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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Upcoming Dry Stone Walling Workshop

Saturday-Sunday, April 28-29th
(Two-day Workshop) 8:30 am-4:00 pm
Instructor: Andrew Pighills
Location:   Stonewell Farm, Killingworth, CT

This two-day workshop will provide a hands-on education in the structural techniques and aesthetic considerations involved in building a dry stone wall (a stone wall built without mortar) using the stone native to our region. The outdoor classroom provides the setting for practicing proper dry stone walling methods including safety, batter, hearting, throughs, and coping. Knowledge gained will prepare students for their own projects and help train their eyes to identify proper walling techniques in all walls.
Cost: $300.00
To register: contact Michelle Becker
Tel: 860-322-0060

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I have received several inquiries about building retaining walls. While there is alot of information out there, some of it is contradictory, so I will tell you what I find works best for me.
  •   Foundation Trench: The foundation trench should be dug deep enough to remove all organic matter or black soil. Once this is done another consideration for foundation trench depth is the eventual height of the wall, the guide that I use is.
  • Trench Depth: The depth of the trench should be between a third and a half of the height of the wall. Therefore if the wall is to be three feet high then the trench should be between twelve and twenty four inches deep. I use the same calculation for the width of the wall or the depth you need to dig back into the bank, plus at least a further twelve inches to allow room to back fill with clean crushed stone between the finished wall and the soil embankment.  I use three quarter inch clean crushed stone for the backfill and for filling the foundation trench.
  • Trench Width: The trench should also be three to six inches wider than the wall, this allows the foundation stones to be set in from the edge of the trench. When the trench is dug, fill to within six inches of grade with clean crushed stone then commence building the wall. I like to build a wall with two faces similar to a free standing wall but I reserve the poor quality stone for the side facing the embankment as this will not be seen when the wall is backfilled.
  • Batter/Slope of Wall: The batter or the amount the wall should slope into the bank is a personal choice, I use a batter of six to one, so every six inches of vertical wall building you should slope the wall toward the soil embankment one inch. If the wall is three feet high then the top will be six inches in from the vertical.To achieve this, set a frame at the correct angle at either end of your trench and string a taut line between the frames. Starting near the bottom and lifting the line as the wall rises, making sure the stones placed on the wall never rest against the line. This will give you a nice straight wall with a uniform slope.
  • Curved Walls: If the wall is to be curved, then I use lengths of rebar set at the correct angle every three to six feet depending on the severity of the curve.
  • Soil Considerations: If your soil is clay and if it is feasible I would advise laying a drain pipe from the base of the trench so the trench never fills with water which could be a problem in areas with freezing winters.   

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Craven Herald; my hometown paper

Wow, from the NY Times to the Craven Herald & Pioneer, now I'm really hitting the dizzying heights.
I just learned that my hometown newspaper, The Craven Herald, from Skipton, UK has done a piece on me. It was very nice of them, even if they did get a couple things wrong. (I live in Killingworth, not Greenwich).And, taken out of context, I'm not so sure my wife is going to like the part that says "he came never intending to stay..."  It is very kind of them to do a piece on me and so I share the link with you here:
Stay tuned!

Poults and Quail

Sometimes I can't help myself and last week I succumbed to the call of a box of little peeping poults at the Middlesex Livestock Auction. These were identified as Heritage turkeys but no further information was provided, so, in a few months time, I'll have to post pictures of these guys in their adulthood and we can all have some fun trying to identify the breed. At the moment, the young quail, which we hatched in two batches in an incubator that we borrowed from a friend, seem to enjoy the company of the young poults, but we'll see how this goes when the size differential begins to become obvious.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

AtHome Magazine Article Serving Fairfield County

A writer from AtHome, a Fairfield County, CT publication contacted me with a request to include me and my friend Dan Snow in a piece on the top 50 services in Fairfield County. We made it to #15. The original link is listed below:

Rock On

You might commission a stone wall to keep prying eyes off your property, but if famed stone artisans Andrew Pighills and Dan Snow are the geniuses behind it, you’ll have more oglers than before. The master craftsmen work individually and in collaboration for those who favor rustic elegance and graceful geometry over a chipped-to-perfection look. So how do you decide if a dry stone wall is right for you? While the initial cost can be as heavy as the rocks they use, Pighills maintains, “you get a lifetime from a stone wall...and 12 to 15 years from a wood fence.”, 
in the company of stone

Monday, July 11, 2011

Moss Garden

Completed last week, this garden area is in a shady, woodland setting with views to a river and a dam, just the sort of place one wants to be in oppressive weather like this.The stone was hand picked and came from my friends over at Getty Granite, who have a nice selection of building stone.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New York Times Update - July 7th, 2011

I've just heard from Sara Barrett, the writer of the long-awaited article on my project in Greenwich, that it will be in the July 7, 2011 issue; that's tomorrow's New York Times in the Home & Garden section. If there's a link for an on-line version I'll post it tomorrow.
Stay tuned for more updates on active projects.

Friday, June 24, 2011


We recently became part of a family of horticulturists who are participating in plant trials with the USDA. Back in March, we took delivery of 55 salix (willow) hardwood cuttings, 11 cultivars of 5 cuttings each,  which we’ve started in 3 gallon containers. We’re pleased to report that we have a 100% strike rate. We will plant these out in the fall as part of an erosion control trial (upon which we might put an artistic spin). At the same time we received 18 Ribes hardwood cuttings, consisting of various cultivars of Black currant, Red Currant, White Currant and Gooseberry. Unfortunately, we lost one Blackcurrant and one Gooseberry, but the rest, which are doing very nicely, will be planted into a new fruit garden in the fall and should bear within two years.

When we were invited to trial plants for the USDA, we had many options and approaches to chose from. We were intrigued by the history of many of the plants available to us and decided to trial mostly heritage and heirloom strains from Europe. Many of the cultivars we selected date to the 1800’s ( it's amazing to think that we’re working with material from 19th century Versailles) and have been kept in various controlled plant databanks throughout the US. We’re looking at how they fare in our northeastern climate and will be examining pest problems, plant viruses, hardiness, and, of course, cropping rates.

Today we received a selection of humulus lupulus; Hops, which we will trial to explore the viability of producing locally grown hops for the burgeoning Micro brewery industry here in CT. We expect these to take up a lot of real estate and we’ve not yet worked out the details of where they will, ultimately, be planted but we’re excited about this particular endeavor. It seems that in the brewing industry, the ‘freshness’ of the hops is key to the flavor of the brew and the primary producers, in Orgeon, fall all over themselves in their efforts to provide freshness through all sorts of  processing procedures; drying, freezing, freeze-drying, etc…. It will be interesting to see what we can do with truly ‘fresh-off-the-vine’ hops here in CT and we're looking to find a brewer to work with us. (If you know anyone in CT involved in the micro-brew industry please have them contact us).
Meanwhile, softwood cuttings of heirloom cranberry and seeds for native, heirloom blue and black huckleberry have also arrived. Very exciting! We’ll see what success we have with cultivating and rooting in the greenhouse and, if we’re lucky we’ll have plants to put into the bog garden in spring of 2012.
Later in the year we are expecting more cuttings of various trees, including Mulberries. Stay tuned.

Outdoor Living Space in Essex, CT

It's a relief to arrive at the completion of an undertaking and I am glad to have this one completed. There is more work on this project; the Moss Garden patio and steps, steps and mulched paths down a steep incline to the river, and some retaining walls to be 'improved', all of which I've previously mentioned, and there will be more to come on those endeavors, but for now I am grateful for this bottle of beer, a hot shower and the reclining position I'm headed for to watch the weather report, and then, dreams.
Good night and stay tuned...................

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Step by step

Little by little, step by step I'm nearing completion on this patio and walkway in Essex, CT. The next stage will be some modest restoration of some poorly built retaining walls, more steps down to the river, and a patio area in a moss garden. Michelle is designing the plantings and seems intent on avoiding certain colors (in the purple-mauve-lavender range) which she feels will clash with the barn red color of the house. (Yes, she's like this at home, too.) Details, details....
Stay tuned.

NY Times Piece Postponed - Stay Tuned!

It seems I jumped the gun in announcing the NY Times article featuring my work. The editor at the Times has postponed its publication for another week. I received the following e-mail last night from Sara Barrett, the writer of the piece:
Hey Andrew,
I just found out from the editor that the story is on hold for a
week....Will let you know when she confirm the new pub date.

I'll keep you posted on any updates! Sorry for the inconvenience.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Upcoming Wall Building Workshop

Saturday-Sunday, September 17-18 (Two-day Workshop)

8:30 am-4:00 pm

Instructors: Jared Flynn, Andrew Pighills

Location:   Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont

Participants and instructors at dry stone walling workshop
Sponsered by The Stone Trust, this two-day hands-on workshop is designed to teach homeowners and tradespeople the structural techniques involved in building and restoring a historic field stone wall. The outdoor classroom provides the setting for practicing proper dry stone walling methods including safety, batter, hearting, throughs, and coping. Included in the workshop will be the age-old technique of splitting stone by use of pin and feathering. Knowledge gained will prepare students for their own projects and help train their eyes to identify proper walling techniques in all walls.
Cost: $300
To register: contact Zon Eastes, 802.380.9550

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Upcoming NY Times Piece

Several months back I was contacted by NY Times writer, Sara Barrett, who wanted to do a piece on dry stone wall building. Well, after many months of communications and a wonderful day of photo-shoots with Suzanne, the marvelous and engaging NY Times photographer, the word on the street is that this is to happen on Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 in the national edition of the Home and Garden Section. I'm as intrigued as anyone and will be looking for the Times to see if I need to start wearing a disguise. Anyway...stay tuned.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Stone Patio and Rediscovered Well

I'm currently working on a project in Essex, CT., where I'm building a field stone patio, elevated with a low retaining wall. During the excavation, we discovered what appears to be the original hand dug stone well. After discussing it with the client and considering its use as a supplemental water source for garden irrigation, we decided to rebuild it, simultaneously creating a sculptural element in this broad expanse of stone.

The well is mortared and a circle of wire mesh has been inserted for safety reasons. There will be more updates to come with this project; a rustic stone patio for a moss garden, renovated retaining walls and new plantings for a 'hidden garden', stone steps to access the river. I'll keep you posted....