A perfect way to add interest to your outdoor spaces is through the use of height. Breaking up the visual plain of a surface can be done in several ways including retaining walls. The material selection for a retaining wall depends a great deal on its purpose or function. Construction techniques, ease of construction and aesthetic value vary greatly depending on material, material size, construction time and budget. Here are a few options.
First, consider the purpose or function. Why do you need a wall and what do you expect from it's performance? The most common request I receive from clients is to manage differences in elevations on their property. Sloping property can limit available space for lawn, patios and general outdoor living. Erosion due to storm water runoff is a common problem when a yard slopes. It is almost always easier to irrigate a flat or rolling lawn. Terracing a slope is also a perfect way to add visual interest.
Material choices for your wall may depend on the steepness and height of slope. Choices include common manufactured garden blocks or systems specifically designed for walls such as Versa-Lok, Keystone or Allen Block products. If you prefer the natural look, stone boulders are excellent. An additional choice often overlooked in landscaping is the poured concrete wall with a natural or cultured stone veneer.
All of these products, used in the correct application, can make attractive walls to enhance landscapes and tame uneven property.
Garden block walls, commonly found at garden centers or box store outlets, come in various sizes, colors and styles. Although homeowner friendly for installation and least expensive per square foot, this material is limited in its use and should only be used for short decorative walls.
Through the use of controlled manufacturing techniques and specialty pieces, manufactured block wall systems can produce very defined walls with outstanding retention characteristics. Although block wall systems are not very decorative, exhaustive to construct and relatively pricey, these walls should last a long time without much worry of repair or replacement.
Once you dive into the pros and cons of wall building material, arguably the best material for building walls is natural stone. Used for centuries in notable walls like the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall and almost every medieval castle in Europe, this material is not only flexible in its design but extremely useful in preventing erosion, retaining tall dirt slopes and of course, repelling the occasional invasion. Natural stone boulders are about mid-range in price for purchase and construction and are a perfect selection for a natural looking wall that will stand the test of time and elements. Natural stone comes in a large variety of colors and textures, so you are certainly not limited to the locally available brown sandstones.
Whether you construct a wall yourself or gain assistance from a professional, always keep in mind that drainage is critical. Wet earth can present extremely large hydraulic forces on a wall and proper construction techniques and good engineering design are necessary in order for the wall to last.
Adding steps, niches for plants or pots and incorporating water and fire are just a few things you can do to transform an ordinary wall into a extraordinary and functional landscape feature. Whatever your material choice, a retaining wall is an invaluable tool to create visual interest and add value to your property.