Retaining Walls

How to Turn a Hill into a Flat Yard with a Retaining wall


 

How to Turn a Hill into a Flat Yard with a Retaining Wall

Today what we’re going to be talking about is how to turn a hillside into a usable backyard. What we initially saw when I came out was a steep slope that ran directly into the back of this customer’s house. It led to multiple issues; the first one was drainage. Everything on the site drained right down into their basement which created floods during heavy rains. The second was there was no room to use the yard for anything.

They wanted flat enough space that they could have their kids play in the backyard.  But they also had a budget. So the solution that we came up with was to chunk it into three separate parts. The first part is excavation, which is what you see behind me right now. The second part is stabilization. Although we’re creating a flat space, we’re also creating more aggressive slopes on the site.  They need to be stabilized. And then the third phase of this project is the restoration phase.

So when we break a project like this down into these three separate components and we have a budget that we have to fit it within, what we like to do is try to create as much flat space within the excavation number and minimize slope stabilization (retaining walls and settings). The reason we want to minimize that is that that is the most expensive portion of most landscaping projects. When you call in an excavation company that can build retaining walls, it’s simple for them to do the excavation. The material cost on a boulder retaining wall is where the expense starts to rise.

Minimizing Retaining Walls

The material cost on a boulder retaining wall is where the expense starts to rise. So in this case as we look behind us, we’re right now in the excavation phase of it, we’ve currently hauled out hundreds and hundreds of cubic yards of soil and have just begun forming or terra-forming the slopes and stabilizing them.

What we’re concentrating on in this case is minimizing those retaining walls. What we’re doing in this particular job is a three-tiered retaining wall. But we’re going to quickly break those three-tiered retaining walls down into boulder settings. The reason we go down to boulder settings is that it’s less material, it still can stabilize that slope and it gives it a nice look without the extra expense of actually building a retaining wall. So we’re going to go through this project in phases, we’re going to keep you updated, but at this point what you’re seeing behind me is just the excavation.

Retaining Wall

You’ll see the finalized retaining wall which is in progress right now, it will be broken down from three retaining walls into boulder settings as we go through the slope to minimize that expense. And then the final component of this will be the restoration, which will be simply nothing more than doing sod, and what we’ll probably end up doing, in this case, is some wood chips on the slope (because wood chips aren’t expensive folks), and do some plantings. And I think that is going to be our best way to do it. We’re going to film the process and let you guys have a look at behind the scenes on how we actually accomplish this.

What you can see is, that we have an assortment of stones of various sizes, and what he does is he uses the largest stone for the base for the lower stones, and then he sorts and separates some smaller stones based on where he wants to place them in the structure itself. We’d like to be able to get those big three to five-foot stones on the bottom and then go the subsequent courses anywhere from three to four and then smaller sizes on up from there.

The retaining wall itself is a random pattern. We’d like to break up a standard basket weave style boulder wall by putting a few boulders in different angles just to give it a little bit of interest, instead of having it looked like we laid a bunch of bricks on top of each other and just made a standard brick form pattern or a basket weave pattern. So this retaining wall is the random style we need.

Changing Jobs

It’s been a few days since the last time we’ve been here. This is a perfect example of how jobs can change. So the original plan was just to have some very small retaining walls and mostly focus on boulder settings.

But at the customer’s request, they saw how well the walls were going in, how they looked. They basically fell in love with that look and they asked us to add more walls to add more terraces and to just create more usable space above and below the retaining walls. So what we were able to do for them is, if you look up here, we were able to create a sitting area that the focus of this will be to have a bonfire.

Hardscaping Completed

Hardscaping has been completed, the bonfire pit is in, the terraced retaining walls are in, everything is set. Now we move into the restoration phase. You can see we’ve got the double shredded hardwood mulch down, we have the edging going in place, and next will be the sod. In this project, we’re going to allow the customers to do their own plantings. As a kind of a bonus, what we’ll do for them is we’ll purchase the plants at wholesale, and to save them some money we’ll let them put them in themselves. A lot of our customers like to do that, it’s a nice easy way for them to add sweat equity to their own project, and it saves us from focusing on softscapes and allows us to focus on what we do best, which is hardscaping.

So you can see that this is in process. We’re going to revisit the site after we lay the sod down, after we’ve finished up with the mulch. But let’s walk down the retaining wall and take a look at what we’ve done here. I like what they’ve done with it, I like how they’ve asked us to put the terraces in for them. It’s optimized their space and it’s given them a raised planter bed.

Planter Beds

One of the things that you want to look at when you build a planter bed is you want to look at the height that you’re going to put that planter bed in. For this couple, this was the perfect height.  They can easily reach in and do all their maintenance. They don’t have to bend over and have to have sore backs.

The entire wall has been established, and if we look, we have the dedicated planter bed which dives into one terrace, and then we were able to implement the idea of putting in the boulder settings after that point. That’s going to be the no maintenance zone. That’s not going to be something that they ever want to touch up in that area. So after the hardwood mulch goes in place they’ll put some evergreen bushes and shrubs in there.  Things that they don’t have to deal with.

Versus having their own planter bed which is where they can put their perennials, their annuals or whatever type of flowers or shrubs they want to change out or intermix from season to season. So that’s the gist of it. And what we have right here is this is going to be the play zone. They’re going to put in a swing set. This used to be a hill that was about six or seven feet tall diving right into their backyard kitchen. Now they actually have a flat play area that their family can enjoy.

Restoration

Now we’re in phase three which is the restoration phase. You can see that we have the sod going down onto the site. We’ve cleaned up the extra dirt, hauled that out, completed the mulching operation, and all the boulder walls are in place. The site is ready to turn over to the customer to complete the touches and personalize the project. They bring in their own plants and set up their own finish landscaping.

Sweat Equity

It keeps the budget down by letting them focus on adding a little bit of their own sweat equity into this project. This is what the finished project looks like when you turn an overgrown hillside into a usable backyard. It allows the customer to actually get out and enjoy their house and enjoy their landscaping. So here you go.

From this angle, you can also maybe get a glimpse of the upper portion of the retaining wall. That’s their seat area so that’s where they’re going to be putting a fire pit or maybe a picnic table. And we have the raised planter beds like we’ve already discussed. So I think it turned out pretty well. It’s a simple three phase project including excavation, boulder walls going into boulder settings, and then the restoration phase. We’re trying to keep as simple as possible by just focusing on sodding, putting in the mulch and allowing the customer to finish the project all on their own.

 


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