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Patio & Rockery Design - help!


Hi, we're trying to add a patio area to a large garden. The plan is to have a large circular patio (about 5.5m across), unfortunately the ground is on a bit of a slope meaning the top half of the patio will need a low retaining wall around it. Sadly all quotes for this wall have been way too much money ????

We're happy to do hard grafting, we can do lots of digging and even lay the patio ourselves. I'm now thinking of scrapping the wall idea and sloping the ground around the patio away and upwards and creating rookeries instead. Has anyone else done this successfully and can you share photos?

We have some stones lying around that we can use, I was thinking we can plant aubretia, thyme, phlox etc. I'm not sure how the rockery would meet the patio - any ideas?

Here'a a photo, other ideas are welcome! The patio needs to be at the lowest point because there's a stream running along the bottom. The rest of the garden is too square which is why we're after a circle.



  • I constructed this circular patio in my garden in the Pennines, which is on quite a slope, digging out the top soil and redistributing it to make the beds higher.  Once I got down a bit I found the clay - digging that out took a bit longer, and we had to get rid of it.  Some of it I moved from one side of the circle (where the soil had been higher) to the other, to even out the base so it didn't take so long to make it reasonably level.  I made the retaining wall out of cut up stone roofing slates, because that was what we happened to have, with a small concrete foundation.  I marked out the circle using string from a central peg, to "draw" it on the ground.  The circle level was checked using a long spirit level, before I laid ground cover fabric and gravel.  

    It's not as big as yours but our garden is quite small.  If you're interested I'll take more photos tomorrow, though it looks a bit sad and wintery at the moment!


    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • raisingirlraisingirl Posts: 6,912

    If you dug it out to be level with the lowest point, how high would your retaining wall need to be?

    And if you did a 'cut and fill' job, so dig out the up slope side and pile that on the down slope side, then build two smaller walls, one up and one down so your patio sits at mid height, how high would each wall end up being?

    Low retaining walls are not difficult to DIY as long as you get a couple of basics right.

    Alternatively, if you go for the rockery and bank option, I'd have a fairly narrow level strip between the edge of your paving and the bottom of the rockery slope, and grow lots of alpines in a nice thick layer of gravel

    “It's still magic even if you know how it's done.” 
  • Kitty 2Kitty 2 Posts: 5,150


    Like this sparspud?  (Hope the image worksimage)

    I think its a lovely idea image

    I wouldn't abandon the wall idea for a rockery just yet. Maybe a rethink of materials is needed?  You could use timber vertically to create the retaining wall initially and then build a dry stone wall in front of it from collected pieces over time. Like the one behind you in the photo.

    edited to say it's not my garden in the photo. Pinched it off Pinterest.

    Last edited: 25 February 2017 21:16:27

  • image

    Hi All sorry for the slow reply, I only got the notification about replies today.

    liriodendron if you have chance to take a closer up photo of the wall you built I'd be very interested! No rush though, we're still digging my out the patio area and have a 10m trench to dig to lay a drainage pipe first.

    I was partly giving up in the wall and going for the rockery as it also saves a bit more digging.

    raisingirl I've added a photo with the patio half dug, I think the retaining wall would be 2ft. I'm worried doing it ourselves results in even more digging and effort to lay a concrete foundation. Doing two lower wall moves the patio higher up from the stream unfortunately. 

    Kitty2, the original plan was to remove that section of dry stone wall along the back and re-use the stone to then have a dry stone wall around the patio but sadly they're the quotes that have been too expensive ? I'm worried about trying to build a wall ourselves and for it to look rubbish.

    Does anyone think a rockery would look 'softer' than a wall? I'm worried about too much hard landscaping with such a big patio and the wall along the back.

    For the rockery I thought alpines, it gets the sun all day and we already have lots of aubretia around the place.

  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053

    Is the bit of wall you are dismantling, the bit between the two green bins? If so, the stones look nice and flat and not too big to carry. I would have a go at the wall yourselves. 

    You didn't read it here but if you flatten and tamp the soil down really well, you could build a wall 2 ft or under without founds. Your stones look really nicely cut so should sit quite comfortably on each other. Have a look at how they are built now and have a go. In the old days, there were no concrete founds and all drystane walls were built on earth - and look how long the field walls last! So have a go - what's the worst that can happen? You have the time and energy. You may surprise yourselves!

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • SarSpud, hi again!  I'll take some photos in the morning.  Hogweed, I'm not sure you can build a retaining wall without foundations, even a small one... ours only has about 6" deep foundations - I just dug a trench all round & stuffed it full of concrete.  The wall looks as if it's dry stone, but I used cement at the back of each stone & plastered the back of the wall with cement too (leaving a few "weep holes"), before replacing the soil.  I'd never cut stone or built that sort of wall before, or made that sort of patio, but if you can't afford to pay someone to do it for you, what have you got to lose?  image  It's surprising what you can do if you give it time...

    Yes, a rockery - or a terraced bank, which we also have - would be softer than a wall, and could look great.  What will you use for the surface of your patio, SarSpud?  Because ours was to be gravelled (cost again!) we decided we had to have a wall to hold the soil back, since we wouldn't be able to sweep soil off the gravel.  If yours is to be paved, it wouldn't matter if a bit of soil needed sweeping off from time to time.

    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • Thank you, aym280.  It's not so pretty at the moment - distinctly soggy!  And I haven't managed to clear out all the rubbish from the beds yet.  But here are a few more photos for SarSpud:





    The bottom two photos are trying to show you (a) the steepness of the slope, and (b) the terraced/rock garden bit which might be the sort of thing you were thinking of instead of a wall... it's hard to see the stones now they're covered in moss & plants.

    Hope this is of some use, if only as an example of how not to do it!

    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • SarSpudSarSpud Posts: 46


    Hi All, I'm not sure if those who previously replied will get notified of my reply but we took your advice and gave building our own wall a go, so thanks! It's been a lot of hard work but we're really happy with how it ended up ? It looks a tad different to how it did in Feb!

  • TesniTesni Posts: 163

    Wow! Well done, it looks absolutely fantastic.

  • SussexsunSussexsun Posts: 1,444

    Wow that has been a real success And it will only get better as the plants grow and spread

    To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

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