Using gabions for retaining walls – a case study

Many of the gardens we design involve gradients to a lesser or greater degree.  If the gradient is relatively steep, or if a completely level lawn is required, some sort of retaining wall is necessary.  We use a wide variety of materials for this; the option we choose/advise depends not only on personal preference, but also cost & the wider design.  Some of the more common materials for retaining walls and/or raised beds are:

  • Brickwork
  • Timber / sleeper walls
  • Log palisades
  • Rendered walls
  • Gabion baskets

We recently incorporated gabion baskets into a garden design in Newbury – the baskets were filled with Purbeck stone and used for a retaining wall.  This gives a lighter feel than a solid brick wall, and is also a relatively inexpensive option.  The Purbeck stone here blends well with the tumbled limestone paving we chose.  We paved over the top of the gabions, providing both a path at the top level, and a bit of a seat – or at least somewhere to perch as you walk down the ramped, stepped path – or in this case, if you want a few seconds break from the garden office.

About this garden

The brief:

  • This is very much a family garden – our client has two teenage children, plus a dog.  Children and friends make heavy use of the (existing) swimming pool in summer, so this was a key feature to retain.
  • There was a lot to fit into the space (including an office); levels were complex.
  • Our busy client enjoys gardening, but has little time for it.

The solution:

  • Simple, open space at the upper level, with the main patio, lawn & swimming pool (we removed some old balustrades along the side of the swimming pool).
  • Our client was originally thinking of a curved ramp/path down and around the garden (with the office to be located in the bottom left hand corner).  But we devised a cleaner, more contemporary design, and removed some conifers at the side of the garden.  This made better use of space, and allowed us to locate the office along the side boundary, making room for a private sitting area (with its own mini lawn) in the sun trap in the corner at the lower level.
  • As well as using gabion baskets, sleepers were used for the solid and tallest bit of the retaining wall, creating an effective mix of materials & form.
  • Our client opted to do their own planting, so we created a limited number of borders which they can enjoy planting & maintaining.

The result is a deceptively simple, practical and family-friendly garden – which works well for this family.

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