Gardening with Dave Allan: Stay Scottish and beware of foreign stone imports

Stone is a durable and long-lasting garden material, so when planning changes to the garden this year, why not use it. But, as with all things gardening, choose your product carefully and consider any environmental damage.

Natural sandstone slabs could be a much more durable alternative to concrete, often referred to as “engineered stone”. We must avoid using cement as much as possible because its manufacture and transport accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. But if you ask where the sandstone is mined, the answer will probably be India.

Children as young as 10 make up a quarter of India’s workforce. They wield sledgehammers and jackhammers in quarries without shoes, gloves or protective gear. They are part of a migrant population living in nearby slums.

The process causes enormous damage to the environment. Groundwater is polluted, the landscape is devastated by illegal dumping and transporting stone to the other side of the world entails colossal energy costs.

Local stone is far less damaging to society and the environment than these imports, but reclaimed stone is the more sustainable solution.

Several Scottish companies offer a salvage service, salvaging stone slabs, paving stones and a range of other products that are no longer needed at properties. They are then cleaned and sold. One such company is Paisley-based West Coast Reclamation. [https://www.westcoastreclamation.com/paving-slabs]

Whatever stone we use, hard surfaces come at an environmental cost. So I always try to keep paved areas to a minimum. A front garden smothered by concrete slabs or paving cannot allow water to naturally seep into the ground. Runoff from these gardens overloads the drainage system and contributes to ever-increasing flash floods.

So I lay slabs on sand, not on cement or concrete, which at least allows natural drainage.

The stone is versatile and can be used in many other ways in the garden. Stone-edged beds make attractive vegetable garden-style features. I was redrawing part of the garden in the fall of 2020.

I had planned to lay four parallel stone-lined beds across a wide, 2m x 4m, that ran at 90º to them.

As I worked each bed through the lower bed, I edged it with appropriately sized stones collected from my nearby burn, ending in level edges along each side. I then extended the paths between the beds so that we could access the area from the lawn below. I don’t think that looks too bad!

I guess I’m a bit of a stone geek. At the bottom of the garden, I replaced a gentle slope towards the burnt area with a low stone wall and backfilled it with the excess soil from the bed extensions. In the fall, I extended the lawn to the wall by sowing grass seeds in the new area. When building the wall, I laid several courses of large flat stones, approximately 30cm x 45cm, and used earth to fill in the gaps. We ended up with a comfortable seat next to the burn – perfect for a cup of coffee or a refreshing pint of home brew. I was very relieved that my precious little wall withstood a raging flood that ran through it in anger the following winter.

There are many other uses for stone, including a traditional dike to replace a rather drab fence or a low dike to demarcate an area of ​​the garden. Over time it will be colonized by mosses, ferns and enterprising plants like stonecrop which thrive with little or no water and are home to shrews and beetles. I have inherited some lovely old seawalls but you can learn the trade by contacting one of the local dry stone masonry associations in Scotland.

Plant of the week

Helleborus niger ‘Advent Star’ is a particularly early flowering hellebore, but here in Scotland it is unlikely to produce its delicate white flowers until the new year. It is completely hardy and grows best in a moist but not soggy part of the garden.

About Mike Stevenson

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