Fling Garden -Using Retaining Walls and Stonework

This steep property in North Carolina is terraced to accommodate grade change and render usable leveled areas for circulation and planting zones like the vegetable garden and perennial beds. Stone retaining walls are a great way to aesthetically and functionally address grade change.

One reason for terracing is to keep the dry laid walls at 3 feet or less for safety and structural integrity. See that the wall leans into the embankment and has a base greater than the top of the wall.

One thing unmatchable of natural stone is the ‘feel’ of the material. It is the way it accepts light, the way it comes to life when wet and the permanence it gives a landscape.

Something to note about having a lot of stone in the garden, whether as a vertical or horizontal application, underground drainage trenches, or as decorative boulders, you will have an earlier spring garden than most of your neighbors. It warms the soils faster. This warm winter environment is a good habitat for many insects and small animals.

In addition, the snow will melt on the stone surfaces addressing the sun more speedily, making for a beautiful winter white display. Much of the winter dried foliage picks up the tawny browns and greys of the stone too. Most of the landscapes I design use natural stone for the hardscapes.

Having taking photos for the architecture firm where I worked, I have a tendency to document the built environment rather than take the ‘pretty pictures’. I apologize if I have done that here, but they do ‘say’ more about the subject in this manner though.

Some walls are not really walls but boulders laid to retain the embankment. Some stones are used as bed edging.  Local stone blends unobtrusively with is surroundings.

Mortarless walls have the virtue of built-in drainage and not requiring a foundation below the frost line. And if frost heaved, can be fairly easily repaired.

I threw in this image for scale.

Laying stone like it fell naturally from a river embankment looks natural and also allows many places for reptiles, amphibians, and underwater, fish to hide or overwinter.

Many of the walls on this property are not particularly skillfully constructed, but they have a vernacular appeal, an earthy look that feels right with the residence and landscaping.

This is an example of the wall becoming a structure built-in to the hillside.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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14 Responses to Fling Garden -Using Retaining Walls and Stonework

  1. I do love the craftsmanship of stone walls built so beautifully…even building a wall to look natural is a work of art and takes a lot of skill…we have a stone wall to help with a sharp grade on one side and I love how we planned it to curve and have many levels.

  2. I love natural stone. I just wish it weren’t so expensive. I had to take up all the flagstones from the patio some time ago. I used them to build a small retaining wall I’m very happy with.

  3. Funny…when I was new to your blog, I just gushed over your pretty photos and now, unconsciously, I’m being educated on horticulture. Thanks to you!

  4. Andrea says:

    We have lots of upland areas here and because we have limited spaces, the old folks do that terracing too. Even our ancestors in the family did that, but repairing the stone structures stopped at the generation before us. We still see the terraced effects on the soil and vegetation, it is a very good farming system strategies to conserve soil too. In your post i can’t imagine the plenty of stones used in that property alone and the man-hours spent building them.

    How are you now Donna? I hope you are now very well recovered!

  5. Sorry I haven’t been around—still overwhelmed with work and contractors. The Gentling property is great for illustrating the use of stone walls and you have brought home all the aesthetic extras they provide. As you know my hole front is terraced with five descending stone walls. Luckily we didn’t pay to put them in but they are expensive to maintain if they need work. We had to rebuild one when the tree fell and another needs to be taken out and replaced right now.

  6. Donna, a post like this becomes a treasured resource when we decide to take on projects like stone walls. I hope you’re back to normal by now!

  7. I didn’t know that a wall could help warm up the garden bed it supports. I love the photos of all the walls, and that building set into the hillside is amazing!

  8. thequeenofseaford says:

    I was & am enthralled with the Gentling garden. Such a labor of love.

  9. HolleyGarden says:

    I love stone walls, but I especially love the look of the stone falling naturally into the pond. I think I need some stone!

  10. Hi Donna: Thanks for the excellent info! I need to re-work a steep slope on the side of the house, and stonework might be part of the project. I didn’t realize you were under the weather. Glad to hear you’re feeling better!

  11. Indie says:

    I love how the pieces of stone in walls in the top pictures look like they are set vertically as well as horizontally. It looks more organic somehow.

    I absolutely love stone in the garden. I wish stone wasn’t so expensive here! I’ve been using the stones that I dig up as an informal edger for my garden beds. We don’t have nearly the amount of rock that they have up there in the Northeast, though!

  12. Beautiful, if I won the lottery, I would rip out the awful retaining block wall that came with the place and stone it would be…..

  13. Hey Donna, fab post, the stonework looks amazing, really grand job. What a job that looks like it was… But well worth it 🙂

  14. Joe Owens says:

    I love the irregularity of stone much more than the manufactured retaining wall stones that are so prevalent at the Home Improvement retailers. These are fabulous looking uses and are great inspiration to those with challenging landscapes. Unfortunately my Ponderosa was once a farm field, so I have no distinct landscape features.

    I am considering creating a waterfall that empties into a small pond using these type of stone structures, so your article caught my eye. Another great one!

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