By Guest Author Richard White
Retaining walls are a great way to add a new visual element to your backyard as well as provide additional space for flowers to be planted or a water feature to be installed. With a little work, some concrete blocks, gravel, concrete adhesive glue and a few other tools, you can have a retaining wall installed in no time.
First, you’ll need to design and determine the shape, size and desired location for the wall. One way you can do this is to drive long wooden poles into the ground every eight feet or so to lay out the shape and size. Then you can use a string tape measure to create a level line of the height you want your wall to be.
At this point, my colleague tells me his landscaping company normally digs a trench that is approximately eight inches in depth and a little larger than the width of the concrete blocks that you’ll be using to build the height of the wall. Add about four inches of gravel to the trench and tamp the area down to as level as possible.
After you've done so, lay your first row of concrete blocks following your desired shape outline. Make sure that they are aligned with the flange at the front. You’ll most likely have to move some of the gravel underneath the bricks to level out the difference created by the flange. Use a level to check the row as you go and make any changes using a rubber mallet so you don’t damage the bricks. When it is how you want it, fill the holes in the bricks with gravel.
You’ll need to lay a drainage pipe at the base of the row of bricks with one end inside and the other end leading to where ever you want water to drain into. Make sure to place mesh at the end so that nothing can get inside and clog the pipe.
Repeat the process for brick rows until you reach the desired height that you outlined with the stakes and string. When you are almost at the top, squeeze some concrete adhesive glue on the bricks and place capstones on the top. Fill your newly created wall with dirt, flowers, shrubs or whatever else your heart desires and admire your handiwork!
While not rocket science, depending on the materials and the size of the wall you are building, it can be laborious constructing a retaining wall start to finish. Either hire the neighbours kid to help with the lifting or get an experienced landscaper or handyman service that can provide both some elbow grease and some expertise to ensure it's done right.
By Alan Remington
So spring is here and it’s time to get your yard looking chipper for the summer ahead. After all, this is the time of year you’ll be spending most of your time there either entertaining guests, playing with the kids in the back yard, or crushing a couple pops on a hot summer’s day with the fellas. Either that, or you’re just trying to keep pace with the lovely Jones family who have moved next door.
Now whether you’ve had regular hired lawn care over the off season, or you’ve completely neglected it and you find yourself gazing onto the waste land of what used to be your perfectly landscaped outdoor living space, your needs (and costs) will likely shift significantly depending on your situation.
In the latter case, if you’re looking at a fair bit of work to be done from a lack of regular yard maintenance, or just because you want a fresh look, there is near infinite possibilities of what can be done with your back yard, big or small. So while we won’t try to cover all of said infinite possibilities, it is worth discussing the choice between hardscape and softscape elements of a beautifully landscaped residential or commercial property.
First, it is worth noting that rarely does a landscaping project not involve both of these elements. Desert climates may be one of the only places it makes absolute sense to have only hardscape elements as possible water restrictions very often hang your fresh sod installation job out to dry. Pardon the expression. Absent water restrictions, the sheer cost, work, and environmental impact of trying to keep a lawn watered in a desert climate makes little sense.
Even in more lush climates where the grass stays green year round like in the northwest near Seattle and Vancouver Island where it does make sense to have greener pastures so to speak, it is still very rare to not see a retaining wall, paver walkway, or some other hardscape element incorporated into the overall design. Some very dry summers in recent years even in these normally well irrigated places also tends to favour hardscape designs.
With that said, it is not only climate that should guide you whether you have predominately hardscape or softscape elements in your yard. Even if you live in a climate with good year-round irrigation, the specifics of your property may warrant consideration. Our contributing author at landscaping nanaimo tells us that given the old growth trees on some of his clients’ properties, it can cut the sun out so drastically on one side of the house for example, that if you want to still want softscape elements, careful attention needs to be paid to picking the right kind of plants to grow in that limited light. Often times, however, he says he finds himself trying to convince clients to instead consider a stone walkway, paver pathway or even a gravel pathway.
To some such advice may sound like an upsell, but this brings us to another important element when deciding between softscape and hardscape elements on a landscaping project. That’s right, money! It’s safe to say that having a paver walkway installed is going to be significantly less than laying some sod, all things constant such as the topography of your land, but what about maintenance? Maybe the walkway is a bad example as it implies a specific use but regardless, you don’t need to mow a walkway regularly. You don’t need an expensive irrigation system installed and need to pay for the water to keep it watered.
Granted you would be well advised to regularly power wash and clean your stone and paver walkways, but this is not something that needs done as part of your regular lawn maintenance. This needs only be added as a task for your landscaping team to complete once or twice a year.
An additional point to consider is your lifestyle. Do you have young kids that like to play ball in the yard? Unless you’re on the 6th pane of glass this early in the summer that has needed replacing, I’ll assume you’re not trying to get them to go to the park and they’re allowed to play in the yard. In this case, green space is king and not putting a giant paver patio or water feature in your yard would probably be well-advised?
If you’re the entertaining type, maybe that patio isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe a full outdoor kitchen, deck and a custom pergola would fit the bill and have the Jones family scrambling to keep pace with you. OK, this may be a bit of a wish list but there are tons of affordable landscaping ideas that one can incorporate into softscape and hardscape elements.
The over arching theme here is before you go tearing out your lawn in favour of a Japanese rock garden, just know that you need to consider many factors over and above what might look good. Budget, topography, climate, unique feature of your property, direction of sun, lifestyle, expected usage are also a number of a multitude of factors that should not be ignored.
Whatever you and your landscaping technician ultimately decide, submit a picture to us a show us the final product! Then invite us over, we’ll bring the pops!