colour became much less prominent to the point where an acceptable repair was accomplished. What a relief! No more quips at Mr Drummond’s expense from me.Forfar repair completed

James Drummond’s name plaque is now fully restored to the point where – ‘the man on the Kirrie Bus will never see it’ – a favourite saying of my old art college workshop technician when I was worrying over some insignificant detail.

Carving begins – Week beginning 27th May:-

After three weeks work constructing the walls a break is in order, to be able to complete the south wall I need to carve the feature stones that will form a focal point within it. 5 name plaques and two feature sculptures need to be completed, hopefully within a week!

Forfar Thomas Drummond

The names of each of the Botanists are to be carved on a buff sandstone reclaimed sill that is just the perfect size for the project. Hopefully the weather holds as lettercarving is far more enjoyable when conditions are warm & dry.

Tradstocks visit – stone selection:-

In preparation for doing the feature carvings I visited one of my favourite merchants, Tradstocks. Supplying & cutting a wide range of natural stone , their yard is a treasure chest of material; reclaimed stone from around the country is stockpiled awaiting the right customer, large blocks fresh from the quarry sit ready to be put to the saw, and pallet upon pallet of different material beg to be investigated further.

Forfar Blocks Tradstocks

Rummaging around the yard in the sun is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and proved fruitful in that I found the exact material that I needed for Forfar. I selected 5 stone sills that I could use for the name plaques, and a block each of grey granite and pink whin for the sculptures.

Design additions to the walls:-

Inglis’s initial design layout for the garden has drystone walls providing a backdrop to the planting, in close consultation with him and the clients they have allowed me to have some ‘artistic’ input, little additions that provide extra interest.

The garden is a celebration to the work of 5 local Forfar men who achieved lasting fame through their contributions to the field of Botany. Their efforts took them to the far corners of the world in search of new discoveries and to the heights of academia with their profound knowledge. Their story is the inspiration for the garden. My input is aimed to tell a little bit of that story.

The south wall of the garden is one of the largest, 11 mtrs long and 2 mtrs in height it is a large expanse of stonework, my proposal is to break that up by including 5 carved name plaques, above which will be two circular alcoves with little ‘seed’ carvings.Forfar Design South Wall

These are additions to the original contract, ideally you would do these prior to work starting on site so that construction wasn’t interrupted. I like to look at these problems ‘creatively’ and have proposed to the client that rather than me going off site at some point to do this carving work back in the studio, we make the most of it and see it as an opportunity to promote the project by undertaking this on site in a temporary gazebo where the public can come along and see the pieces being created. People are fascinated by stone carving, this will give me the chance to show the process and to tell them more about the story behind the garden. This interaction will increase the public’s awareness of the reasons for the project and hopefully enhance their experience when the garden is complete.

For the West Wall of the site Inglis has designed a ‘wavy’ wall to suggest the hills of Angus. This in my opinion is the public ‘face’ of the garden as it will be most visitors first view & impression as it overlooks the Myre Road car park the area from where most will approach the garden. I have proposed to insert into this wall two windows which will allow glimpses into the garden.

Forfar West Wall

Walling Progress:-

Two weeks into the project the South & North walls are well on their way to completion. Despite having to limp about the site like the car park attendant from Billy Connolly’s famous comedy sketch, good progress is still being made. Eleanor the Chairperson of the committee assured me at the start of the project that it never rained in Forfar, this has only proved to be partially true, 10 days on site so far, 4 of which have been spoiled by rain!

Forfar South Wall

Forfar walling detailsPictures above show how the walls are taking shape. The specification detail for the walls are they are to be 2 meters tall with a base dimension of 800mm. This is thicker than would be required structurally but it provides for a very robust construction with a pleasing ‘batter’ to the wall face – ‘batter’ being the term given to the degree of slope on the face of the wall from it’s base to it’s ‘head,’ – the top of the wall.

One of the maxims I work to is – ‘build as big as you can for as long as you can.’ Stones though they are random and organic in shape tend to have a ratio relationship between their depth and width, the deeper a stone is the wider it is. So a wall progresses by using the larger stones first when it is widest in its base dimension, as it gains height the width of the wall diminishes and you start using progressively smaller stones. The Forfar walls being so wide allows larger stones to be used for longer making construction ‘easier,’ the downside is that such a thick wall requires masses of fill material, called ‘hearting.’ This ‘fill’ material is the secret to the structural integrity of drystone walls, it needs to be packed tightly between the face stones, ensuring each stone is kept firmly in place, movement being the ‘enemy’ – having worked with many other ‘dykers’ and observed their working practices this is the area that sets the good ones apart from the bad ones. Filling the wall correctly comprises probably more than 50% of the effort required; as area built per day is what you are aiming for the less competent wallers focus on the face stones trying to fit as many as possible with the least amount of filling, this results in a loose build with the stones liable to movement, it may look ok to begin with but in time the wall will deteriorate.

Guthrie Quarry Visit:-

9th May – Inglis Thorburn’s concept for the garden includes a series of large standing stones used as features within the overall design scheme. Some to act as wall ends others included within the planting areas. Along with Committee Member Ian Christie, a well known authority on Alpine Plants I made a visit to the local Guthrie Quarry to make our selection of feature stones.

Forfar Quarry

Quarry visits are always interesting each one is unique, my creative juices kick in to the potential strewn about, the size, shape, texture & colour inspire ideas for future projects. This Volcanic ‘whin’ quarry is long established and provides various grades of aggregate to the construction industry.

In a corner of the quarry is a heap of larger rocks that don’t fit through the crusher they set these aside and are sold as features. With an amazing mix of colours the pile ensures we will be spoilt for choice when it comes to making our final selection.

Wall Building Begins:-

Friday 3rd May – the south wall of the site is a boundary wall between the garden and an adjoining property. The original blockwork wall is being replaced by one of the new walls, it’s construction is to be blockwork on one side and drystone walling facing into the garden.

first day walling

When faced with a new pile of stone it always takes one or two days to get into ‘rhythm’ with the stone. Each stone has different working characteristics with every stone successfully worked and placed on the wall the waller learns a bit more and confidence grows. My approach is to try to concentrate on the early courses getting them level with tight joints fail to do so those mistakes will always remain, it is very difficult to go back and correct these. As the wall gains height the number of stones laid increases, speed and accuracy improve as the stone reveals it’s working qualities. Stone for the garden is being supplied from a local farm, it has a good mix of sizes including some large blocks that are only just manageable, these are great for the base courses adding visual ‘weight’ to the wall. It is slightly different in nature to the existing wall in that it is generally a larger unit size.

Sadly as quarrying has diminished across Scotland identifying stone by true or local name has become difficult. Look around Forfar there are many wonderful dykes, including the East wall on this site, flat regular stones give these walls a very local feel. All of the stone would have been quarried locally and would at one time have been an abundant source of material providing employment for many in the area. Angus sits on what is known as the Dundee Formation of sandstone and the general generic name for this type of material is ‘Carmyllie.’

 Site Preparation & Foundations:-

Sandy Smeaton foundations

First of May, dawning of the new month also coincided with the beginning of work on site in Forfar, first task is to strip away all the old vegetation and the large concrete slab where changing rooms for the nearby playing fields used to stand. Sandy Smeaton & his guys, Davie & Derek undertook this work, I stood propped on a shovel in the best traditions of British construction supervising, issuing instructions as required! Sandy & his team however had obviously done this before & my input was actually minimal. They worked meticulously across the site and in no time at all the site was cleared, foundation trenches prepared all ready for pouring of the concrete, our only issue was severing two water pipes which again according to tradition were nowhere indicated on the service drawings for the site.

Project Outline:-

In the heart of Forfar sits a sad neglected plot of land. Situated on the East side of Myre Road Car Park this dilapidated corner is due for a major facelift. The Friends Of The Forfar Botanists a local charity group have gained funding to transform the space into a garden in celebration of them and their work. Designed by Inglis Thorburn, I have been engaged by the group to built the walling that will provide structure to the garden.

20130428-221450.jpg 20130428-221529.jpg

Inglis design uses drystone walling to encompass the space, it will also provide a beautiful backdrop to the planting. Wood benches and low walls will provide informal seating and in the central area a sculpture will be created based on some of the exotic plants the botonists discovered.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *