Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Quick & Dirty Gabion

The concept of the gabion has been around for a long time, I don't suppose anyone alive today knows for sure how long. I have read that they were used in some form by the ancient Egyptians to retain the banks of the Nile. The idea is to enclose rocks or rubble within a cage made of light-weight but strong material. Most of the gabions shown on the Internet have wire mesh cages, although I've found a few with fabric cages.

The most common use of gabions seems to be as retaining walls, such as this one, made by Gilbert Geosynthetics.

However, gabions can also be used as walls. There's an apartment building  in San Antonio a couple of blocks from where we live with a gabion garden wall.

And here's a decorative fountain-gabion one can buy for $5400 from Unica Home


So this weekend I've been wondering what to use to build a small retaining wall in my garden. Most of the plants I have in the Berry Farm garden can tolerate dry soil, but I have a place next to the trailer that is shady, and I've planted moisture-loving plants there, such as hoja santa and spearmint and taro. The chickens love to scratch in moist soil, and they've scratched bare some of the taro roots. What to use to hold up the soil? There are no rocks around here.

So yesterday I was cleaning out my storage container (this is an on-going project) and when I reached up on top of a stack of boxes to move a plastic box down, the lid of the plastic box popped open, and hundreds of sea shells fell out. My father was a collector: stamps, coins, sea shells. His stamp and coin collections were very valuable, and my mother sold them after he died, for Big Bux. But no one was interested in the sea shells.  I kept them for sentimental reasons, although I have never shared my father's enthusiasm for learning about them. See, he didn't just save pretty shells; he found out who had lived in each shell, where the creature fit into the food web, and so forth. Each shell was in a box, with the creature's botanical name -- Anadana lienosa, Cardita floridana, Barnea truncata, and so forth. I inherited (or learned?) his insatiable curiosity about the way things fit together in the world, but I've always been more interested in plants.

Anyhow, I kept my father's sea shell collection, but yesterday when it fell, all the shells came out of their little boxes and mixed together. The results of my father's careful sorting and identifying were lying there in ruin. It was getting dark, so I left the mess there on the floor of the shipping container over night.

This morning, I had an idea. There was no way I was going to get those hundreds of shells sorted again, so ... I would use them as filler for a gabion retaining wall for the taro plant. The lovely shells will be preserved. If I ever develop an interest in sorting and identifying them, I can. Meanwhile, they are serving a useful purpose.

So I made a basket from poultry wire, put in a couple of layers of rubble first, then placed the shells at the top. It's not terribly unattractive, and I think it will work fine.

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