Retaining walls transform an ordinary yard into a tranquil vista

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Photo Credit: Rick’s Custom Fencing & Decking

This post is contributed by Rick’s Custom Fencing & Decking. With many locations in and around Salem, Oregon, they provide design, service and installation of retaining walls, pergola covers, cedar decks & more.

Retaining Walls Transform an Ordinary Yard into a Tranquil Vista
On a sloped landscape, retaining walls hold soil in place and provide flat surfaces on which you can entertain, sit and garden. In a flat yard, a retaining wall can make the perfect raised planter. Enhance a wall with vinyl or wood fencing to add interesting dimension to the landscape and create a tranquil environment.

Benefits of Retaining Walls

Beauty and function. In addition to holding back soil in a sloped yard, the addition of a retaining wall adds beauty when you use materials like natural stone, bricks or wood. Because the wall is an important element in your landscape design, looks matter.

Terracing. A retaining wall allows you to construct flat surfaces that you can garden on or adorn when you have uneven terrain. In a flat yard, a retaining wall with terraces adds height and interest to a landscape design. Terracing is also effective if you have a passion for gardening but live in an area where the soil doesn’t drain well.

Added structure. When you design a retaining wall well, you can organize and arrange your garden to maximize the usable space and add a textural contrast. On sloped lots, the walls increase the level planting spaces available.  In any space, retaining walls provide a place to showcase garden accents, planting beds and themed gardens.

Privacy. In some cases, you can incorporate a fence with a retaining wall to increase the privacy of your home. When planning your wall, look into vinyl or wood fencing options that enhance the look of your landscape design.

Outdoor living. On a sloped lot, use a retaining wall to create a level patio for your garden furniture and plant a patch of grass. A wall can serve as extra seating, and adding steps and pathways can make all corners of your landscape simpler to access.

Retaining Wall Options

Size: The size of a retaining wall depends on the landscaping needs. Build a small retaining wall along an entryway, porch, tree or wood fencing to create a raised flower bed. Alternatively, the wall may span the width or length of a yard when a property is sloped. In such a case, the retaining wall may have multiple tiers.

Shape: The most common retaining wall shapes are straight or curved. The shape depends on:

  • The grade of lot and the desired size of the retaining wall.
  • Segmented retaining wall units.
  • The type of soil.
  • Drainage and reinforced soil types.
  • Live loads.
  • Structural stability.
  • Anchoring system.
  • Nearby structures and utilities.
  • Surface water flow.
  • Drainage fill.
  • The material used for the exterior of the wall.


Fieldstone walls: Walls made of fieldstone use rocks that are indigenous to the area. Because the stones vary in thickness, the wall has an organic feel. While a fieldstone retaining wall takes more time and specialized skills to build, it tends to have a longer life than mortar-based walls. The fieldstone design counterpart is stone veneer.

Concrete segmental walls: Made with interlocking modular concrete blocks, this type of wall is ideal for modern landscapes and walls higher than 2 feet. Concrete segmental walls don’t use mortar and come in a variety of colors, sizes, textures and shapes.

Concrete blocks: Formed into slump blocks that resemble Spanish-style architecture, concrete blocks are ideal for walls shorter than 4 feet. Use this material to make curved or straight walls.

Poured concrete: Stronger than a block-style retaining wall, poured concrete comes in a variety of design options. This style blends well with modern landscapes.

Bricks: Bricks are strong and durable. They complement any traditional home or landscape design. Because of the installation methods required, brick retaining walls are solid and extremely durable.

Wood: A wood retaining wall is fairly simple to install and works well with any landscape design. It gives a wall the most natural look.

Gabion: As the most eco-friendly option, gabion is a wire mesh cage filled with rocks, rubble, broken concrete or even large chunks of glass. This material offers the best drainage and is ideal if there’s a risk of high water in your area.

The success of a retaining wall depends on its design and construction. Because there are a variety of style options, materials and safety considerations, it’s best to work with a landscape architect who can ensure the stability of the wall while creating a tranquil-looking space.

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