Are landscaping timbers tacky?

Fori is not pleasedMay 2, 2006

I have some low raised beds against my house in the slopey front yard built of stacking blocks. Because the blocks are falling down and I hate them, I'm considering replacing them with timber. I *think* that the timber walls (18" at the highest spot) would sort of disappear or at least be neutral. Is timber really neutral? If it helps, picture a small shady garden on a small shady woodsy lot next to a tall 20s era brick and half-timbered Tudor revival cottagey house. (No, the timbers won't match! :) )

Are timber walls outdated or tacky or otherwise undesirable? I know they are not as permanent as masonry, but they aren't hard to replace. (And I can replace the whole thing if it looks really bad...) I also haven't been able to find any wall materials that look right with my weird-colored bricks, but I think weathered timbers aren't too bad.

Should I rethink this? In general, do timber retaining walls scream out CHEAP! or anything? I despise concrete unit walls, especially with an older home, but I need to feel secure that everyone else doesn't feel that way about timber. Thanks!

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saypoint(6b CT)

A quick search turned up some pictures, this one is a wooden retaining wall and steps, but just to give you an idea, could you possibly build something that looks more like a planter than the usual "lincoln log" look? The landscape ties that are rounded on two sides look particularly rustic, which I think won't work for you. Even the squared ones, stacked the way they usually are, are a bit informal and modern looking.

No doubt brick or stone would look much better. Can you eliminate the raised bed and just grade it for a gentle slope and plant right at grade?

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 4:03PM
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lynne_melb(z9b Melb FL)

When I was in the Chicago area, I had them in the back yard. Functionally, they worked well, but they didn't look great, and they were just above ground level.

I don't know what else to suggest, but I wouldn't recommend them for a raised bed in the front yard. Just my opinion of course.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 4:04PM
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stevega

I agree that that the "lincoln log" look would be wrong. As odd as it sounds, dark used railroad ties may tend to disappear in a shady location. They can grow moss and even small ferns to lessen the impact. Trailing plants can also hide them.
Interlocking/stacking blocks should not be falling down with an 18" height. If those look good, you may want to redo them with a better base and rebar to prevent slippage.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 4:20PM
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Lauren_StL(z5/6 Mo)

fori,

I was at a design class at our local botanical garden a few weeks ago and the man teaching the class strongly recommended against using any type of treated wood in our landscapes. EPA is in the process of putting out new regs on those and although if they came to be it wouldn't require you to remove any you currently had in your landscape, it would/could affect you when you decided to sell your property. Just something to consider. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 5:02PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

A landscape contractor friend calls railroad ties, which are sometimes listed as something like "railway-t's" by landscape suppliers, "T for Tarry, Tacky and Toxic". Apart from the creosote hazard they stink, so even if you can't see them or aren't walking on them your place smells like a wharf. I'm surprised they are still sold, won't be surprised if they are eventually pulled by EPA--after years of public being exposed.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 5:03PM
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laag(z6CapeCod)

There is CCA pressure treated (one c is for chromium the a is for arsenic) which is becoming regulated out in many places. ACQ is a newer less toxic pressure treated wood. I also hear it is less toxic to things that destroy the wood.

You could use Trex or some other product that uses wood fiber and recycled milk jugs. They are more money and not so natural looking, but last. You could ten screw redwood planking to them to nicely finish the wall (structure out of trex, finish out of wood).

But, I'm guessing that budget is the supreme motivator here.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 9:19PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

For more on CCA treated timbers...

Here is a link that might be useful: Myth of Protected Preservatives

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 10:05PM
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pls8xx

I suggest you consider a 4" poured in place concrete wall to retain the bed, faced with a material that will go well with your house. Choose from wood spaced off the concrete, brick pavers, natural stone veneer, cut stone, polished granite, faux stone or other concrete finish with or without color or stain.

The wall can be DIY. Some of the finishes require a degree of skill.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 10:39PM
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reyesuela(z7a)

They work fine at on my rustic lot, but I wouldn't do them with a more formal sort of house.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 11:58PM
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mdvaden_of_oregon(NW Oregon)

Treated 4" x 6" lumber in landscaping looks good only if it is done slowly and nicely. Lined up, secured every few feet or so with pins or spikes so it does not warp, leveled and staggered for every course so that one board overlaps the union of two beneath.

But 18" seems like a lot of suface to expose with that kind of wood.

One option I offered to someonw, was to install a treated wood retaining wall, then face the front of it with cedar fence boards cut short for a texture - board next to board.

For an affordable block wall, the "vineyard" stones are kind of cute. I started to dislike the manor and cottage stone blocks from Lowe's or Home Depot - not sure why, but I don't like them anymore. But something about the little size of the vineyard stones sets them apart.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 2:35AM
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gardengal48

I have used landscape timber (NOT railroad ties) as low retaining walls in several designs and they can look very appropriate given the right context. Given the regs on pressure treated lumber, the method is now quite different than in the past (no more CCA) but you will have a limited lifespan to deal with.

Tacky is more a case of slipshod construction than necessarily materials although I'd have to consider the cheesy interlocking masonry blocks as far more tacky than a well-done natural material. Follow the advice of the previous post on how to put this wall together correctly.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 8:10AM
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inkognito

I agree with mario's suggestion: use hefty (6" x 4" or 6" x 6") treated wood for the structure put rebar through the first course and into the ground and nail (10 inch) the rest. Obviously gravel drainage will increase the life span. Then you can fix a more suitable facing to that firm structure. I think jo's picture shows one suggestion, mario had another, you could also use split 3" round cedar logs either horizontal or vertical.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 9:24AM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for helping me out y'all! Clearly I still need to do some thinking and research about preservatives.

saypoint, I do agree that the planter boxes would be nicer, but I was hoping more for a disappearing look than a nice tidy look. (Not that I'm trying to be messy here...) I'd love to eliminate the wall entirely but it's just so darn sloped on one end (it goes around the side of the house--sounds much bigger than it is). The bed has a few small steps as does the house foundation so it stays fairly close to the natural slope (where the slope was before years of erosion). I can't change the soil level too much more than building it back up to where the builder thought it should be.

There's actually already a 3-5 foot timber retaining wall in the backyard and it looks fine, though maybe that's because it was here when I got here and I'm used to it. It's a mossy slimey green and looks right with the spruce, Hedera, and and rhododendrons it contains. Actually, is that important? My house is on a corner and visible from two sides. There's a large amount of retaining wall out of timber along the side, carving out my driveway and supporting my back yard. One thought is that introducing new material might make it all too busy.

On the other hand, stone. It was the first choice and in a way it might be the ultimate choice except for a few problems. First, we can't find anyone we can tell is competent. We only seem to do precast concrete here. Also, we aren't sure we want our landscape design set in stone yet. har har. We're just following the lines that are here already. Basically, we can't make a decision on how to get stone put in so we're putting it off. The timbers could be considered temporary, although we're so slow to get anything done we want them to look decent.

stevega, that's sort of the look we'd want--mostly covered (only a small section would be as high as 18", and it has stuff in front of it because it's an interior step, and the parts that are over 12" are in front of an area that is about to stop being lawn and will be planted with TBD stuff that will certainly conceal it). It's such a small area with so little visible through the plantings, in a nice natural color...I wouldn't actually use railroad ties. The existing blocks are slipping because their foundation is eroding and they were installed poorly. Some of them are actually resting on landscape timbers. They would be replaced no matter how solid they were because I hate 'em. I even hate nice interlocking blocks which these aren't--I'm actually opting for timbers over Unilock for appearance's sake.

Budget isn't the motivator here, although I refuse to pay stone price for concrete blocks. (Actually, I sort of like concrete cast in place and I think it would complement the house, but I couldn't convince the spouse.) If I could find matching brick, I'd be tempted to go for it, but I don't like fake brick (concrete) and I can't even find a house with brick like mine, let alone available bricks. I'm a real joy to deal with! ;)

I think I will look again at my beds. Perhaps I can slope them up towards the house and make the walls lower. I've also considered pulling the lawn back a bit and planting a low hedge in front of the short part of wall that I hadn't planned planting in front of and then not worrying about the wall's appearance.

Anyway, more planning. Thanks for letting me work it out in my head here. You're all very patient!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 9:41AM
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blockersblocks

I thought this would interest you, gives a whole nother meaning to LANDSCAPING WITH TIMBERS!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Blocker's Blocks

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 9:23AM
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