Charley MacMartin's Herringbone Wall

To me a stone wall has a sort of natural mystique. The way the stones hold together, without any mortar, seems almost magical, and their patterns, nooks, and crannies create an artistic union of human and natural construction. In the garden the rock wall serves other magical purposes. The sun heats the stones, which radiate warmth back to the plants long after the sun goes down, a boon to heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The spaces between the rocks can also be planted to create a vertical garden of mosses, ferns, and succulents. Our friend, Charley MacMartin of Queen City Soil and Stone , is building us yet another beautiful and unique wall to stabilize the bank beside the road and provide a canvas for our plants!

As I walked out to see Charley’s progress on the new wall on a sunny, spring-like day this past week, I was immediately struck by its unusual design. Charley was kneeling on the ground, surrounded by piles of large flat stones and buckets of softball-sized white ones, partly hidden by the wall rising before him. When I got closer he explained that this is called a herringbone wall. It is so called because the flat stones are stacked in rows on their narrow edge, creating the illusion of a spine or long ribbons of stone. He explained that this type of wall is common in places like the British Isles and Japan, where the natural stone is flat and plate-like. The herringbone wall takes much less stone to build than when flat stones are laid horizontally.

This particular stone came from Plainfield, VT, where Charley carefully chose each piece to become a part of this wall.  This is no easy task. Stonewalling is an ancient trade requiring patience, skill, and vision, each wall a monumental labor of love and dedication.  And Charley's walls are no exception - people come from miles around to learn and work alongside him.

The herringbone wall has two sides. The front side of the wall (that you see) has the vertical pattern described above, whereas the back side (holding the bank) is made of a wide variety of stones, a veritable ratatouille of shapes, sizes, and colors – “Leftovers,” said Charley, carefully choosing a large egg-shaped white rock and wedging it into place.

The two sides of the wall, front and back, taper towards the center like a cairn, so that the gravity of the stones stabilizes the wall. Every few minutes Charley pulled out a tape measure to make sure the width of the wall was just right. Between the two sides he hammered the softball-like stones into place, forming a strong core that can hold the bank, the stones, and the plants that will soon be growing there.

We'll post more pictures of the wall as it grows. For more information about Charley or Queen City Soil and Stone, visit his website, You can also read a wonderful article he wrote for Local Banquet called "Good Walls Make Good Gardens", which also features Red Wagon!

By Sophia Bielenberg