Article : LCDBM September 2011 Hardscapes: Retaining Walls Transform an Outdoor Space

Retaining Walls Transform an Outdoor Space

By Lindsay Houts, consultant to Pavestone Company

The top tier of the retaining wall (far left) was staggered to create visual interest. The landscaping in the retaining wall was an opportunity to break up the hard, horizontal lines of the pavers. Front, a colocasia illustrus, Rhythm & Blues wave petunia in purple; middle, a green giant is surrounded by cascading petunias; rear, more Rhythm & Blues petunias surround ornamental grass. Photos courtesy of Pavestone Company

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When the Kobel family of Waleska, Georgia called Brad Smith and the team at North Georgia Earth Solutions, they wanted a quote to remove some cross-tie retaining walls from their property located on Lake Arrowhead.

As featured on PBS's GardenSmart, the original project was small: the homeowners wanted some cross-tie walls removed from their property and replaced with a more sustainable solution. Smith and his team put together a bid for a modular block retaining wall and went to work, but the Georgia job quickly outgrew even Smith's greatest expectations. After the first walls were installed, the Kobels were so pleased that they planned other projects including: electing to remove additional sets of cross-ties along the long, sloping entrance to their home; widening their driveway to twice it's original size; excavating land to create more parking; and building a three-tiered retaining wall to create more usable space on their property. The relatively simple original project had developed into a vision for a complete outdoor remodel.

1,400 square feet of Venetian Stone™ Tumbled in Chattanooga Sandstone and a Plaza IV Circle pack in Mocha were installed at the entryway to the home. Both complement the existing stone pillars at the front of the home.

Cross-tie Walls

The ignition for the project at this Georgia residence was cross-tie walls that needed to be replaced. Railroad ties have been used as retaining wall solutions for years, but not without trouble. The chemical that the ties are coated in for waterproofing - creosote - is toxic. The ties tend to absorb water and because of that they freeze and thaw, expand and contract, and usually last only 7-10 years before needing to be replaced.

In place of the cross-tie retaining walls, North Georgia Earth Solutions installed a modular block system: Pavestone's Anchor™ Diamond Pro Stone Cut(R) Series 3-PC Combo. Despite a larger initial investment, modular block retaining walls last 5-10 times as long as cross-tie walls, aren't coated in harmful chemicals and have drainage systems built into guarantee the staying-power of the wall.

After the first walls were completed, the project expanded to replace the cross-tie retaining walls running down the steep driveway. The homeowners decided to widen the driveway and create additional parking space to better accommodate their frequent entertaining. Rather than incurring an additional expense by hauling out truckloads of earth, the dirt that was excavated was built up behind the home into a three-tiered retaining wall using a modular wall system similar the first project. Ultimately, more than 5,000 square feet of modular block retaining wall was installed onto the property.

More than 5,000 square feet of Pavestone's Anchor™ Diamond Pro Stone Cut(R) Series 3-PC Combo was installed into this lakefront residence, completely transforming their landscape. The modular block in this series is Rock Blend, a pewter/sandstone blend. The 3-PC Combo block sizes are 18 inches, 11 inches and 7 inches in length respectively, allowing for the wall to have a non-uniform appearance.

Driveway Challenges

Widening the driveway at the home proved to be a challenge because of the slope. Smith and his team called in an engineer to work out the logistics of the more than 75 yards of concrete that would be poured. At the base of the concrete drive, the entryway to the home was redesigned using concrete pavers.

Smith and his team installed 1,400 square feet of Pavestone's Venetian Stone™ Tumbled in Chattanooga Sandstone with a Plaza IV Circle pack in Mocha. The pavers were sealed with SEAL'nLOCK's Super Wet, a user-friendly and environmentally safe water-based pure urethane sealer that penetrate pavers and provides a protective barrier over pavers to produce a clean, wet look. The pavers transformed the base of the driveway into a grand entryway and focal point for the front of the home.

The modular block used in the retaining wall installation is filled with gravel to allow water to run through. Four-inch pipe was installed at the base of all of the retaining walls with outlets every 30 feet for proper drainage.

New Landscaping

Not limiting themselves to just the installation of pavers and retaining walls, the Georgia residence was in dire need of new landscaping, particularly because of the newly created space. Having landscaped more than 1,500 spaces in her career, Landscape Architect Pamela Crawford saw the space at the Kobel's home as large but completely manageable. For the three-tiered wall in the back, Crawford used large containers as focal points.

''I needed strong vertical accents, the reason being, we had this long, horizontal, ribbon-like wall, so to break it up I used very tall accents that were also in scale with the wall itself,'' Crawford said. ''It's really important for homeowners to trust [a landscape architect's] visual instinct.''

Using a variety of plants and shrubs, Crawford ensured year-round blooms and greenery on each level of the retaining walls on the back of the property and in the beds surrounding the home and entryway, something the homeowners had wanted. Drip irrigation was installed throughout the tiers and the front of the property to ensure the ease of irrigation, as well as rain sensors to prevent over-watering.

This Lake Arrowhead project was a true marriage of many elements that come to play in outdoor, residential landscape architecture. With nearly 6,500 square feet of paver products installed, 75 yards of concrete poured and countless plants, shrubs and greeneries planted, this residence is hardly recognizable when compared to its previous self. The home's exterior was brilliantly redesigned to create usable space and together, the elements truly created a beautiful space - one that the contractors are proud of, and that the homeowners are at happy to be at home in.

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June 28, 2016, 11:46 pm EST

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