The Retaining Wall Project

Lets rewind the tape…

Last year, early spring 2011 I heard my dad mention he was thinking about paying someone to build him a landscape retaining wall out in front of his house.  I hinted around to get more details and discovered he had already had a quote from a professional to do it.  I knew I could save him hundreds if I did it for him.

I made that my Fathers Day gift. First checking with my mom of course. (Had to see if she trusted me enough to do it.)

So, instead of a tie or belt, I gave him my time.  11 hours on a Saturday to be exact.

If you really think about it, 10 years from now he is not going to remember some small gift that I got for him in 2011, but he will remember the wall.

Especially if it falls down.  Let’s hope not!

First things first.  Digging the trench.  Notice my 2 foreman standing by.  My dad beaming with anticipation and my nephew TJ who wanted nothing more than to be by my side assisting in any way possible.

He actually was a big help bringing me blocks, sand or whatever I would need at the time.

You can also see in this picture a tube coming out of the ground.  Turns out the inground sprinkler system would give me most of my headaches for the day.  There were 4 places that it interfered with the wall.

Good thing it was flexible tubing.  I was forced to dig the trench extra deep in those spots and reset the tubes deeper in order to pass over them.

Here I am starting the second tier.  My niece Makayla was also eager to help.  You can see her standing by ready for her next task.

Everyone wanted to get involved in some way.  My dad did some digging (we won’t discuss the nick in the sprinkler system line, oops).  Even my mom got her hands dirty and made multiple runs to the hardware store when we need supplies.

Besides the time it takes to do this project and physical effort it takes to dig, carry and stack. This project is not a mind blowing one. It does take a little skill, but I think anyone can master it.

How To Build The Wall

You basically want to be at least one full block deep in the ground, so you need to dig your trench the depth of the block plus a few extra inches for sand.  The sand is what makes it possible to get each block level.  It also gives it a nice firm base when compacted.

You then start at the lowest point and start working up from there.  As you move up hill you don’t need to keep digging deeper to match the level of the first block.  You will start stair stepping up the landscape.  Always keeping it at least one block deep in the ground.

If you are doing a multiple tier you will want to have the upper one started so you know where to stop the lower tier.

Make sure each block you set in the sand is level front to back and more importantly side to side.  Each block to the left and right of it will also need to have be at the same height.

After you get your base it is just a matter of stacking blocks and staggering each level.  You will need to cut a block in half before you start your second level for them to stagger.  I did this with a hammer and chisel.  Just score the block all the way around and continue to do so until it breaks.  It will break along your score.

Back fill with gravel up against the wall to aid with drainage.  If the wall gets high enough you might want to consider putting in a drain at the bottom.

Fill the rest with dirt and you are done.

This is the 3rd picture of me squatting.  That explains why 4 days later I am still limping.  My thighs are so sore!

200 blocks.  15 bags of sand.  A couple pulled and replanted bushes.  11 hours of direct sun on my poor head.

Not screwing up my parents house and bringing to completion a project that they will enjoy for years to come.  Priceless.

If anyone is attempting a project like this in the future I would be willing to answer any questions you may have.

What a great way to beautify your garden this year than to build something like this.  It is worth the effort.

Hope you retain this blog post for future reference.

Get it?

25 thoughts on “The Retaining Wall Project

  1. Looks great Paul! I’m sure Mom loved it too! You probably could have gotten away with it for Mother’s AND Father’s Day. It’s super nice!

  2. Garden Guru to Retaining Wall Guru, Nice! I bet your Dad loves it! What a great present too! Your work is awesome! I guess everyone has the “bug” to build a wall this year – can you peek at the one I just built? (would love your thoughts) http://www.nikitaland.wordpress.com

    Also, can you share with us an update on your tiered garden bed and how your plants are coming along? I am dying to see the updated photographs! Thanks! Keep up the good work!

  3. Bravo! I am sure once the pain subsides you will revel in the beauty of the project. Nice that your family was able to help in so many ways.

      • I’ve been doing yard work this week in preparation for planting in a few weeks. One project was just putting a (single!) row of bricks around a small bed in my back yard (probably about 15 feet). It felt like I moved a mountain when I was done ;) so I feel like I have a point of reference when I saw your post. It really does look professional :) your dad is probably so proud! ;)

      • Maybe I should start up a side business?
        Nah, as you now know, it is hard work. I don’t think I could take it. I definitely respect the people that do this every day for a living.

  4. That is very impressive – great work! I think it helps when you commit to getting it all done in a limited time period – we were nearly dead by the end of our “Build a Patio In a Day” project, but its better that coming back to it when you are still aching!

  5. Pingback: Minimalism Vs Self-sufficiency « Under the Mango Tree

  6. Gorgeous wall! What a great Father’s Day present, not only did you make a wall, but you made beautiful memories with your family.

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