Gabions have been around since the late 16th century and were initially used as round cylinders filled with rock to protect field artillery. Nowadays, gabions filled with rock, concrete or sometimes sand/soil can be used in a number of different ways, such as spatial definition and as retaining walls. Simple in construction, gabions are basically wire baskets or cages filled with local materials. We first came across gabions as a landscape feature in Denmark and Sweden, where they were filled with local stone and even firewood. Gabion walls are no longer used for commercial use alone, there are more backyard ideas for gabion walls and designs than ever before.
We used these pictures as inspiration to use gabions in our own backyard!
The slope and elevation change in our backyard has always been a major challenge. There is about 8’ of change from the back of the house and screened in pool down to the conservation area. Mowing the grass (weeds) on the side of the slope was a major pain and quite honestly, dangerous! Dean has always wanted to remove as much grass in the backyard as possible because of the hillside since he and our son were the ones that were doing the mowing! With 8’ of grade change, we designed a series of retaining walls that would eliminate the slope, provide a walkway from the fire pit and eliminate the need for grass (mowing!). The top walls were dry laid retaining walls constructed out of recycled concrete sidewalk and leveled out the top 4’ of the grade change. The lower 4’ was made level by installing a gabion retaining wall.
Gabions are very simple in construction and you can either use a manufactured gabion basket or be creative using some easy to find items. We chose to be creative! After hand digging out the backside of the slope to create the level walkway that will be behind the top of the wall, Dean created the gabion basket by using 3 sections of 48” tall by 16’ long , welded, galvanized sheet/goat feedlot panels bought at a local farm supply store. One of the panels on the front and one on the back with a 2’ wide cut section of panel to create the ends of the basket. The baskets were held in place by using ½” rebar set into a 6” gravel base and tied together with galvanized wire. Landscape fabric was fastened to the back of the gabion wall so that the soil wouldn’t wash into the back of the gabion wall. After the gabion baskets were placed, a lower retaining wall of 6”x6” timbers was constructed to be used as the vegetable garden.
Now, the fun begins! This is what we started with…
We wanted to match the existing retaining wall material and decided to fill the baskets with recycled, sidewalk concrete. One of the great things about gabions is that you can fill them with any locally sourced stone and Dean calculated that it would take about 24 tons of recycled concrete to fill the baskets! We filled the baskets with the concrete in 3 (8 tons each) truckload deliveries and on 1 of the loads enlisted (paid) 4 teenage helpers, our son and 3 friends. Needless to say after the first 8 tons of loading and wheel barrowing recycled concrete into the backyard, they weren’t all that interested in volunteering for the next load even if they were getting paid!
Over the next weekend, we finished layering the stone into the last basket and the gabion construction was complete! Now, all that was left was to backfill the gabions on the backside, creating the walkway and construct the steps that would lead down to the veggie garden. Dean put in a 12” wide band of gravel backfill up against the landscape fabric for drainage and used the excavated soil to level off the walkway between the rain garden and the gabion retaining wall. A top layer of crushed, recycled concrete was used to complete the walkway from the fire pit area and the veggie garden below was leveled for planting.
Level of Difficulty: Advanced
While this particular project was pretty intense, gabions can easily be constructed in your backyard and there are some great resources to get your creative juices flowing. Online sources such as Gabion Supply provide a lot of DIY information in addition to standard gabion basket packages for purchase. We would love to include more gabions in our landscape and will continue to keep working them into our landscape Master Plan! Currently, Dean is proposing them for a client as spatial definition and design feature for a residential farmstead in Central Ohio. The farmstead will be using local granite boulders and will incorporate reclaimed lumber as bench tops sitting on top of the gabions.
Project Costs and Time
We know that all of you are interested in the particulars of projects and how long they take to complete, so here are the particulars:
Time to complete: A month of weekends (Excavation, Gabion Construction, Gabion Filling, Finish Work)
Gabion Material Costs for this project:
Feedlot Panels 7 @ $70 ea. = $490
Recycled Concrete 24 tons @ $20 per ton = $480
Concrete Delivery 3 @ $75 ea. = $225
Miscellaneous (rebar, landscape fabric, wire, etc.) $100
Total Project Costs $1295
Hopefully, this will inspire you to look at the latest landscape trends and try to incorporate them into your own backyard! Take a look at some more inspiration for backyard ideas for gabion walls.