If you’re dealing with a sloping site, retaining walls are essential structural elements of your garden.

Done right, retaining walls can also become a design feature of your outdoor space by helping to foster flow, house greenery or create rooms within a landscape. With the appropriate materials and finish, retaining walls won’t look like an eyesore and will become seamlessly integrated into the garden.

Popular types of retaining walls

There are a variety of different options of retraining walls. In this guide, we take a look at three of the most popular: natural stone, concrete and timber. Looking at the different materials will help you decide which will suit your garden best.

Natural stone retaining walls

retaining walls
Retaining wall clad in Roda Linear Walling by Lexis Design

A natural stone wall is arguably the most attractive of all and can be seamlessly incorporated into the landscape. There is a wide choice of stone types, enabling you to choose a material that best relates to the aesthetics of your architecture and outdoor space.

There is also an option of choosing natural split stone pieces or cladding a substrate in linear walling or stone wall panels. Natural stone can be clad on a variety of walls including brick or concrete, and while it may be more expensive, we believe the end result is unrivalled. Depending on your design style, you could opt for an organic aesthetic using a stone such as Crackenback Free Form, an aged, elegant feel with Clancy Random Ashlar or choose Roda Linear Walling for a more contemporary look.

Concrete Retaining Walls

retaining walls
Rendered concrete retaining wall featured with Byron Bean Bags

Concrete retaining walls can be built from blocks or poured concrete both of which are highly durable and a less expensive option compared with stone.

While concrete retaining walls can be left in their natural state, it may be worth considering a finish to better integrate the structural element into the garden setting. Concrete can be rendered in a smooth or textured finish of a variety of colors which can create a modern appearance. For an aged, textural look concrete can be painted. Using products such as limewash or liquid zinc can be highly effective. Alternatively, a concrete wall can be formed up with a material such as timber that will leave a textural impression or clad with stone.

Timber Retaining Walls

retaining walls
Stained timber retaining wall by Harrison’s Landscaping in collaboration with Hare + Klein

Timber retaining walls are popular for their affordability and the natural appearance of the material. It’s also a favorite material for those do-it-yourselfers as it can be efficiently installed with only a few tools required.

There’s no doubt timber can be a beautiful material in the garden, however, if the timber has not been properly treated for external use, it won’t last. Treated pine, timber sleepers or hardwood are the preferred options for retaining wall applications. Timber sleepers can last up to 20 years, but eventually, all timber will rot. As a retaining wall, timber also isn’t as strong as a masonry built stone or concrete wall but can be just as visually appealing.

Before you build a retaining wall

Before you get started building a garden retaining wall it’s worth considering the following:

  • Are permits required or drawings from a structural engineer?
  • Do you need concrete footings?
  • Is the soil compact?
  • Is there an efficient drainage system?
  • Is the substrate/wall suitable for cladding?
  • Have you chosen a durable finish for external use?

Feature image: Clancy Random Ashlar retaining walls by Outdoor Establishments.