Learning how to build a garden wall can be a very useful skill to have in your repertoire. Being about to make a garden will on your own can boost your self-sufficiency. And allow you to improve your garden – often very affordably and without spending a fortune in the process.
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What Can You Use A Garden Wall For?
Garden walls can potentially be used in a range of different locations and for a number of different reasons. For example, you might create a garden wall to:
- Define a boundary of your property
- Create a solid barrier on property margins for security, privacy etc…
- Improve the microclimate in a certain part of your garden.
- Partition the garden, creating different garden rooms.
- Hold back earth on a sloping site, and form terraces.
- Create edging around a bed or border, or path edging (which could also potentially be used as seating).
- Make solid foundations for a building or other garden structure.
Materials To Build A Garden Wall With
There are of course many materials from which a garden wall might be built. Some options are of course more eco-friendly and sustainable than others.
When starting a project of this type, it is always the best policy to think carefully before you buy any materials at all. Often, you may be able to use natural or reclaimed materials that you already have on your property, rather than buying in something new.
Natural materials such as rocks and stone can be an obvious choice – and naturally occurring rocks and stones might even be gathered from the property itself for such a project.
Logs might also be a structure more akin to a wall than a fence. And a wood fence (such as a wattle fence) might be daubed with mud/ clay to create a wattle and daub wall on a property.
Other natural materials that might be incorporated into a wall include cob/ adobe. Straw bales also potentially make a great walling material. And soil packed into tyres or bags can also be used to make rammed earth or earth bag wall constructions.
Reclaimed materials include reclaimed bricks, concrete blocks etc… even glass bottles. Use your imagination and you can often utilise materials that would otherwise have been thrown away to make a new garden wall on your property.
How To Build A Garden Wall
To build a garden wall you will need to:
- Determine the location of the wall, and your reason or reasons for building it.
- Choose the material you want to use for building your garden wall.
- Mark out where your garden wall with go and prepare the area.
- And then begin construction.
Determining a Location and Your Goals for a Garden Wall
Of course, in order to make a garden wall that works and is fit for purpose, you first need to fully consider what you are trying to achieve.
Think carefully before you make your materials choices and begin the work about what you actually want your garden wall to do and where the wall will be positioned.
For example, how tall does it need to be? Will it be a free-standing structure or are you looking to create a retaining wall to hold back soil. Of course, the latter requires more thought as it must be strong and stable enough for the purpose.
Choosing Materials for a Garden Wall
Once you know where you want a garden wall, and what you want that garden wall to do, you will be in a position to choose your construction material or materials.
Of course, you will want to take aesthetic considerations into account. But practicality is key. Ask yourself whether the material you are thinking about will be suitable for a wall in the location you have chosen, and to fulfil your goal or goals.
Personally, I also feel that it is worthwhile thinking about sustainability and considering the true cost of the materials choices you make.
Remember, it is always better to choose natural or reclaimed materials from as close to home as possible whenever you are considering your choices for your home or garden.
Marking Out and Preparing for a Garden Wall
Once you have decided which materials to choose, and sourced those materials or gathered them on your property, it is time to prepare the area where the wall will be built and to mark out its location as a guide for construction.
Whether your wall will be a straight line, or more organic in form, marking out its location clearly with a string line or using another method will help make sure you stay on track, whichever materials you use.
Constructing a Garden Wall
The actual process of construction will be a little different, of course, depending on which materials you use. There will be more to learn, but here are some rough guidelines to help you get started:
How To Build A Garden Wall With Stone
If you have decided to build a garden wall with stone then there are a number of different types of stone wall that you might create. For example, you might make:
- A dry stone wall.
- A mortared wall with natural stones, or dressed, cut rock in different shapes and sizes.
- A retaining wall with gabions (metal cages filled with rocks/ stones).
Dry stone wall construction is a fascinating business. Rocks and stones are carefully chosen and positioned to remain stable without any mortar to ‘glue’ them together.
This can be a difficult process, especially for taller walls, which can involve years or practice to master. However, getting lower walls of dry stone to balance and be stable is generally one of the easiest and cheapest options in a garden – especially if the stones can be gathered on the site.
For taller walls, however, and when walls need to be stronger or sturdier, using mortar between them can be the best idea. A traditional cement mortar is often used. But lime mortar can be a more eco-friendly and sustainable choice.
A trench is dug and levelled, then you can can begin to place stones and rocks in it, building up out of the ground steadily, carefully selecting rocks, and piling rocks on top, with mortar between where needed, until the wall reaches the required height.
A mortared wall can potentially also be used as a retaining wall, though this will depend on how much earth is to be retained/ the steepness of the slope and other factors. Gabions can also be constructed for a retaining wall, by placing metal cages, and filling these with rock/stone.
Whether making stone walls or gabions, planting pockets can be created within these to provide a beautiful feature in a garden, and such structures can also be a haven for wildlife.
The rocks and stones, with good thermal mass, can also improve the local microclimate, keeping things warmer in winter and potentially a little cooler through the summer months.
Building a Garden Wall With Bricks or Blocks
After natural stone, perhaps the most common and popular materials used to construct garden walls are bricks, and blocks (of concrete perhaps, or sometimes other materials).
Of course, concrete is not the most eco-friendly of materials, and comes at a huge carbon cost. But using reclaimed concrete blocks can, like using reclaimed bricks, be a more sustainable and eco-friendly option.
Usually, building a block or brick wall will involve digging a level foundation trench, creating a level base, then slowly laying bricks or blocks, levelling them, and continuing to build upwards, with a layer of mortar between each level and even course.
Using a level, and string lines is typically essential to keep brick or block work on course. And more precision is required when building with bricks or blocks than is typically required when creating a wall with stone or rock.
Constructing a Garden Wall With Wood
While wooden structures in a garden would more commonly be fences, wooden walls made from logs or reclaimed timber like railway sleepers are also possible, which are more sturdy walls rather than narrow fences.
Wood logs or wider timber pieces can be placed upright with their ends buried in the soil. Or they can be stacked horizontally like in the walls of a log cabin, or like firewood is stacked. Sometimes, when constructed properly. Timber can make retaining walls, as well as other very sturdy structures.
How To Build A Garden Wall With Earth Bags & Other Eco Construction Methods
The above options are the most common ways to build a garden wall. But remember, they are not the only solutions that you might consider.
Cool, sustainable options such as earth bags, rendered straw bales, wattle and daub walls, or walls made from waste materials as in Earthship design might all work well in certain situations in a garden.
Be open to learning new eco-friendly construction methods and you can create beautiful, functional and unique garden walls wherever you live.
B&Q. (n.d.). How to plan a garden wall. [Accessed 02/06/23] Retrieved from https://www.diy.com/ideas-advice/how-to-plan-a-garden-wall/CC_npci_100134.art
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.