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40 Retaining wall ideas for your garden – material ideas, tips and designs

By Elise Hodge

Updated: May 4th, 2020

A practical solution that can add a whole lot of character to your outdoor space!

When you think about landscaping, the last thing that probably comes to mind are retaining walls. But they are the unsung hero of outdoor design, working quietly in the background to fulfil a very important job – keeping your garden gorgeous. Sure they do the heavy lifting but rather than dismiss them as an ugly must-have, you might just want to change your backyard landscaping plans after you’re inspired by these retaining wall ideas.

So what does a retaining wall do? They often help to level out a garden by providing strength, prevent erosion, control rainwater runoff and create terraced levels for garden beds.

However, a retaining wall can also make a property look effortlessly sophisticated no matter what design style you’re working with. And the great thing is that there are so many options for every budget and taste!

Most common retaining wall materials:

  • Natural stone or boulders (rocks)
  • Cut stone
  • Sandstone
  • Concrete render
  • Concrete blocks that interlock
  • Timber e.g. treated pine or hardwood pine
  • Brick
  • Modular panelled walls
  • Gabion walls

Whether you prefer neutral colours like white, beige or grey, or whether you want to spruce up your outdoor area with timber, stackable grass walls or more, there’s bound to be something for you.

Building a retaining wall isn’t something that you should try to do by yourself because of the risks associated with stability. Always look to get the opinions of retaining wall experts.

Concrete retaining wall ideas

1. White concrete

You can’t go past a classic white, especially if you’re wanting to make your green grass stand out. This is a simple but elegant choice for any home, but it will look especially great with a coastal colour scheme of neutrals, blues and greens.

White retaining walls
Source: Three Birds Renovations

2. Smooth concrete

If you’re after something more modern, then you simply cannot go past smooth concrete. This choice will give your home the edge you desire. It’s also a blank canvas, so you can add as much greenery or flowers as you like, to make it your own garden oasis. The great thing about retaining walls is that you can use them to create green spaces for flower beds or even ponds. Get the creative juices flowing with a space you love.

Concrete wall
Source: Of Design

3. Shotcrete rock face

You may not have heard of this term before but shotcrete is simply a word to describe sprayed concrete. This is a great material to use for your retaining wall, as it comes in a wide array of colours, from the standard grey to warm sandstone, to clay colours, which can create a natural ‘rock’ look. Of course, if you want to go out of the box, you can always choose a bold colour or even a soft pastel for a Palm Springs vibe.

Shotcrete rock face
Source: Modular Walls

4. Concrete blocks

This is a bold choice if you need a strong solution. Use this style of retaining wall to prevent erosion on a large property. When it comes to larger-scale projects like this, they can easily look like an eyesore. Prevent this from happening by incorporating levels and greenery to add a touch of nature.

Concrete blocks
Source: Informed Infrastructure

Stone retaining walls

5. Cut stone

Stone walls not only look great but they are also functional. This kind of wall gives you the opportunity to incorporate different types of stones to suit your style. And the good thing is that it’s long lasting, so you don’t have to worry about updating it regularly.

Stone retaining wall
Source: Bennington Banner
Don’t forget to check with the local authorities for your retaining wall height restrictions.

6. Round rocks

Add texture and shapes to your backyard by using round rocks to make your retaining wall. Use these to support steps, garden beds and other features.

Round rocks
Source: Vande Heys

7. Sandstone

This is a classic choice for a more formal retaining wall. It’s not only practical, but it also serves as a feature piece in your backyard, front yard or wherever you use it.

Sandstone retaining wall
Source: Stone and Landscapes

8. Grey blocks

Create steps up to your home with traditional grey stone blocks. This retaining wall is not only a practical solution, but it will make a pretty impressive entry to your house.

Grey retaining wall blocks
Source: Techo Bloc

9. Large rocks

Forget the small rocks – make a bold statement with rough, unstructured large rocks. This is a natural choice that will blend in with your outdoor environment.

Source: Tropiscapes Landscaping

10. Stone veneer

If you’re on a budget but want to create something that looks more luxurious, why not consider a stone veneer? This type of retaining wall uses stone over the top of other foundational materials like brick to create a stunning wall that won’t break the bank!

Stone veneer
Source: Landscaping Network

Timber retaining walls

11. Timber

If you’re looking for something nice and sleek, a treated timber retaining wall might be the choice for you. However, timber may not be the best choice if longevity is your aim. Naturally durable types of hardwood timber include tallowwood ironbark, grey gum and forest red gum. They are naturally resistant to termites and will last for up to 25 years.

Source: Family Handyman

12. Timber sleepers

Go old school with a rustic retaining wall. When it comes to achieving this look, you will want to use older pieces of treated timber or timber that has been stained or sanded to add character. This is a great option for any home but especially for a country-style house.

Rustic fence
Source: Mirimichi Green

Brick retaining walls

13. White brick

Keeping with the neutrals theme is white brick. This is a good option if you’re wanting to add a little detail but still keep your colour palette simple and tasteful.

White brick
Source: Three Birds Renovations

14. Red brick wall

You simply cannot go past a classic red brick retaining wall. Use white grout to really make the bricks stand out. This will work in any area of your home – be it the front entrance, the back porch, your garden or a feature area. Complement with lots of greenery for a striking look.

Red brick retaining wall
Source: Alliance Landscape Group
Thinking about hiring a professional to take care of it? Check out our guide about how to build a retaining wall to make sure you’re well informed when getting the right quote for your garden.

Gabion wall

15. Gabion wire wall

Gabion baskets offer an affordable, unique and sustainable retaining solution. But keep in mind, they can take up a large amount of space on your land, so they may be more appropriate for big backyards or commercial spaces.

Source: Profence

16. Gabion basket green wall

This nifty design combines the natural, vertical garden trend with the high-performance retaining functions of gabion baskets, and the results are beautiful!

Gabion green wall
Source: Modular Walls

17. Modular retaining wall

This is a really great cost-effective option when you want something that is easy to install and still looks great.

Source: Modular Walls

Now for some out-of-the-box ideas

18. Multi-level terrace

Terrace retaining walls provide strength and prevent soil from eroding when wind or rain comes. They’re not only practical, but they also allow you to create a beautiful garden on what would otherwise be a very slippery slope down to the pool! Use retaining walls to create tiered sections filled with your favourite outdoor plants and greenery.

Landscaped retaining terrace
Source: Mirimichi Green

19. Mixed materials

You don’t necessarily have to add the same wall material throughout the whole garden. Try mixing a variety of colours and materials for something a little more modern.

Source: Harrisons Landscaping

20. Curved

Add detailing to your yard with curved retaining walls. These are especially helpful for creating raised garden beds. Simply create your brick or stone retaining wall in the shape you would like your garden to flow, and then fill it in with mulch and your favourite colourful flowers.

Source: Tropiscapes Landscaping

21. Add steps

You can even use retaining walls to create a feature seating area. This can help elevate your outdoor setting so that you have a lovely view of the garden. It also creates a special place to spend time with family and friends in the evening over a meal and glass of wine.

Source: Homes to Love

22. Sloping timber wall

If your property is on a hill or has an awkward border, use timber retaining walls to keep it all together. If you need a little more support in some areas, set the timber on top of a foundation of stone. This will make for a lovely retaining wall that will only add to your home’s charm.

Sloping timber wall
Source: Seattle Retaining Walls

23. Add lighting

Make a retaining wall even more practical by adding warm LED lights into the structure. These will not only light your path home at night but will also create ambience.

Add lighting
Source: Vande Heys

24. Or add an outdoor kitchen

This is perhaps my favourite idea to incorporate an outdoor kitchen as part of a retaining wall.

Source: Harrisons Landscaping

25. Include a water feature

If you’ve got the space, why not incorporate something a little bit out of the box like a fancy water feature? This is a calming feature to have in your front or backyard that will make for a peaceful oasis on a stressful day. You can also add goldfish to add some colour and life to your pond.

Source: BHG

26. Turn it into a vertical planter

Forget boring, turn your retaining wall into a vertical planter by adding succulents into the gaps between the stones. The great thing about succulents is that they multiply, so you have the option of growing your greenery into a pretty impressive natural feature wall!

Vertical planter
Source: Piece of Eden

27. Include bench seating

Don’t waste any space! Make the most of your sturdy retaining wall by incorporating a place to sit. A seat works especially well over the top of retaining walls that have been used for garden edging. You’ll no longer have to gaze at your flowers from afar but can enjoy your garden from your own little haven.

Bench seating
Source: Home Edit

It’s not always easy to put in a seat though, so look to hire a professional garden seat installer.

28. Black colour

Make a statement with a black retaining wall. This looks especially great with outdoor plants like fiddle leaf figs. While this may not be a common choice, I honestly think it’s one of my favourites! If you’re into modern styling, then this is the perfect choice for you home.

Black retaining wall
Source: Boral

29. Climbing roses

Speaking of gardens, why not add flowers to your retaining walls? Let nature run its course by adding climbing plants like roses. Just make sure you give them enough water and TLC, and before you know it you’ll have a gorgeous rose wall that not only looks beautiful but smells great too!

Climbing roses
Source: The Spruce

30. Firepit feature

There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting around a warm fire pit on a cold winter’s evening. If you can integrate a fire pit into your retaining wall design, then you’ve hit the jackpot! Simply use the same stones, bricks or concrete as you used for your wall to create a seamless design.

Fire pit
Source: Complete Hardscapes

31. Living wall

But you don’t have to be contained to just one type of flower or plant. Create a huge living wall by combining a mix of succulents, climbing flowers and more. And you don’t have to stop there. When it comes to this design, the rule is that if you can plant it outdoors, you can grow it in your wall. So you could even consider herbs as well! Just make sure you take good care of your plants so they flourish!

Living wall
Source: Midwest Block & Brick

32. Flower bed

One of the most common uses of a retaining wall is to hold together flowerbeds. While this is a practical solution, you can also do it with style. Choose a building material that suits the exterior of your house and then select flowers that will further complement your design.

Source: Onechitecture

33. Pony wall

Pony walls are low barriers that allow you to see over them and into the garden. The term came from the days when you needed a wall high enough to keep livestock out of the garden without blocking the view.

Although you may not need them to serve that particular function, pony walls are still useful today! They can serve as built-in seating and backdrops to plants.

Pony wall
Source: Gardenista

34. Fireplace

There’s nothing more lovely than sitting around a fire with good friends, a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Make this a reality for your home by incorporating a fireplace in your outdoor space. If you have an existing retaining wall, you might even be able to adjust it to ad in a fireplace. Alternatively, create it from scratch using the sturdy stones. You’ll be grateful once winter comes around!

Fireplace retaining wall
Source: Houzz

35. Metal sheet

This isn’t a very common material choice but it can be pretty effective! Metal sheet is perfect to add a touch of industrial style to the exterior of your home. And it’s pretty versatile too! You can use metal sheeting for a modern home to create a consistent theme, or you could use it to provide some contrast for a traditional brick or sandstone home.

Copper retaining wall
Source: Houzz

36. White and natural

Shake up your style with a mix of white and natural. Achieve this look by leaving some of your bricks as they are and adding a sweeping of white paint to others. You can either do this before you put the retaining wall together or, alternatively, you can add the paint once the wall is all setup.

White and natural
Source: Houzz

37. Industrial

The mix of wood textures and geometric design of this front entrance creates a striking effect, with the oversized stud detailing giving the property a slightly industrial feel. The simple outdoor plants add a touch of nature and life to a space that may otherwise be devoid of nature and look to harsh. Overall, the mix of plants with industrial details creates a contemporary look.

Industrial retaining wall
Source: Modular Walls

38. Pool seating

Now this space is an entertainer’s dream! This gorgeous pool area incorporates layers in the retaining walls so there’s room for garden beds and extra seating around the pool. What a smart use of a retaining wall!

Pool seating
Source: Modular Walls

39. Raised planter bed

If you’re the kind of person who loves growing your own fruit, veggies and herbs, then this is the option for you. Create beautiful planters boxes with timber retaining walls. From there, you can add in all of the plants that you desire – just don’t forget to water them!

Raised planter bed
Source: Woodblocx

If planting isn’t your thing, there are plenty of people near you who can help. Find a garden planter near you.

40. Cubbyhouse

Make it kid-friendly and maximise your family space by integrating a cubbyhouse with your retaining wall.

Source: Home Beautiful

So what will a retaining wall set you back? It really depends on your individual garden landscaping but we’ve put a helpful price guide together about how much a retaining wall costs.

Whichever style you choose for your retaining wall, you can be sure it’ll be a practical addition to your home. Don’t be afraid to choose something a little bit out of the box or to use retaining walls to create feature pieces for your outdoor area. And if you have any other ideas, I would love it if you could share them with me in the comments.


Elise H

I've recently moved into a new home and I've been having so much fun decorating it with pretty wall prints and Scandinavian-inspired furniture. So as well as being a freelance writer, I'm always on the lookout for new design pieces for my home!

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