Retaining Walls and Drainage

Garden Retaining Walls Hold Back The Earth (and look great)

A retaining wall is used to keep earth in place that may be on a steep bank (a common theme here in Wellington), allowing for a flat area on the other side. Typically, they are put in place to prevent soil erosion and the bank collapsing (which could be a costly fix), but they can also become a great feature.

One of the most important aspects of the wall is proper drainage. Poorly constructed, and your wall could end up under pressure. Without effective drainage, water can accumulate and will put a huge amount of strain on the wall causing it to bulge, crack or collapse. 

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9 Types of Garden Wall

Gravity Walls

Gravity retaining walls hold the land back with nothing but their own weight. Typically they are made from heavy materials such concrete or masonry blocks to resist the earth. Depending on the soil type and plant life you are looking for, the big thick cuts of stone can look great and naturally fit with a lot of garden types.  Gravity walls also have the advantage of being relatively easy and inexpensive to build compared with some of the other options mentioned below.

concrete gravity retaining wall
timber retaining wall nz

Timber Retaining Walls

Timber wall design is very common in New Zealand, and it can look great. It can be relatively low cost, simple to install and while it may not be as durable as some other materials, if properly constructed with treated wood, it should last for many years. Using timber boards or even logs can give your property a really natural and rustic feel. Of course, they are susceptible to rot and insect damage, so it is essential to make sure the planks you use are properly treated to survive in the outdoors. However, if you are looking for an eco-friendly addition to your house, timber is a great, sustainable choice.

Treated Pine

Often less expensive than other types of timber, treated pine is another popular option. It is a soft wood, easy to cut and shape, and readily available, and therefore often a popular choice if you are looking to DIY your project. It has a good lifespan when properly installed and maintained.

The “treated” part is obviously worth considering carefully if you are looking for an environmentally friendly option. The chemicals used to treat the boards can be harmful to the environment.

wooden retaining wall made from treated pine
poured concrete wall by a swimming pool


The main advantage of building a concrete retaining wall, is lifespan. In comparison to your timber retaining walls, the hard stuff is obviously going to outlast it. There is some excavation required during the building process so it can put the costs up, but depending on the vibe you are going for, cement and concrete can be a great choice and look brilliant. Think of leaning up against a wall warmed up by the sun, next to the pool tiles. It works. You won’t have to do much maintenance to look after it either.


A cantilevered retaining wall uses steel-reinforced concrete with a rigid horizontal beam (the cantilever) to support the weigh of the soil behind it. The distribution of weight is essential to ensure the strength of the structure. Properly built, they do provide excellent structural stability and can support large amounts of soil. They are highly durable and can easily withstand the Wellington weather conditions and can last for many years. They can also be designed to take less space, so if your garden is a bit tight, this could be a good option.

cantilever retaining wall in garden
Concrete retaining wall for garden

Stone clad

Stone clad walls provide a natural appearance which is pleasing to the eye. The stones can be natural or manufactured and are cut to interlock , creating a strong and durable wall. Little maintenance is requiras rot and insect damage is not a concern, however they obviously carry a lot of weight, so proper foundations and construction is essential. This is not a job for cowboys! While they are labour intensive (so can be costly), this style of wall can withstand extreme weather, stand the test of time, and look great!


A gabion wall is made from wire baskets filled rocks, stones and other materials. The baskets are often made from galvanised steel making them very strong and stable. They are quite cost effective due to the low cost of materials and ease of construction and provide excellent drainage as water can easily pass through the baskets. They are heavy-duty and long lasting, but can still look great in both residential and commercial environments.

They do require some maintenance to keep rust at bay, and to ensure the stones do not move around. A gabion retaining wall is not designed to be very tall, so if you are looking for height, this is not for you. Another downside to be aware of is they can become home to certain wildlife and insects which may not match your dream garden.

gabion rock wall
small brick retaining wall


If brick is your thing, then good on you! A great choice for many styles, a brick retaining wall creates a terraced garden feel, adds a great colour contrast to your green grass and they are highly durable. Typically made with reinforced concrete at the base, with the bricks laid on top, these structures are solid!

Bricks can be more expensive than other materials and the process of building is very labour intensive (the bricks are laid one row at a time). However, if you are going for a classic and elegant look that will stand the test of time, then brick is the trick. All in all you’re just another.

Timber Pole (Log Wall)

Created by driving poles vertically into the ground, with supporting horizontal beams, a timber pole retaining wall can look fab if you are going for a natural, rustic vibe, that blends well with the rest of your garden. Long lasting, strong and sturdy a classic log wall looks great in the right setting!

Installation can be a big job, and the logs themselves are likely to be more expensive than other timbers. They will also require regular sealing and maintenance. Apart from that, another great choice!

timber pole retaining wall design nz

Overwhelmed yet? Call the Landscape Wellington team today, we would love to help!

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