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Retaining walls on a budget

WaysideWayside Posts: 845
edited May 2018 in Problem solving
I have a sloped garden.  The neighbour decided to terrace theirs once upon a time, but never really reinforced their side that borders ours.  About 10ft of garden we have a crumbling mess of decay falling inwards, and it makes a small 10x10 space, unsightly and difficult to use.

Now I could do the same as them, and bank up some slope to match.

Or I could put a wall in to reinforce their side.

The latter is a bit of a pain to be honest.  And I don't want to loose precious width in our garden.

It's a bit of the garden I've repeatedly just tried to ignore for years, but I really should address it.  I'd post a photo, but it's very embarrassing!

Anyway we do have rigid chalk on the slope, so it's possible to bang rods in, and chalk is quite nice to handle, it sticks together, and doesn't collapse like loose soil.  So perhaps I could do something with it.

I thought of stone filled gabions, they can look great or totally naff, so not so sure about them.  The height I'd want to bank is about 5ft.  Dry stone walling is very appealing to me.  I like very large oak timbers, but these are pricey.

I'll need steps too.  Gentle slopes are easier to add steps than steeper verticals.  The latter puzzle me a bit.

I want something pleasing to the eye, and cheap to construct!

Any ideas or photos of project results please? 


  • wild edgeswild edges Posts: 9,916
    Ok excuse the mess and dog toys but this is still very much a work in progress. I started with this (the bank at the back is made up from when they built the house behind and is mostly terrible soil mixed with building rubbish):

    We threw a bunch of soil and rocks at it until it looked like this

    Then I got bored and put in another level of stone wall and added the pond

    This is how it looks at the moment and I'm in the middle of some planting so it's a bit scrappy. Check out the stone I found on the bottom left though with a natural dish which makes a nice rain bath for insects. B)

    The pond had settled in nicely. It's bigger than it looks.

    It's a bit wild around the edges but I like it that way (I've cleared up the mud and weeds on the 'lawn' now)

    The stone was all free since I live on a half-built estate of new build houses and the stuff is just lying around and more gets exposed every time a new house is built. Each stone is at least twice as deep into the bank as it is wide and some stones are so big I had to get a digger to move them into place. I've run out of stone at the moment so there is still work to do on the wall to finish it off.
    Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people
  • WaysideWayside Posts: 845
    @wild edges thanks for this, it's great to see photos over time.  I was just glancing natural stone online, but couldn't really get a feel for how much it would cost.

    I've got some sandstone - perhaps yorkstone in the garden, but not loads.  It's greenish/amber, if that makes sense, it would make nice walling.  But the banks would be much steeper than yours.

    I do collect flints that get turfed up, but it's a long and slow process - and they'd probably only suit something like a gabion basket.  Or a decorative wall in front of something else.

    Any cheap natural stone will probably do, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with concrete, but do like natural aggregates.
  • wild edgeswild edges Posts: 9,916
    You can dry wall in front of gabions. If you use terram in the gabions you can fill them with soil as well as stone so they can be planted up more easily too. I bet in a few years I'll barely be able to see my walls so the quality of stone and how it's laid will only matter for so long. The rougher it's laid the more planting pockets you create so big, uneven stones can be better than tidy walling stone sometimes.
    Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people
  • raisingirlraisingirl Posts: 6,899
    edited May 2018
    You can fold terram and make 'earth bags' - like sand bags basically. And you can stack those though I'd suggest you go for a steep slope rather than trying to do vertical. In theory then you could build a stone wall in front, if you have enough stone. This is probably the cheapest and most DIY option.
    As WE says, gabions filled with earth bags is another option and better in the long run because it will be easier to puncture the bags and plant into them - you'd have to be cautious doing that with earth bags alone because the bags themselves are structural. Inside gabions, the gabions do the work and the bags just stop the mud running out. Gabions aren't cheap though.

    PS - your garden looks great WE  :)
    “It's still magic even if you know how it's done.” 
  • wild edgeswild edges Posts: 9,916
    Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people
  • WaysideWayside Posts: 845
    edited May 2018
    Thanks.  I'm on the South Coast near Brighton.   I think I'll look into making my own gabions from mesh.  This seems a pretty flexible approach.  As like you say it does give the option to just throw in any old stuff, and later give the wall a nice facade.  I'd love to finish off with rusting sheet iron.

    I've a lot of slope!  It's all uphill.  So it's probably a skill I need to master.

    For low walls that will end up being covered, chalk wrapped in chicken wire works well.  From early experimentation here.  But for a 4ft vertical stretch I could do with something that looks better.

    Most people nearby have used steel tubing, and corrugated roofing iron.  Finished with wood panels.   For low heights you could probably use tough mesh instead of the corrugated iron.

    Iron piles would be nice, but no access to ram them in, and I'm feeling a bit done with digging.
  • WaysideWayside Posts: 845
    @wild edges  how do you finish the ends that touch the neighbours?
  • wild edgeswild edges Posts: 9,916
    I've just curved the walls around and tapered them up or down as necessary. The plot to the left is still vacant so that has been more of a problem as I don't know what they will do with their garden. The advantage of dry stone is you can make it whatever shape it needs to be though so I can adjust it if needs be.
    Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 11,657
    You have created a lovely garden WE, which must have taken hours of work so well done you!
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • WaysideWayside Posts: 845
    In a rather hilarious turn of events I google chalk filled gabions, and low-and-behold my own post turns up.  Which reminds me that 5 years later I haven't addressed this!  And on top of that I have cut a huge hole out of the chalk so now have more vertical slope to sort out, not to mention access up into the garden.  All previous wooden steps have died.

    Some great advice here.  And it's interesting revisiting the thread.  Because since I asked the price of gabions has rocketed!  Along with everything else.  Even sand bags.  I'm in quite a special and unique place as it's a chalk down.

    I have discovered something called the angle of repose, the angle of a pile before it collapses.  And chalk has a high one.  It can also meld itself together pretty well.  When heaped it becomes pretty stable.  Though cutting vertically down  it can be unstable.

    I've been quite surprised how root-bound soil holds up.  So if you haven't got a silly amount of surface water on solid rock, a good root mat would do much to hold up the garden without floating off down the valley.  But don't quote me on that.  I saw a forest slip in Ireland.

    So a low wall followed by a slope could actually get you some height.

    Reading about walls, because of the weight, it is recommended to stack high, rather than have two close walls.  As the back wall can push over the front wall.  Dry stone walling has less pressure issues.  And I love the effect of mini walls and planted as WE has demonstrated.  And also the idea that once buried, you won't much notice.

    I've bought about a 14ft metre high walls worth of gabion, but not quite sure where and how I'll use it.  Following on from your Terram idea, you could use bulky bags and further support them with chicken wire, or Terram if it's to be hidden behind something.  I think they wouldn't decay if not exposed to light.

    I'd stack something with hessian sand bags, to later be replaced with root mats and planting, but they aren't cheap.

    I think I actually prefer slopes to walls.  As they let light and your eye move over and down them.  Will report back when done.  I can back fill with chalk, which will solidify so it's not so much an issue for me.

    Chalk does split in the frost, but it seems a bit hit and miss.  I'm sure it wouldn't be recommended for gabion walling because of that, and because it's a bit lighter, but actually with a little play in a small gabion section it was quite heavy and almost immovable, probably more so if sloped back.

    Excuse the brain farts.

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