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Rejected options for the garden

I mentioned the other day that I want to sort out my garden. I thought I’d blog here about the ideas that Chris and I thought about and rejected. I’ll leave the current candidate solution for another time.

As David A. pointed out in the comments to the previous post, the slope is intrinsically unstable – that is, it is steeper than the critical angle for soil. Even if I hadn’t known the theory from studying soil mechanics at college, there is empirical evidence on a regular basis – in the form of a sad heap of slabs and soil after a rainstorm. So somehow it needs to be fixed in place.

The first idea that Chris and I had was to buy hundreds, or more probably a few thousand, L-shaped steel rods, with the long side around 30cm and the short side maybe 15cm. These would then be driven into the bank behind each slab, holding it in place. When we discussed this with a landscape gardener, we came up with several objections. Firstly, it would be very labour-intensive, as each slab would need individually fixing to the underlying rock, probably involving drilling into the underlying granite. Then again, we don’t actually know how close the granite is to the surface, and hence how long the tie-rods would need to be. And then, even after all that work was done, it would look exactly as it does now – i.e. ugly, leaving me still with a major problem to find anything to grow in it. Rejected on grounds of aesthetics.

My next idea, and what I still would really want in an ideal world, is a proper retaining wall built of Malvern stone, to match the house. There were several objections to that. Firstly, it isn’t possible to get large quantities of Malvern stone any more as there is no longer any quarrying on the hills. You can however get something similar from the Forest of Dean, which is what we used for our extension, so that would be acceptable. I got a local stone mason, who is an expert on building Malvern stone retaining walls, to give me a quote. It would be a huge job. The slabs would all have to be removed, and first a breeze-block retaining wall built, with proper foundations. Then that would be faced with the stone. The chap came round, sucked his teeth, did some measurements, and came out with an absolutely unaffordable quote just for the lower terrace. He didn’t even bother to quote for the upper terrace. Rejected, on grounds of price.

The next idea that Chris and I considered was one that David A. mentioned in his comment. That is something called gabion baskets. These are wire mesh cubes  (think industrial-strength chicken-wire) ranging in size from around 60cm to 100cm on a side. You fill them with crushed rock/rubble, and they can be used for building sturdy, if ugly, retaining walls. In fact, my neighbour over the road has some, forming a retaining wall next to the road. But that is a relatively small wall, and well away from her house, and barely visible. Not a 4m high wall directly outside the kitchen window, as mine would be. The idea would be to grow climbers up the mesh to hide it, though I am sure that weeds would take root too and be hard to exterminate. There are three problems with going this route. First, it was surprisingly expensive. Not as much as a stone wall, but still sit-down-and-take-a-deep-breath expensive. Secondly, it would take up a huge amount of space in the garden. The idea would be to place the gabions against the existing slabs to hold them in place. But that would take up about a metre of garden – and the path on the top of the first terrace would be completely obliterated by the gabions. Thirdly, it would be nearly as ugly as my current slabs.  Rejected on the triple grounds of price, taking up too much room, and aesthetics.

This was all happening last summer, with Chris getting sicker by the week, so I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth to spare to consider other options.  Hence the project got put on hold for a bit at that point – filed under “too difficult” – until I had more time and energy to address it.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Carol L | 25 May 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    They do something clever on motorway embankments sometimes which seems to involve a combination of rods (with discs at the top) pushed into membrane (through which you can still plant things). It’s a pig of a job in your garden, though. It is possible to make gabions look nicer if you stack the stone in them and choose pretty stone (a sort of dry stone wall with chicken wire support!). And I don’t think weeds take root unless there’s a fair amount of soil in the gabion too. At least, you see them all over and without stuff growing in them. Can’t wait to hear what the plan of choice is!