Metro Vancouver Residence Boasts Elaborate Stonework

This four-generation home is firmly grounded by meandering pathways, dry-stacked walls, basalt columns and 15 fabulous foliage picks.

Credit: Terry Guscott

Garden design of David and Robin Brine

Garden design of David and Robin Brine

Nestled into the landscape near Burnaby’s Deer Lake, the garden of David and Robin Brine looks right at home in coastal B.C.

This settled feel is particularly appropriate, as four generations of Brines have lived on this site. David’s parents purchased the land in 1956, and three years ago he and his wife decided to build a new home that included a separate suite for their son’s family. This meant the added bonus of sharing their lives with granddaughter Hannah.

Once the house had been completed, the Brines took stock of their lot. Their new home faced a sheer drop of bare soil left by excavators, and there was little privacy from the adjacent road. The garden would also need to be low-maintenance. Robin explains, “We are not gardeners. We wanted a natural look, nothing fussy.”

At a local home show, “gurglers” in the booth of landscaper Bruce Hunter caught their attention. These drilled basalt columns carry a gentle flow of water. The Brines chatted with Bruce, explaining what they wanted. His quiet confidence and calm personality appealed to them. “We gave him carte blanche and are very pleased with the outcome.”

Bruce collaborates with daughter Lara Hunter—father specializing in stonework and daughter adept at planting designs. Of her father, Lara notes, “He likes to use stone, especially basalt, because it has such a natural effect. It’s a nice way to mimic what we see outdoors.” The focus of this project was to manage a large drop in elevation and balance the bulk of the house with the adjacent slope. The drop was spread over two retaining walls; balance was created with a neat trick: a low wall and raised bed was built close to the home so the house-versus-hill look was eliminated. (Essential to this raised bed was a hidden wall of treated 4×6 timbers built a foot away from the house. Boards were set four high, drilled vertically and secured with long, galvanized spikes that extend into the secure base beneath. Without this hidden wall, the soil would damage the house.)

Because the front door is not visible from the driveway, a wide, meandering pathway of mortared Pennsylvania Bluestone was installed to lead visitors to the home’s entrance. The pathway broadens into a plaza near the covered entryway and then changes into an unmortared patio, its stones interplanted with creeping thyme. Adjacent to the entrance and visible from the master bedroom is a raised seating area and water feature with, of course, gurglers. The stacked walls are punctuated by thoughtfully placed standing basalt columns. These help to break up the long run of the horizontal walls. A group of large stones marks the transition from the street and driveway to the semi-enclosed garden area, and another emphasizes the seating area. At night, low-voltage lights ensure safety and add drama. A final touch to tie home to garden was to shorten the entryway posts and place them on bases of basalt.

All of the retaining walls were constructed of dry-stacked basalt, hand laid with just the right incline (“batter”) to make them stable. The walls, including the hidden timber wall, were set on a 15-cm-deep (6-in) base of tamped gravel. Backfilling with gravel prevents a build-up of water behind the walls—especially important as this site has numerous springs that flow downhill toward Deer Lake. The basalt standing stones, which averaged 0.9 to 1.2 m (3 to 4 ft) high, were set in a base of tamped gravel about 30 cm (1 ft) foot deep. Lara points out that the website of Northwest Landscape & Stone Supply has excellent information on building stone walls, including construction details, in the “How To” section.

Lara Hunter’s planting plan provided plants with a flowing or open appearance and varying heights to soften the look of the extensive stonework. They have interesting attributes in all seasons. Robin Brine admits, “At first it looked like a graveyard with all the standing stones. I thought ‘Oh my. We really are going to die here.’” Initially, a great deal of weeding was required, but now that the plants have grown in, the garden looks lovely and care is minimal, in part due to an irrigation system. Not only are the Brines happy with their new setting, but so are the hummingbirds that come each spring to feed on the flowering currants that enliven this natural garden.

With more than 30 years experience in horticulture—in wholesale, retail and at VanDusen Botanical Garden for a decade—Carolyn Jones brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Gardenwise