We tend to think of retaining walls strictly for their function of maintaining a bank. This is what they were designed for but I’d also point out that retaining walls can become one of the feature elements of your garden for aesthetic value. If you are viewing the retaining wall from the base then we could discuss types of materials that add visual appeal such as large boulders, vertical rock pillars, stone veneer over a functional core filled block wall, architectural concrete walls or even precast retaining wall materials. If we are viewing the walls from the top plateau looking down we may notice that the walls have manipulated the former property grades and now the size of the living area above the wall is increased to the benefit of the size of the patio, lawn or garden area.
Most Lower Mainland, B.C. districts allow for a 4’ height wall before engineering of the wall is required. It is important to note that Vancouver, B.C. allows for a 2’ high retaining wall before a permit is required and Mission allows a 1’ high wall before a permit is required. Many of the districts require a 2:1 setback. If you build a 4’ high wall you need to set back 8’ before the next wall can be constructed. The safe bet is to check the bylaws on the district’s website before starting the design layout.
Choice of retaining wall materials can be made based on budget or theme of the design. For instance, contemporary designs have been very popular in recent years so the concrete wall seems to be a favorite among designers for the clean, precise look that this style of wall can achieve. These concrete walls might have colour added to the concrete before pouring, acid stain applied after pouring, forms that create a relief pattern in the concrete or remain raw with bubble holes or metal clip holes from the forming technique left. An exact opposite style wall, designed to add Old English charm may be a river rock stone veneer wall supported by a core filled block backing. This style of wall is reminiscent of the relaxed, informal setting of an English landscape.
Vertical height in a garden can be well used. You can even create vertical separation in a flat yard by using retaining wall materials to build a custom raised planter. A raised planter can be round, rectangular or freeform. Your only limitation is your imagination and the building specifications for the materials you choose. The affects you can achieve are limitless using retaining walls and should be an important consideration to your landscape design vision.