We have all seen them. Those retaining walls that have cracks forming in them after only one year. Just try driving by and NOT seeing that flaw. It does not happen. That crack is always there. Now, if you travel overseas and see those natural dry stone walls they have built you will never notice the cracks.
There is a reason why on the one hand those cracks in the new “perfect” wall are ugly scars and why the beauty in the many many cracks in the dry stone wall are character. Perfection has failed in one while in the other ingenuity and resourcefulness has triumphed.
To many it is inconceivable that our garden should be a story. One would never ask perfection of a forest or a walk through a meadow and, though a garden is neither of those, it should achieve some of the goals of that forest and meadow. Soft slippered moss on rocks hold a story, create a mood. So also that fern relaxing in a sun beam at the base of a tree or that Trillium surprising you as you round a corner. The Queen Anne when seen up close reveals a beautiful the pattern of her lace that is imperfect. In nature we walk down steps made into the roots of a Cedar, not quite made to code, to get to something that draws us. There is even the intrigue of a broken twig with Coyote hair caught in it or the scat from a bear that needs to be considered in our plans. Intrigue is good.
This post uses retaining walls to get across a different way of thinking because they are a great example of how we tend to want our world square and level. Bringing the element of depth is very difficult because most of our minds fall apart as we work through the three dimensional, let alone entering into the elusive fourth dimension of plants and nature. A garden plan should include what we will call depth and when you do this it becomes far simpler than one would think. Retaining walls will not have to be square after all. This seems very poetic, and I suppose it is, but actually it is a thought process that can save people money.
To me one of the biggest problems with retaining wall is how limited they are to different curves, the unsquareness of a garden. Trying to accomplish a radius other than the one engineered into the wall system will mean it will fail. This means the wall holds all the cards and other sight lines are sacrificed. When space is limited and when a design screams for a custom solution it often cannot be found in pre fabricated concrete.
Prefabricated retaining wall systems demand that the base for the wall is properly put down and compacted correctly. A pre fabricated wall demands that the water behind the wall is well drained; it WILL freeze and heave the wall if not. You will need the right size blocks. You will need the right fill placed behind the wall. NONE of these are negative, they are just fact. No effort is made here to try to better inform the DIYer with trips and ticks, this is simply to say DO IT AS THE MANUFACTURER says. It is to suggest strongly to the DIYer or someone getting a cheap wall done that the greatest cost to these walls is in designing the space, the material costs like drains and fill, the labour to prepare the site properly and/or in the cost of redoing it in the future.
Please note that for all that these walls are perfect along walks, in limited space and for larger grade differences like between houses; especially if they are to rise more than 3-4 feet above grade. Just make sure you do them right.
What we do best are ‘breathable living walls” ; unique old school garden walls. These last and last and look great, especially when planted out and matured with gardening. We are always on the lookout for projects that demand a properly installed wall, whether pre fab, natural stone or concrete. Schepers Property Maintenance brings an expertise to these projects that comes out 30 years experience building them and gardening around them. If the project is to big for us we work closely with people who can.
- Plan the landscaping around a wall first and consider different wall options
- if the wall is designed to be part of a garden and will disappear behind plants
- if the wall demands varied curves to work
- if the wall is less than three feet tall
- if the area to be worked on is landlocked and not easily excavated
- In situations where a larger wall is necessary and where space is limited
- resolve to excavate and prepare site properly
ensure contractor has the capacity and experience
- INSPECT the preparation work before the stones are to be laid
- Make sure you clearly understand where the wall will be drained to and maintain this drain. (nothing jammed in it, do not alter grade)
- Ensure the right fill/ aggregate is used for various stages.
- resolve to excavate and prepare site properly
- When gardening around the wall be aware of limitations.
- Shrubs planted too close? Roots can damage walls
- do not dig deep and disturb drain immediately along back of wall