SEPTEMBER MEETING REPORT: Jeffrey Bale - Rock Star!

On September 13, 2021, at 6 pm on Zoom, garden designer and builder, Jeffrey Bale gave a chronological history of his inspiring travels and his self-taught stone masonry work and you can see the whole presentation here on our San Diego Horticultural Society YouTube Channel.

https://youtu.be/PFQdU8rxlMg

Watch Jeffrey Bale present to the San Diego Horticultural Society a chronological history of this self-taught stone Mason’s incredible work as a garden designer and builder over the past 40 years.


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Jeffrey Bale, Stone Mason

“Water is the source of life.” This is a central theme in the gardens that Jeffrey Bale designs as he incorporates fountains in his work. His inspiration comes from his extensive travels around the world. Water is often used symbolically and ceremonially in gardens. Jeffrey described the origins of the Persian theme of the 4 quartered garden, called Chahar Bagh, emulating the 4 Rivers of Paradise that arose from a central spring mentioned in the Quran. Examples of a Chahar Bagh are in the gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain (which the Alcazar Garden in Balboa Park is patterned after) and the Taj Mahal in India. Water channels called rills were dug from a central water source. These rills were sometimes decorative, sometimes supplying water needed to create beautiful gardens. The Pateo de las Naranjas in Cordoba is the oldest intact garden in its original state in the world. It is a fine example of rills being used to irrigate the garden. The Alhambra Palace in Granada has used a series of rills to create the beautiful gardens it is known for. In Peru, an agricultural test area using rills and built by the Incas still works. The Botanical Garden in Bogota, Columbia uses rills that were inspired by the Charah Baghs in Europe and the examples of the Incas. Jeffrey then described the influence of the extravagant water gardens created by the Romans, as illustrated by the Bomarzo Gardens in northern Italy, and the Wall of 100 Fountains representing the three rivers flowing through the region in the Villa de Este in Tivoli, near Rome.

It was at the American Legation in Tangier that Jeffrey first encountered the pebble mosaic floors that are one of his hallmarks. Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a sovereign entity, so George Washington had a house purchased there as the first diplomatic property owned by the newborn United States. It is the only site in the National Park system that is not in U.S. territory. The pebble mosaic floors there were created with 8 pointed stars.

Jeffrey’s magnificent pebble mosaic installations are based on spirals. Everything in the universe is turning and moving outwards, creating spirals while rotating around gravity and expanding out. He painstakingly selects the stones he uses in his mosaics, a time-consuming and tiring exercise. Some are purchased, but many are carefully collected from the areas his pebble mosaic will represent. They need to be the same size and shape, making their selection even more difficult.

When creating his mosaic paths, he will arrange the pebbles by color. He begins with a crushed bed of compacted gravel for his large paths, and often uses rebar for reinforcement. He builds his mosaics is sections sized to use an 80 lb. bag of Type S mortar. The stones are wet, then set in mortar on edge. After the section is completed, he uses a piece of plywood placed on top of the stones to press them evenly into the mortar. When finishing a section, he leaves a margin of mortar up to 6 inches away to prevent slumping. When he is ready to continue with another section, he will dig up the dry mortar and begin again with a new layer of the compacted gravel.

Jeffrey believes that gardeners reconnect with nature. And one way to do this is to adopt the art of lying down in one’s garden. His garden designs are meant to encourage being horizontal, with points of interest meant to be appreciated from that supine position. In his garden carpets line the ground to provide ample space to lie down. Numerous stone carvings discovered on his travels and shipped home are artistically installed in his garden. He also has a great appreciation for Moroccan pierced lanterns for their great effect with lighting. I think Jeffrey’s garden would be a truly wonderful place to “lie down and smell the flowers!”

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