Graceful birds chiselled alongside curving stone waves. Celtic runes that invite fingers to trace their stone impressions. Wander around stonemason Heather Lawson’s Nova Scotia workshop and garden and you’ll discover these rocky delights, their curves and swirls unexpectedly soft against the hard medium in which they’ve been created.
Lawson laughs when asked whether she had a plan for her business, her garden, her life. “I’m not really good with structure!” she says. Her interest in stone stretches back to university geology courses, but like her carvings, it’s not a straight line. She worked first running a boys and girls club in Dartmouth, NS, moving into stonemasonry when she saw a newspaper ad for an innovative four-year apprenticeship program that would train students to British masonry guild standards. Lawson signed on and became the first trained female stonemason in Canada. She intended to work in restoration, but fell from a building in 1991. She’d just bought a summer home on Nova Scotia’s Glooscap Trail, a gently winding route along the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin. It was, in her words, “a dilapidated old wreck,” next door to the small house where her mother was born. Lawson spent her time recuperating there, not intending to start a business. “I just started cutting stone in the garage,” she says. The business built slowly, through word of mouth, and eventually friends and family helped her build a proper workshop.
Sixteen years later, Lawson’s summer retreat turned into her year-round home. Her business, Raspberry Bay Stone—so named for the red sandstone found along the coast of Minas Basin—grew to take over her mother’s cottage, which became the shop. Now the business is growing again, but in a new location. Lawson is currently in the process of moving—home, shop, studio, goats, sheep, dogs and many, many plants—to a forested five acres in Wilmot in the Annapolis Valley.
There, she’ll pick up her routine of rising at 5 a.m. in summer to cut stone until her shop opens, and in winter, working on commissions. She recently made a four-foot circular fountain, seven-foot stone tree, three carved lupines, a bench and more, all for a 28-foot space.
It’s physically gruelling work. “My arms and hands are ready for early retirement,” she laughs. “You start damaging your body from the first day you start working.” Initially, she used only a hammer and chisel. Today she works mostly with electric tools, “though they can be hard on your body, too,” she says.
She’s looking forward to creating a new woodland garden, as riotous with plants as her former garden, which included a spruce grove, a shade garden, a fire pit, ponds and more. Lawson says, “I hate specimen planting. I prefer a garden that is crowded and jumbling and overflowing the fence.” She loves “the old plants that grow big and strong wherever they want to”—foxgloves, hollyhocks and delphiniums (but only blue delphiniums: “I don’t like any others”).
Ironically, Lawson’s garden featured relatively few of her works: “I only keep the broken pieces!” Still, there will be lots for sale in and around her new shop, as well as photo albums to inspire those willing to wait for a custom piece. *Heather Lawson, Wilmot, NS (902) 765-4600.*
**Stonemason Heather Lawson’s tips for using stone in the garden**
* **Work it in:** “I don’t like a piece of stone to be the singular focus,” says Lawson. “Tuck it into a bed, bury it down a bit so that it becomes part of the garden. It should be complementary to what’s there.”
* **Know when to say when:** “It’s better to have a few pieces that have impact than so many that they’re competing with each other.”
* **Surprise yourself:** “There are some pieces in my garden that can only be seen in winter because they’re overgrown in summer.” Think about how a piece will look, not just in summer, but through the rest of the year as well.