Retaining Wall Blues
May 30, 2014 5:31 AM   Subscribe

We have an unsightly retaining wall in our backyard. I'd love to here your ideas on how to improve the appearance or make it a bit more comely.

I am spending more and more time in our backyard and would be interested in your thoughts (big suggestions or small!) My wife doesn't mind as much as it reminds her of Greece, it reminds me a prison yard. Looking for insight on how to improve the aesthetics and with a lil ACEness on the way...make it a more kid friendly.

Image for reference.

posted by ACEness to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Image link is not working.
posted by Brockles at 5:32 AM on May 30, 2014

That's embarrassing. Actual image should be below.
posted by ACEness at 5:35 AM on May 30, 2014

Looks like you need some plants, possibly growing on trellises erected in front of the wall. How much sun does it get?
posted by jon1270 at 5:39 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is what immediately came to mind for me:
posted by Nothing at 5:39 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

lots of options.

You could plant shrubs in front. You could put some trellis in front of it and grow vines or even an espaliered tree if you get enough sun

you could also sheath it in something a bit less stark.
posted by JPD at 5:40 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd repaint it first, then perhaps do a trompe l'oile, give it some character, and also give you something to look at in the winter months.

Climbing plants would be an addition to it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:48 AM on May 30, 2014

Paint? Something graphic and not too in-your-face, as shown?
posted by kmennie at 5:48 AM on May 30, 2014

Espalier? And more examples... (scroll down)
posted by dozo at 6:08 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

What you need is a fountain... a lion fountain!
posted by Poldo at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about a cinderblock planter wall. Just a smaller version sitting in front of your wall might look nice.
posted by General Tonic at 6:26 AM on May 30, 2014

The whole thing is a feature, not a bug. It's going to set off whatever you put in front of it amazingly.

I think you need some flowering vines that spill over from the top, some vertical pointy evergreens coming up from the bottom, and something like some nice fluffy hostas to fill in, and a bench to sit on near it.

What, exactly, depends on your climate and zone. There's a maxim for container gardening--a thriller, a filler, and a spiller--that's what you want here. And go big!

It'll be nice, trust me!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

make it a more kid friendly.

Hmm....sorry, I missed that part. It's hard to make a concrete wall super kid friendly, unless you make it into a climbing wall (which isn't a bad idea, though a few years away.)

I'd offer the idea that parenting is a tough chore and a peaceful space to relax is kid-friendly by extension, in that it leads to less frazzled parents. But then again, I just like that wall.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:30 AM on May 30, 2014

I was going to chime in with the cinderblock planter wall idea as well. Here's a tutorial from Apartment Therapy.

You could also paint it and make it into a seating area. This image I found on pinterest is certainly inspiring to me.

Either way, I'd powerwash it or clean it up. That alone will make you happier.
posted by missmerrymack at 6:43 AM on May 30, 2014

"Kid friendly" just jumped out at me with a brainstorm of an idea: that wall is going to be the art/doodling surface of your kid's DREAMS.

Split the wall up into a couple sections, all running vertically, depending on how many of the following ideas you want to implement. At the foot of each section, have a little box for the tools you'll need for that section. For example -

* Leave one section blank. Leave a box with a set of paints and brushes under that section. The kid can paint whatever the hell s/he wants on that section.

* Or - leave one section blank, except for a few pre-painted trompe d'oiell "frames". The kid can paint their "masterpiece" inside the frames.

* Cover one section with chalkboard paint. Leave a box of sidewalk chalk at the base of that section. The kid can draw on it with the sidewalk chalk.

The only other idea I have is to cover the whole thing with some kind of fabric, or get a bunch of boards and make sort of fake wood panelling. But I'm liking the "surfacing it so the kid has a place where they are ALLOWED to draw on the wall" idea a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd paint some crazy mural on it or have a graffiti wall like what Nothing links to.

You could combine something like this with the planter idea and make A JUNGLE FULL OF DINOSAURS.

Oh god, now I really need a house with a retaining wall in the back yard.

Nothing more kid-friendly than a friggin dinosaur jungle.
posted by phunniemee at 6:48 AM on May 30, 2014

Clean the wall, paint it a fun bright color and then build one or two of these rolling planters to sit in front of it. Fill them with flowering vines to further screen off the wall behind.

These planters are on casters which give you options for rearranging/moving them as your use of the backyard changes while your kid grows up.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:53 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it would be beautiful in a nice shade of teal. Powerwash, prime, then paint!
Then maybe some planters and seating.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with the mural suggestions, if you have any artist friends who could design and help. A true trompe l'oeil is fiendishly difficult to carry out. I'd go for something modern and abstract, in earth tones. If it were me, I'd hire Scot Borofsky, who does great wall work.
posted by beagle at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2014

A friend with a similar wall tiled it with large, slate tiles and it looks gorgeous.
posted by quince at 7:28 AM on May 30, 2014

Mural! Something colorful and bright might appeal to your kids, something neutral and subdued would blend better with the flora. Agreed this is a feature, not a bug--it has great potential.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2014

I just turned a similarly ugly garage wall into a graffiti wall and everyone who comes to my house is required to sign it. People love it, especially the kids.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

All of these ideas are good, but as an engineer, I thought I would just chime to say-whatever you end up with, don't block the drain holes. Its that little round opening in the bottom of the wall in your picture. Retaining walls almost always fail due to water building up behind the wall and causing an increase in hydrostatic pressure. That little drain hole is what keeps that from happening.
posted by bartonlong at 10:28 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

You might look at going with something along the lines of a row of arborvitae. Depending on your budget you can buy them pretty cheaply as small plants and wait a few years for them to grow in, or spend more money up front to get larger ones.
posted by dabug at 11:27 AM on May 30, 2014

A friend of mine in Brooklyn had a garden with an ugly back fence. She hung a lot of thrift-store mirrors on it and now it looks wonderful.
posted by jcrcarter at 12:28 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm with everyone who says it's a feature not a bug. Embrace the space! Look at these and envision what some paint can do with your wall. A seating area, a huge olive jar, a couple of Italian cypress...Have some fun with it. Also there many exciting ideas here in comments. Fabulous empty canvas and outdoor room.
posted by Anitanola at 8:31 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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