Many landscape designs incorporate ‘hardscapes,’ a term that means just what it says: retaining walls, terraces, patios, concrete, rock, and stone—all ‘hard.’ Exterior walls can define spaces, create outdoor rooms, retain slopes, and become lovely extensions of the house itself. Because they can be interesting additions to many landscapes, you should consider them to be not just functional, but also an addition that can make your yard more appealing.
These keystone block walls are actually a replacement for a retaining system of railroad ties that had deteriorated and decayed over the years. Railroad ties are perfect for performing the function: they hold back the soil. But they can’t curve, or loop. In nature there are no straight lines, so railroad ties aren’t always the best choice if you want your walls to be a natural element in your design.
The pairing of slab steps and rock walls gives a bit of serenity and even lightness, even though they are stone. Stone walls are still functional, but are more natural, and can be a reflection of your own personal style.
Walls don’t just retain an upper level; they also can create additional space, as well as define another. It’s like adding an addition to your house. When the walls intersect the ground above, you have an opportunity to create another flowerbed, or sitting area. This area of the yard is no longer just a slope for grass alone. And using keystone walls also means you can create a rounded-out area to showcase and accommodate a unique plant, large piece of glazed pottery, or a sculpture. You can relieve the monotony of a straight wall with just such a design factor. Railroad ties would never permit this kind of serendipity.
Stone walls are wonderful for terraces and patios because they aren’t dark or even heavy. An added benefit to erecting them is that you can delineate shade gardens from sun, and feature your favorite seasonal color. Use of stone walls also means that if you hang a light fixture, it’s as if you already have a room that, in turn, needs to be lit.
By having the walls level off and create more space, you also will be able to put your plantings even closer to eye level. If you have a corner, or small space, use of walls means two display areas—one above, one below–which means creating another dimension to your plantings. Translation: Your plantings will look full and lush, and you’ve made optimum use of limited space.
And isn’t there something serene and comforting about stone slab steps? These look as if they were carved out by nature, not lifted from a quarry.
Finally, stone provides texture, which can be a good counterpoint to greenery or even smooth concrete. The nooks and crannies can be home to mosses and even the occasional lizard. Your walls become part of the landscape, not just something to keep it at bay. Using stone won’t make you a rock star, but it will make your landscape so inviting that you’ll want to spend more time in it, and savor the seasons.
Chris Olsen is a nationally known home and garden guru, designer, author, TV personality and public speaker. In his book, Chris shares his landscape and gardening knowledge along with his unique flair for home decor and design.He is also a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. Learn more about Chris and all of his work at chrisholsen.com.