Be it for a raised bed or a retaining wall, when it comes to materials for garden walling there is a lot more available to you then using just simple brick. That’s not to say brick walls aren’t good in the garden, they are, and it can be nice to use bricks that match your house wall, it’s just there are a lot of alternatives available to you, which might look better for your situation.


What’s the best type of material to use for a retaining wall?

Retaining walls do need to be strong, so it’s important whatever you choose has the strength to retain the soil behind it. If you want something very decorative, then you could have a block wall that actually retains the soil, and then put the decorative part of the wall attached at the front to the blocks.

You can also use timber for retaining walls, but it doesn’t have the lifespan of brick or stone walls, even if it’s pressure treated. Timber walls should last at least 15 to 20 years and are a much cheaper alternative to brick.

Timber walls – pressure treated, oak and painted sleepers

What type of wall should you use for a raised planter?

This will all depend upon the style of your garden and house. If you have a contemporary style, then rendered blocks can look really good. There are renders available these days that don’t require you to ever paint them because the colour is already in the render, and this cuts down on the maintenance.

Rendered block wall

Climate will also play a factor as to what type of wall you use, for example the tiles you see in the Mediterranean, will simply not work in frosty locations.

Consider using local stone and rock, as they can look really nice. If you create really straight edges, you can have local stone look very contemporary. If you want a more rustic feel, then use lots of different size stones and have them with not quite such defined straight edges.

Basically, the more perfect and straight edged the material is, the more contemporary it will look, the more uneven or rounded the material, the more rustic or traditional it will look.

Rock walling

How deep should your wall be?

It will depend upon how much soil the wall has to retain, and also if you are planning to sit on the wall. I like to have walls constructed that are at least 20 cm deep, which makes for a nice seat, especially if the wall is about 45 cm high.

I find the walls that are only one course of brick deep, always look a bit puny, even if they are low walls, so visually having a double course of brick, does look better, even if you don’t need it.

Stone walling

It is important to waterproof behind the wall

Water proof behind the wall to prevent the soil from staining the front

Having a waterproof lining on the parts of the wall that are touching soil, is essential. This is especially the case with rendered walls, as it stops the water getting in behind the render and damaging it, and also staining it. There are special bitumen paints that you can use, or plastic sheeting etc, anything really that will protect the wall from having contact with the soil is beneficial.

How to correctly position retaining walls

Whenever you put a wall in a garden, no matter how low it is, your eyes will immediately come to a full stop at the wall. Even if there is a large area of garden behind the wall, your eyes will still stop at the wall. Therefore it’s really important that any steps that you are going to put in to get to the next level line up with the main windows or doors that you use. Steps will automatically lead your eyes from the lower level to the upper level of the garden.

Also, just because there is a change in level at a certain point down the garden, doesn’t mean that you have to have your retaining wall go straight the way across. You can curve or stagger the retaining wall to create more interest.

Comments or questions?

Leave them in the Facebook or website comment boxes below…

Want to see how a garden is planned to include raised wall planters?

If you’d like to see the planning process I use for incorporating walling take a look at this courtyard garden design video tutorial. I will warn you, it was one of my first ever videos – so you’re not allowed to laugh at the intro! ;o) Or if you are looking for help with your garden, look at these Online Garden Courses that I put together.

BUT do be warned, features and materials alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:



Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    6 replies to "Garden walls – How to choose the right style for your garden"

    • Alison Boocock

      Thanks for this info on Garden Walls, Rachel. I’m still trying to get hold of a builder to do my retaining wall (let down once again!) but I will be keeping your advice in mind!
      PS: Enjoyed your “first ever video” – and what a transformation to the garden!

      • Rachel Mathews

        Thanks Alison! Mmm good old builders, why is it always the way? You could always try a good landscaping company if you can’t get a builder. Glad you enjoyed my early attempt at video! 😉

    • Judith Johnstone

      thank you for your advice. We are in the process of having a retaining wall built to replace a collapsed stone wall and also to create a patio area . We have a steep garden and the wall is planned to rise in stages creating a sitting step then rising about 1m then stepped back agin to rise another 1/2 meter to the upper garden . Many builders walked away from the job but we have a couple doing the work at the moment. The problem is the clay bank keeps collapsing with the heavy rain we are having and I am really worried that the single block and render walls will not hold the bank back. Any advice?

    • Lana Sgd

      Hello Judith, I talked to Rachel and here what she said, "In Spain we have this issue a lot, so they build walls with pipes sticking out of them to allow ground water to take it’s natural course out of the wall. You can’t ever stop water going where it wants to go, so putting in drainage pipes at key intervals allows the water to drain without collapsing the wall.

      They also slope the walls backwards here, so I assume that makes a difference as the weight is leaning back and less susceptible to being pushed forwards.

      I agree that one course of blocks might not be enough – the best advice I can offer is to find a competent and trustworthy builder or landscaper with the necessary experience – it’s probably a blessing the first lot walked away!"

      Thank you and I hope this advice is helpful.

    • Vivian Black

      I am looking to put in a retaining wall for part of my front yard. It's good to know that brick or stone is better and longer-lasting than even pressure treated timber. Do you have any advice on how to find a good, reliable company to put in a retaining wall?

    • Jeff Marston

      Rachel, I love the idea to use render a few brick garden walls to add style to your home. I want to make my backyard a much more enjoyable sitting space for guests. I'm sure that some beautiful brick walls will help it to look much more organized.!renders–set-plasters/cxd5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.