Retaining walls help keep soil on hillsides from invading other areas. These walls can also be used to define or separate spaces, or to create the illusion of a wall. Technically, a retaining wall should hold back something from the other side, but when designing a landscape, sometimes low walls are also referred to informally by the same term.
You can transform this plain and dreary feature into an asset for your garden in one of two ways: Make the vertical surface more decorative or put the top surface to work.
Flat, upright surfaces of walls are ideal for adding visual interest to your landscape. Materials like stucco, paint, stain, stamped or textured concrete, stone or wood veneer, bamboo or even outdoor fabric are some ways to turn a blank space into something exciting. Open surfaces can become pieces of art with designs or murals. You can even get the whole family into the project by grabbing paint brushes and outdoor paint to design your own work of art.
Wall space can afford both practical and aesthetic use. Think of the top of your wall as a handy shelf-like space. Low walls — ideally at about 18″ high — are perfect for serving double-duty for seating. Line the top with ornamental cushions to increase seating space while adding a splash of color. Or turn the top of your retaining wall into a display case for sculptures. Containers with cascading plants can dangle green and flowers down the wall. This can be particularly effective with taller walls.
Punch up a style by using textures, materials or plants that illustrate Southwestern, Mediterranean, tropical, woodland, English or any other theme.
Blend one area into another by using materials that are featured in other parts of the landscape. Use retaining walls to hang holiday decorations. Or make them into a colorful backdrop to perk up a drab garden when it’s not in bloom.
This basic design element can help keep your garden safe, clean and aesthetically pleasing. Once the walls are built, you can spice them up with ornamentation and extra functionality.
Photo credits: Jane Gates