28 Feb Masterful garden wall for privacy and a beautiful view
Brick plays a functional and beautiful role in landscaping your home outdoors. Paver paths and patios extend the home experience into yards and gardens and brick retaining walls and outdoor kitchens create inviting outdoor rooms for entertainment and relaxing.
A classic garden wall—the kind you might find on the grounds of grand estates—is a bigger undertaking but still within reach of homeowners.
Landscape architect Dennis J. Mullane, III, RLA, ASLA, was working with a client who wanted a seven-foot brick wall along the property line as part of a new front entry and a wider driveway. What they got was a carefully planned and engineered work of art in painted brick with space for a favorite piece of art.
After meeting with the homeowners, Mullane traveled to Charleston and Savannah and studied all different kinds of walls, noting the wide range of techniques. He took photos and made sketches and combined his findings into an idea for the job. But the collaboration was just beginning.
“I do a layout and critique it with owner…I try to get their input,” says Mullane. “When they have input, they’re much happier with the result. They’re part of it.
“Some of my best ideas come from my customers. I like to include them in design process. We critique and modify the plan,” says Mullane. “We start with a beautiful drawing and people are afraid to ask for changes, but I encourage it. When someone shows a colored, beautiful drawing, people are reluctant to ask the designer for changes. I encourage criticism and might point out areas needing improvement.”
Once the design process was complete some serious excavation began.
“In this area usually go down about 16 inches and then pour back eight to 12 inches of concrete with steel,” says Mullane. “If you don’t have a lot of weight on the footing, you might get frost heave.”
While smaller retaining walls and seat walls are pretty easy, designs like this one required more engineering and some very advanced masonry skills.
“This wall has some very intensive precision,” says Mullane. “It’s basically a pierced brick wall, but [instead empty spaces] it has the brick protruding 5/8” out. The protruding bricks have to be perfectly plumb from course to course.”
For a job as big and complex as this, Mullane wanted his best mason on the job: Max Bond.
“Max and I did first job together in 1979,” says Mullane. “But even with the best of the best, I was on this job almost every day. Because when the mortar is still wet you can move, if you need an adjustment. Cementitious products take 28 days to cure.”
The finished wall features a curved top over a niche that lines up with the home’s breakfast nook, so the homeowners can enjoy this feature while eating, making the landscaping part of the indoor experience.
“We were all sitting at kitchen table and said that one place has to be special,” says Mullane.
The platform in the niche remained vacant for some time after the wall was finished because Mullane advised the homeowners to really think and search for what they wanted in such an important space.
“I’m not in a hurry to put an ornament, says Mullane. “I like to wait till the owner sees something they have to have and I wanted it to be something special for the clients.”
What the homeowners chose is a lead sculpture from Italy of a boy playing pan pipes. Mullane was happy to see the choice, to go with his masterful masonry design.
“The wall is a completely original design and not a duplicate of anything with 16” by 16” columns and a 12-inch wide base wall onto which we put 8” Flemish bond wall,” says Mullane. “Max has taught me all the details for using brick. I have named this pattern “Flemish bond with protruding batt. There’s a cross section from the footing to the top that I drew and we used this to count number of brick.”
The brick used was Pine Hall Brick red Wire Cut because Mullane knew it would be painted so he needed a surface free of sand or color additives. One caution point when considering painting brick: you want to use a certain type of mortar OR treat it before painting.
Mullane is owner of Mullane and Company, Inc. in McLeansville, NC. For more information visit mullaneandcompany.com