I built retaining walls! Can't wait to landscape.

puffie(6)September 29, 2012

I bought a trashed foreclosure. It's a "foresquare" colonial with a disaster of a front yard. It's a steep hill and we have a deer problem in this neighborhood. We decided the best way to deal with the hill was to terrace it. Here's a picture of the newly finished walls!

I'm looking for design suggestions in general. What to plant, where to put things, etc. I need suggestions for deer-resistant, cascading plants to use at the tops of the walls. Should we try to stain the concrete steps to match the stone? What railing do you think would look best? We will be replacing the timber retaining wall with one of the same stone shortly, and I'll be digging the rest of the grass out of the beds. Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Thank you!

Here is a link that might be useful: More pics

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Great job! Looks like you had to do a lot of work but it sure paid off.

The fantasy of having deer walking through your yard I'm sure is nice unless you also enjoy having a more manicured garden with flowers etc. From reading your blog, it looks like you've been doing your homework on deer resistant plants. I'd suggest reviewing one of the GW garden sites that is specific to your area. There is a lot of to choose from http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/

I found mine quite helpful in what will grow will our particular difficulties.

Good luck and again great job!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 11:46AM
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I'm not much help on the deer resistant suggestions as that's something I thankfully don't have to worry about.

I like your new block walls. I wouldn't worry about matching the steps to the block as far as color goes. I will warn you that replacing the timber retaining wall will require more engineering than the new walls did. They look to be at least 5 ft tall and most municipalities require that height of walls to be designed by an engineer for a good reason. During the planning stage for the new wall, you could likely have a hand rail built into it.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 4:48PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

nice work on the manufactured concrete block wall.

I'm personally not a fan of these walls yet understand why people choose to use them for their ease of installation and relatively inexpensive installation cost.

I usually try to visually obliterate them with a hedge or fast growing clinging vine.

Each area/ planting zone has very specific deer tolerant plant lists . It is best to have a local reference list to work from. Your local gardening club, professional nursery ( not a big box store ) and or ag. extension service will have a local list to work off of.

In general though, ornamental grasses and pungent herbs and some plants with slivery hairy leaves (tomentosa ,incana, glaucas ) are good deer tolerant choices.

below is a photo of a deer tolerant planting using ornamental grasses, ficus pumila and lavender - zone 9

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 6:09PM
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Nice walls!

I'm a big periwinkle (vinca) fan, and the gangs of deer in our yard never touch it. It's evergreen, or at least as soon as the snowcover melts it's green and in bloom. It will trail down and climb up, providing camouflage for walls above and below it. A great ground cover with glossy dark green leaves.

Another possibility, for color and interest, is gaura. Not evergreen, but once it gets going, it blooms for months on long slender stalks with flowers that hover over the garden -- very horizontal, so perfect for retaining walls. The slightest wind sets them fluttering and bobbing.

For a little more height, plus good spread, Siberian cypress (macrobiota) is really lovely.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 6:22PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions!

Tanowicki, you're right about the timber wall. We will be getting engineer help with that one. The weird thing about that wall is that the dirt it's retaining is way below the top of the wall. The top two timbers aren't actually retaining anything! (Why did someone build a wall taller then they had to?) I like your thought about building in the handrail! I hadn't even considered that.

Deviant-deziner, I definitely wish we could have gone with a stacked stone or other "wow" wall, but it was cost-prohibitive. We had a few landscapers come in to give us estimates for this project; they ranged from $4-6k. We did the whole project ourselves for $800, including all the gravel and sand for the footings. It was just no contest. But you're right, they're one step above cinder blocks (but I'm still proud of my sort-of-ugly baby!). I like the climbing vine idea. The ficus pumila is very cool, i've never seen it! I wish I could grow it in my zone.

Chibimimi, thanks for the suggestions! Vinca is a great thought, and guara is gorgeous! I think I might try starting it from seed, Dr. Google tells me it might be easy to start from seed.

Thanks for all the suggestions and advice. I stopped by my local landscape supply store today and came home with a car full of plants. The folks there were so helpful and full of information. They helped me pick some winners :)

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 8:15PM
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This is not a suggestion that you don't get engineering help for construction of the other wall, but instead what you might aim for. Even though the earth retained presently is LOWER than the timber wall itself, I'd consider a step-back portion of the retaining wall that retains a HIGHER elevation to that there is the appearance of more support at the upper level. You don't want to feel like a mountain goat every time you go in and out of the house. Matching the face of the lower level with your existing wall would give you more space at the drive.

Regarding your existing wall, the part that bothers me is the upper level step-down portion. The way it steps down reminds me of how an insect would chew away at the edge of a leaf. For a retaining wall, it looks like a combination somewhere between weak and cheap. For very little more $ you could add a few blocks and turn the wall back into the yard at 90*, giving it a more expensive, solid appearance.

Don't think I'd bother with staining conc. steps to match wall. If you're okay with comparability, what you have now works.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 9:40AM
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Agree with Yard on the aesthetics of returning the wall as shown. Structurally it doesn't matter but it looks cleaner.

Just curious, did you pull permits? I'm asking because you'll need permits for the big wall (unless your municipality is one of the few that doesn't) and you look like you're taller than 24" in a few spots on what you built. The inspector will probably notice.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 10:16AM
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Marcinde, in my area, you don't need a permit for any wall under 4 feet (I checked), but the manufacturer of the block says don't go above 24" without adding additional supports. So we didn't. Some areas may look like it in the pic, but they aren't; 6 blocks high is exactly 24".

Yaardark, thanks for the photoshop. I think the idea of returning the wall into the hill looks nice. I'm not sure the sharp angle "works" for me... do you think having one sharp angle looks awkward with all the other curves? I have some block left, I'm going to try putting it in tomorrow to see how it looks. I'll post another picture when I'm done.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:18PM
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Part of making it look good depends on where you decide to place the return, and its angle. A good location would be having it come off of a straight section. It's a little hard to tell from the single photo if that's where I put it. (Another typically good location is at the end of a wall, but that probably won't apply in this situation.) Wherever it is, in most cases it should be at 90* to the wall face (at the point it intersects the wall.) With retaining walls, grade is a determining factor so placement of returns is best worked out with that in mind before construction. Then, balance in the overall scheme can be achieved more easily. When the yard is finished, it's likely that you will have square corners in the wall where the timber is being replaced. So square corners might not end up being all that foreign.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 9:04AM
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I fiddled around with the remaining blocks today, but I can't actually temporarily install them. Without the footing, they're just so crooked I can't get a good idea about it. So here is Yard's version re-photoshopped with a curve.

I guess I'm just not sure it looks better with the extra bit of wall. Having the wall step down isn't unusual:


Honestly, once the cap stone is on, I think it looks nice. Yard's version also looks nice, but it doesn't seem better, just different. Most of the houses in my neighborhood have walls (it's very hilly) and most of the walls are stepped down like mine because of the steep grade.

Yard, I really appreciate your suggestion, because it made me consider the other options. This time tho, I'm going to keep it how it is.

I'm putting in plants now, I'll post another pic in a bit.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 6:24PM
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Puffie, I'm not saying curves can't work. They may be a fine solution. (I just can't grasp how much room you have to do what.) The returns cost more so that's usually why they're eliminated. In most cases, they improve the appearance of a wall. THe cap you show in the picture, the uniform descent of the wall and its long, uninterrupted elevation also improves its appearance. If there's a cap yet to go on your wall, it will help it look finished. Often, people use plants to cover wall deficiencies and when the plants grow, all is magically healed.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 11:38AM
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