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Atlanta Garden Design

Reading Between the Lines

Posted by Author on January 23, 2014 at 7:25 PM


Images: Scott MacLeod Liddle, Thomas Roland, and Joanne Richardson


ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ

It was 2,400 years ago that Socrates is said to have taught the above words, and though you may not be any more up on your Greek than I am, the meaning of his words still translate into truth today. "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being," or -- to reframe it in a slightly kinder light -- "Life is more enjoyable when we carefully consider the details."


Masonry is a universal construction technique used to build everything from shelters to garden walls to horizontal pavements. Masonry "units" can vary widely to include stone, brick, concrete block, glass block, tile, and even timber, but what unites all masonry structures (literally) is mortar.


Images: Don Shall, Je Kemp, Theilr, and Rachel Towne


The most common mortars, at least since Socrates' time, consist of three basic ingredients. Sand, the main ingredient, is inert on its own, but when it is mixed with cement and water, the ingredients react to form a paste-like binding mixture that can be applied to brick, stone, and other rigid surfaces. Mortar hardens to a rock-hard state after it is applied, and by laying it between masonry units, it serves to "glue" the structure together, evenly distribute the structural load, and create weather-tight joints.

Images: Lucidio Studio, Maryland Architecture, Planning & Preservation, and Rich Bettridge


Many of the ways in which masonry garden walls can vary are obvious. Even beyond the different masonry units that can be selected and the colors that are inherent to these materials, wall surfaces can take on a variety of forms and alignments. Beyond these more noticeable design decisions, however, is the fine-grain design of the mortar joints. Jointing is one aspect of masonry that is often the last design element to be considered -- if it is considered at all.


Even with the identical structural and weatherproofing considerations satisfied, there is a surprising palette of mortar joint profiles, each with its own aesthetic and historic associations. Joint lines may seem like a trivial detail to some, but considering the design "between the lines" can bring a level of richness and refinement to your landscape that cannot be found in most built environments. From flush to concave and beaded to raked, envisioning the most appropriate jointing for a garden masonry structure is an opportunity that is best not neglected. After all, sometimes the unexamined garden is not worth visiting.


Image: Simon Bisson


Categories: Landscape Construction, Landscape Design, Architecture