The Wall

aardvicksFebruary 19, 2012

This past summer my Dad and I built a dry-stack retaining wall in my front yard. It came out great! The wall is 28 ft long and 3 ft high. I'm going to try to embed some pictures (this is my first post so please bear with me)

the trench:

From The Wall

the process:

From The Wall

the final product:

From The Wall

the big picture:

From The Wall

Hope these are working, I'll also attach an url for the big picture just in case.

Here is a link that might be useful: the big picture

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I add some shrubs for you.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 12:06AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Congrats on a beautiful piece of quality craftsmanship.
I also like the colors on your home and the preliminary planting color scheme of rusty reds and lime greens.

I particularily like the soft fluid airy feel of the ornamental grass scrimming the front of the stone wall. Such a nice yin yang contrast in textures and natural weights.

If I were to be so lucky to have such a beautiful wall I might add in a few more grasses ( perhaps some carex, stipa and a tall whispy chondropetalum) and compliment those with some low growing succulents.

Beautifully hand crafted. Thanks for the visual treat.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:16AM
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beautiful job!!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:55AM
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Well done you. And the stone you used is pretty spectacular too. What kind is it?

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:34AM
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I am not a big fan of the wall to be honest although as DIY job I think you done good. I do however like the walkway a lot (how thick are the stones?) although in picture 11/14 there is one stone at the edge that looks wrong. In that same picture there is evidence of a future problem caused by rain water that is already making a channel, it wouldn't be too difficult to fix this but better to do it before water washes the stone dust away.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:58AM
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Thanks for your comments!
DD - the ornamental grass in front of the wall is Libertia 'taupo blaze'. I'd love to have more grasses, so I appreciate your suggestions!
adrienne - The rocks are called Glacier Green ledgestone. I was told they come from the same quarry as Montana ledgestone but are sorted to have more green color and less rust. They have some amazing colors and patterns in them:

Ink - the path was actually installed by a pro. The flags are also Glacier Green, 2-4 inches thick.

And yes, I have some drainage isses! Being a newbie, I didn't realize the way I was posting would give a link to ALL the photos in the album. My plan was to introduce you to the Wall first and then move on the the rest of the design issues. But since you've already seen them I might as well plunge right in!

In the bed to the right of the path (close to the house) I think I've done OK: a tasmanian pepper bush, hardy gardenia, japanese stewartia, choisya sundance, gold pillar barberry and some low-growing ornamental blueberry.

But I'm having trouble planning the other side of the path. I don't want lawn there. But it's just so wide open. I'm thinking of adding some low open trellis type things at the front to give myself some structure to work around. I'll post more pics later...

So I was thinking I could either put a rain barrel here (it would eventually be hidden by the choisya) then I could divert the water wherever I wanted. OR I could use round stones to make a 'dry river bed' type feature to escort the water across the path. I'll try to post some drawings I've made later today.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 4:15PM
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I's purty!

Offering a picture posting tip... At my photo hosting site, there are about 8 various codes I can select from for posting a pic. The codes are for different size pictures or different uses. It looks like you got the code for "thumbnail" pics above. Check around at the hosting site and I bet you'll see another html code for regular size pics.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:22PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It is a nice installation of both hardscape/stonework and some attractive planting combinations using some less commonly seen shrubs. In lieu of grass at the far side of the walk, had you considered potential walk-on ground covers such as Dymondia if hardy in your zone, or Ophiopogon japonicus? Others to consider might include Lysimachia nummularia aurea, Sedums such as S. palmeri or rupestre 'Angelina' if you like the idea of more chartreuse foliage. There are also some other great grassy foliaged accents with colorful foliage such as Libertia 'Goldstrike' and various other Dianellas cultivars with incredible soft blue foliage such as 'Baby Bliss' and great bronze foliage such as Uncinia uncinata. Other grassy foliaged plants to consider might include Carex baccans, Carex oshimensis 'Evergold', Zephranthes candida and Ipheion uniflorum. I admire your foresight in giving individual shrubs the actual room to accommodate their mature sizes, such as those Choysias.

Regarding the downspout/runoff situation; would you consider connecting with a solid drain line to the street side of the pathway and then connect it with a perforated drain line with gravel and filter fabric to provide a reverse french drain that would recharge the water table? If your rainfall isn't extreme and permeability allows, it can be a win-win drainage solution.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:35PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

To decide what to do with the street side of the pathway, ponder the big picture view from both inside the space and from the street as you've shown it to us. What do you want from the space? Screening of the approach to the back yard, or openness? Are there problems that you want to resolve or forestall, say, local kids wanting to walk on top of the wall? Need shade? Wind protection in winter? Privacy on porch? View from windows?

If you just want to cover it and keep the open feel, then mostly groundcovers. If you want some screening, then more of a shrubbery. If you want to screen from pedestrians, low-growing and retaining foliage down low, since the view is at ankle-level IN the yard. But if you want to screen from across the street, taller stuff will do.

It's all about what you are trying to achieve. There could be many right answers.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 1:32PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I like the idea of having a low ground cover ( perhaps half moon shaped and nesteled in with the path) on the right side.
It would provide a nice 'negative' space so that your surrounding plantings maintain that nice sense of stature that you are creating.

All of the groundcover suggestions that Bahia made above sound yummy.

In regards to the drainage; I like the idea of redistributing the water back into your garden if your climate is responsive to this.
Otherwise a nice swath of different sized rock in a dry stream fashion could baffle the water exiting from the down spout and slowly disperse it back into the landscape.
If you have too much water then directing it to a storm drain may be your best option.
Drainage is a very site responsive challenge and its difficult to provide you with definitive options without seeing the site and knowing the climate.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 2:12PM
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You have a very beautiful wall, one any DIY'er would be proud of. Surely it took a lot of effort to build.

It pains me to say so, but I have a small concern for the long term ability of the wall to retain that bank. That's merely a guess on my part, based on the height stated to be 3 ft, the thickness of the wall which appears to be 8 to 10 inches, a lack of drainage facilities behind the wall, and no apparent use of materials or select backfill to otherwise stabilize the bank.

If it were me, I would establish some reference marks that could serve to warn of even a slight outward movement in the wall face. If the potential wall failure is noted at a very early stage you might be able to take corrective action to save the wall.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 7:20AM
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Curious--in the pic with the label "The Big Picture,", what is the circular railing-looking thing that appears to be coming out of the back of your neighbors house up high???

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 8:41AM
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Hello all,
Thanks so much for your continued interest! You've given me some wonderful plant suggestions and you've asked lots of interesting questions. So let me address some of the easy ones first:

kevin - that "thing" in the background is not part of my neighbor's house, but part of a radio tower complex a couple of blocks away. Nice, huh?

pls8xx - The beauty of a dry-stack wall (vs mortar) is that the water can drain right through it - no need to install drainage apparatus. As for staying in place, we installed "deadmen" every 4 to 6 feet throughout the wall (rocks placed perpendicular to the wall - extending back into the bank - so the weight of the soil above holds the whole thing in place). Another good thing about a dry-stack wall is that even if it DOES fall down you still have all the materials you need to build a new one : )

bahia and d-d - thanks for your groundcover suggestions - I had such fun looking them all up! Sadly we cannot grow Dymondia here in Seattle (zone 8b) but most of the other groundcovers and grasses you mentioned are hardy here.

karin - Exactly! I haven't really gotten around to telling you guys what the problem is that I'm trying to solve. So here goes:

The front yard is 28' x 16'. The house faces East, so it gets full sun (if there is any) until noon and then must be considered open shade for the rest of the day. These photos were taken from the front porch, out 'favorite room' in the house:

Although filling the space between the path and wall with groundcovers and low-growing shrubs might look best from the street, I mostly care how the garden will look from the path or the front porch. I feel like I want to have more visual height than I really have room for. Not so much to provide privacy, but to have a backdrop against which to view the plants from inside the yard. Also to provide a sense of enclosure, but without feeling closed in. (I know you know what I mean...)

That's why I'm thinking of a low, very open fence or trellis at the front edge of the yard (no more than 2-3 ft tall, about 1 ft back from the top of the wall). It would allow light and visibility from the street, but would also provide some height and give me some structure to work around.

Here are some fencing ideas (I drove around and took photos this afternoon when my daughter was at PT):

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 11:35PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd vote for the second fence alternative. Some taller lacey plants that might give you that open screen could include Nandina domestica cultivars, Stipa arundinacea, Mathiasella blepueroides, Salvias uliginosa, Lobelia tupa, Astilbe species, Phygelius or old PNW standbys such as Foxgloves and Delphiniums. Your new garden layout presents so many gray opportunities for creating plant vignettes that will play off the stone wall and new fence

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 12:51AM
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I'll ditto the second fence alternative - it matches the style of your house best. And I wouldn't place it immediately atop the wall but step it back a foot or two so that the the side facing the street can be softened with spilling groundcover and bulbs.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 12:33PM
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I will bring this back to the pls reservations as they match my own that I alluded to earlier especially as now you are thinking of increasing the load with a fence. There is no noticeable batter to the wall, water and mud running through your wall will not be pretty. Since your intention to have the lay of the land run in the opposite direction I think you have are on a fools errand.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 6:28PM
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ink, please help me understand what you mean by my "intention to have the lay of the land run in the opposite direction." The yard is esentially flat. Do you mean my intention to have taller plantings near the front of the wall tapering down toward the path?

As to mud running through the wall, unless there is some incredible deluge, I can't imagine that happening. We built it last July and it seems to be holding up fine through the rainy Seattle winter/spring. No unsightly mud flows.

Regarding the "fence" - I don't actually want a real fence with posts set in cement. That would be too heavy visually, whether or not it would be too heavy literally. I'm thinking of making a very simple, open trellis that I would install in discontinuous sections across the front with lower plants on the street side and slightly taller shrubs or grasses on the inside.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 7:15PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

The ideal installation of that wall would have incorporated filter fabric against the back face, and a backfill of porous gravel backfill to improve drainage and minimize weeping of water and silt/clay through the stone. As you did install the wall with the occasional deadmen to help hold the wall via gravity, and you haven't had problems so far during the first winter's rains, it may not be an issue for you. I'm assuming Ink's concerns relate more to the additional forces of freeze/thaw cycles this wall would be subjected to in his zone, your west coast location of Washington state(?) doesn't present the same level of threat to the wall's stability. I would also agree that your proposed open rail low fence set back a bit from the wall is unlikely to present structural problems for the wall in my view. Perhaps I should let Tony explain just why your wall seems to have him so perturbed; I don't see the need for alarm. Again, the backfill and drainage details behind the wall don't appear to have been done to the best practices, but may not be a problem long term.

It is the nature of posting on this forum that you'll receive widely differing opinions, often on the basis of assumptions that are unknown except by the O.P. I hope your wall does hold up long term, if building more in the future, maybe a bit more attention to addressing drainage and backfill concerns per best practices. Heavy saturated clay soils behind a 3 foot tall vertical face wall can develop quite a bit of force pushing out against it; and the professionals responding here aren't out of line in expressing concerns.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 8:36PM
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In case I come across as a complete curmudgeon let me say that part of my criticism is based on taste and as you know there is no accounting for that!

I think there is a connection between three recent threads about walls:this one, dyrtgirls one and the one from whaas. To me it boils down like this: does the function of a wall over-ride any other consideration or does its attractiveness trump its purpose and the answer to both Neither "It doesn't look very nice but it serves its purpose" or "It looks fabulous what does it matter if it fall over next week" works for me.

This particular wall would not only look better but would serve its purpose better if it was mortared with appropriate drainage behind it and seep holes though it. On the plus side, as this wall was constructed by Vicki and her father it is a remarkable achievement.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:54AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Regarding seepage, I don't think you will see mudflows through the wall but what we have with our dry stack walls (much smaller ones mind you) is that there is pretty consistently dirt at the base, and the level of soil in the bed seems to drop. However, you obviously had a packed base there before while we filled ours with new dirt, so you may fare better in that regard.

I share in some feelings of discomfort about its design although I also agree with Ink's last sentence - it's an impressive achievement. I think my discomfort about its stability comes from two sources primarily: the lack of batter, and also that I think I would have either used larger stone or mortared this stone. I am used to seeing walls that perform this function poured out of solid concrete or built of various configurations of mortared stone (and even at that I've seen the latter fail). But good on you for saying you still have the material to rebuild! And by the way this is one reason I would not necessarily route all your roof water flow into this area.

And that is why I was hoping you did not have a weight-bearing purpose in mind for the area :-)

The final design issue I would have with it is the slope down to the corner, at least so it looks in pictures. You could add a final course, maybe of larger capstones, using thicker ones toward the corner... or just a partial course that tapers down to the centre front. That could rise above the soil level, which is another thing that bothers me visually, the soil being level or possibly too high.

I didn't like any of the fences you posted (for your use; they're fine where they are) except maybe the rail option, but what you describe with interrupted sections of trellis sounds good. If you put the trellis sections in, you might angle a piece across the corner... leaving the tree outside.

A shrubbery will look marvelous with or without trellis/fencing - if you're in Seattle you should be able to use Rhodos to good effect (look for good leaves, especially leaf undersides that have indumentum as it will show from the street). I like the combination of Rhodo/Japanese maple foliage overlays, with conifers or other textured leaves).

Finally, it may be sacrilege, but I don't like the pathway as it is. I think it would be improved with continuous edging either side... brick or tumbled granite pavers or something.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 12:02PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Some people might prefer some sort of edging as Karin proposes adjacent that flagstone pathway, but in my view it would be fussy and is unnecessary for a flat planting bed. In particular adding brick or tumbled stone adds another texture and color that aren't a sympathetic addition in my view. I'd also have issues with a fence that angles at that corner small tree, as a visual conflict with the basic rectangular forms of the wall layout. There are many different ways to design a garden and we all seem to have different ideas of what looks good, but these two suggestions strike me as not working to reinforce the existing layout.

I would agree that given the way the wall was constructed, adding additional water from a redirected downspout connected to a "reverse" french drain across the yard could potentially impact the wall stability if it is draining a significant roof area. I would also agree that holding the soil level a couple of inches below walls and at least an inch below flagstone is a good idea to minimize dirt moving across surfaces with heavy rains, and also allows for applying mulch or compost and keeping it off stone surfaces. If mulches aren't intended to be used, factoring for their depth against walks and walls isn't an issue. In general I prefer to set flagstone high enough that I can wash them down with a hose and don't need to collect any debris and haul away.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 1:46PM
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