The ultimate guide to garden walls

Ned Browne

2020 has definitely been the year of the garden. For those lucky enough to have their own green space, it’s become a place to work, to relax and to host socially-distanced barbecues...

It’s also become one of the most important priorities for people looking to move.

Walled gardens hark back to medieval times, when they served to create a protected, sheltered plot to grow food. Back then, most were kitchen gardens, and many survive to this day—the one at Hampton Court dates back to 1689. 

 

 

Types of walls 

There are as many types of wall as there are varieties of brick. In fact, there’s more. Walls can be built from a single brick type or by using an assortment of different bricks. Flint is commonly used too, as are locally-sourced stones. Some are rendered, others aren’t. Some are painted, most aren’t. 

There are regional variations too, from the crinkle crankle wall in East Anglia—a serpentine single brick thick wall commonly used to provide protected areas for growing fruit trees—to the traditional dry stone wall well known in many parts of the British countryside, particularly the Yorkshire Dales, where there is estimated to be over 5,000 miles of dry stone walling. 

 

Building a garden wall 

Building a garden wall is disruptive, time-consuming and messy. It can also look quite ugly for a year or two. But garden walls are like fine wines—they get better with age. The bricks weather and the climbing plants climb. 

Before you get started, look online at pictures of garden walls. You will know when you see the right one. This is, of course, the easy part. Building a wall is hard work—I advise you to pay an expert to do this work. 

But, if you’re planning on building your own wall, the first job is to dig a trench for the foundations (or footing). The footing is a concrete slab that, in most settings, should be at least 150mm thick and at least 150mm below the ground level. It should also be 200mm wider than the wall (i.e. 100mm clearance in each direction). The first few courses of bricks will sit under the ground. Just above ground level there needs to be a Damp Proof Course (DPC), which is effectively an impermeable membrane that sits between two courses of bricks. Most walls are six foot or less. 

 

Garden walls last a lifetime 

If you live in your “forever” property, building a garden wall is definitely an option. Unlike a fence, it won’t blow over in the wind, nor will it deteriorate with age. And it should last a lifetime (or several lifetimes). 

However, if you think you may sell up at some point soon, you may well find you don’t get your money back. Building a wall can be an expensive business. 

 

Final touches 

As well as the more conventional climbing plants and wall-mounted planters, you can provide interest in a garden wall with a clock, a sundial or even a mirror.  

Outside garden mirrors, just like those indoors, can give the impression of additional light and space, and can also be used to hide any unsightly defects in an existing garden wall.  

 

An oasis 

A walled garden, however small, can provide an oasis for you and your loved ones. And, right now, isn’t that what we all need?  

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