Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How I Disguised An Ugly Concrete Retaining Wall In My Backyard

When we built our home 8 years ago we had a concrete retaining wall poured when the basement walls went up.  I always had plans for that wall (anyone who knows me knows I can't just leave it a plain concrete retaining wall, that would be a crime).  It took me nearly 6 years, probably closer to 7 to get to it, but plans none the less.

Here's a look at my wall before I got started:

This was a work in progress,  I began by adding trees with a vertical concrete mix that I have used for other carving projects (here's my first retaining wall project with the mix) and I did a scratch coat for some rocks, I changed my mind on the rocks and never finished them.  When I say work in progress I'm not kidding.  I think it sat like this for a couple years before I got back to it again.

I chose slate tile because I love all the color variations, 12 x 12's to save some money and then cut them down into 3" x 12" rectangles to give it a little more of a linear look.  The slate will represent my water.  This was a very, very slow process.  Normally when I lay tile I figure out where my first full tile starts on the wall and place a board at that spot and tile on the board, giving it some support, then come back and do the bottom row (the one under the board) later.  I didn't want holes in the wall (and my bottom row wasn't going to be straight anyhow) so I just started putting up the lowest row, allowing it to dry a little before adding another tile.  I could only go a couple high and had to move on, sometimes not even that since I didn't have any support underneath.  I did manage to get most of the bottom row done in one day so that on day two I could come back in, finish off the bottom row and really go to town getting the rest of the tile up.

The water is not completely done here but pretty close:

 Once I got the water in, I moved on to the greenery for the trees!  I found an inexpensive mosaic glass tile at Home Depot with a variety of green, blue and white tiles.  Perfect!  I cut it into odd shapes, trying to keep it going in a linear fashion and lathered it up, sticking it on the wall sporadically, cleaning up excess mortar as I went.

 I grouted everything (grey grout for the water and white for the greenery) and then went back in with the white to apply some sky and give it a polished look.  This was really easy, like icing a cake.  The grout allowed you to leave lots of texture and pattern in it, really love how it turned out.  I plan to add some plantings along the wall at the base so I could have just left the bottom but it seemed unfinished so I went in with mortar and gave the area under the "water" a nice, evenly spread finish (with grey mortar this time).

 Here's some close-ups.  I also sealed it.  Don't want water getting in and destroying it.  Eventually, with our freeze/thaw cycles, I'm sure I'll have some problems and when I do, I'll just go in and fix it, makes for an interesting, ever-evolving project.

This was my last large project in the landscaping around here.  Last year flew by and I had trouble finding time to maintain  my gardens much less add anything new.  I still have friends saving glass bottles for a fence of some kind and plastic water bottles for a kid's playhouse in the woods.  I really can't wait to get to those projects.  I also have a walkway planned that I would love to get to this year.  Now, if you've followed along with my landscaping adventures you know that to-do list is really the exact same list I've had for a couple years now.  Maybe, just maybe, I can get something accomplished this time.  Weirder things have happened!

What are you working on for this season, anything fun?


  1. First off, Amazing images. These images show what you can do with a piece of property that looks really desolate all by itself. The extra plants and designs give it a much more appealing and welcoming look. While the first image makes it look a little on the scary side. The more recent images make it look like an attraction.

    Kendra Tran @ LECO Concrete Forms & Supply

  2. Amazing work, Margot! This sure got me the idea of having the boring parts of my house remodelled like this! I'm also a decorative concrete contractor, and this post made me think of other ways to better use the different applications and products that we offer in my company. Great Read!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, it was a fun project. Glad you were inspired and it got you thinking.

  3. Allow our locally owned and operated landscaping company to assist you with all of your landscaping needs. If you want to fully install the yard of your dreams redi mix concrete

  4. Thank you for the inspiration. This article is very helpful and informative. You can also use water blsater to help you cleaning faster.


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