Both practical and pretty, retaining walls help to create level ground for playing and entertaining and flat garden beds. They can be used to help level off areas of a sloping block and control water run-off, or built up on flat ground to create interest and intimate spaces.
Garden landscaping with retaining walls for function and good looks
Retaining walls can be straight or curiously curved and can even morph into garden furniture when designed to double as seats or with provision for barbecues and fireplaces.
Don’t forget to check your local council’s requirements before racing off and building your own Great Wall – most councils in Australia require a development application for walls that exceed 1.2 metres in height (and are probably beyond the scope of the average home handyperson anyway), and also have limitations on construction materials and guidelines on the distance you must build away from other structures and established trees.
All retaining walls and planter boxes, irrespective of height, must include provision for drainage. Plants will become waterlogged and die if you don’t, and you face the genuine risk that all your good work will come tumbling down from the force of stored water and soil. As a general rule, you will need to dig out behind the retaining wall so that it can be backfilled with drainage material. Put drainage holes at various heights along the wall, run an agricultural drainage pipe (with stocking) behind the wall at its base and cover with coarse gravel – and be sure to include strengthening piers at not less than two metre intervals.
Materials for retaining walls
Retaining walls can be made of many, many materials, both new and recycled. You can try your hand at dry stone walling (your local nursery or botanic gardens may be able to point you in the direction of local courses), or choose to work in brick, wood, stone or specially made interlocking concrete and reconstituted stone blocks. And you don’t even have to pick one – use a combination of building materials to create different effects. If you have a low budget, stick to cheap or second hand materials and whack in some fast growing plants that will cascade over your wall. If you have a bigger budget, make the retaining wall a feature using colour and higher quality materials like sawn sandstone, bush rock and new hardwood.
Most gardeners would agree that the easiest materials to work with for fast makeovers are railway sleepers, special purpose (often treated) landscaping lumber and purpose-designed interlocking blocks and edge capping. These materials will allow you to work quickly and also have the benefit of being able to be moved or changed relatively easily in the future. Of course the fastest makeover of all may just be to paint your existing retaining wall or pots in a new colour and add some new garden furniture or accessories and flowing plants. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a bit of colour can make.
Retaining wall construction tips
Don’t forget to stand back and look at your work regularly to make sure that you are staying on track – use a spirit level and check frequently.
And make your retaining wall a job for the whole family – and possibly even friends – it will save your back and increase your brains trust when you’re solving problems on the go.
Creepy crawlies in the garden
Critters with eight legs and none (spiders and snakes) love stone and damp places so make sure your wear good quality gardening gloves when working in the garden. If you are working with old rock or stone, turn them over before you stick your fingers under to lift them.