Introduction: Two-tier Dry Stack Garden Wall

This is our view for several months of the year.

So when spring and summer roll's all about the backyard for us.

We love working in the yard, and each year brings a new project. In fact, now that our kids are older and have busy schedules of their own, the yard has become "our vacation".

This year we took on a sloped hill next to our favorite sitting area. It was fairly naturalized and didn't offer much of a view...unless we had some hungry visitors (see above).

We've built short stacked stone walls in other areas of our yard, so Mr. D&D decided it was time to test our strength and cardiac output by building a two-tier garden wall.

Mr. D&D researched plenty of web tutorials, and this post describes the combined version that we came up with…as amateurs and hobbyists.

That said, there are also plenty of one-time stone walls near our house—some built by landscapers—that are now long, crumbled heaps of stone.

Step 1: Identify, Clear, and Prepare the Project Area.

Mr. D&D got busy stripping away the brush and weeds, while Mrs. D&D nearly exhausted herself supervising and taking photos.

Next, we decided where the walls would go and dug trenches for them that were about 6 - 8 inches deep.

We lined the trenches with landscape fabric; filled them with bags of drainage stone until they were fairly level with the ground; tamped down the stone using the foot/stomp method; and folded the fabric over.

Step 2: Sort the Puzzle Pieces

The stones looked so perfect on the pallets…like all we’d have to do is just take off a row and put it into place. Foolish earthlings…

We loaded the stones into a dump cart many, MANY, MANY times (while reminding ourselves, btw, that we technically might already be eligible for AARP cards) and hauled them into the area where we were working. There was much complaining under the hot July sun.

As we unloaded the stones, we sorted them into piles: large-area stones, chunky thick pieces, skinny shims, medium sizes, and stones we thought were too-small-to-use (hold that thought, because they turned out to be pretty important and useful).

There was barely room to walk to the work area…tripping hazards were everywhere! Spread out before us were dozens of pieces of a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, and the next step was to assemble them into a wall…or two.

We ended up using about two and a half pallets of stone for this project, but having extra stones to choose from was VERY helpful (as it minimized bickering and accusations of stone stealing :) )

Besides, there's always someplace to put extra stone.

(FYI, it's only fair to say that I did NOT introduce the puzzle analogy to pander to the current Puzzle Challenge...I legit have this section in the original post, which preceded the contest...which offers an iPad...which I don't own.)

Step 3: Run a Line Level and Start the First Course

We put stakes at each end (where possible) so that we could string line levels across the area.

These walls look so much nicer when they are somewhat level..."somewhat" being the operative word. Yards slope, ours does A LOT, and sometimes level isn't even possible.

But the guide string helps in selecting which rocks go where, and when a thicker one (or a stacked combination) might be needed.

Now we were ready to start stacking and building. We chose larger rocks with long edges to put in the front as our foundation stones, and filled in the back with other "puzzle pieces" of a similar thickness.

We placed them directly on top of the landscape fabric.

Although this is intended to be decorative, it is also a retaining wall, so we added vertical rocks every so often that are dug into the hill. Again, we're amateurs not engineers, but we think that will give us extra stability.

Step 4: Pea Gravel, Pea Gravel Pea Gravel

After we'd laid out the first row, we filled in the back, again, with smaller stones (and sometimes with several).

If they were bricks, they'd all have thicknesses that are nice and even. Nature makes rock differently. You have to level things out a bit before adding the next course.

We accomplished that by adding pea gravel. This was a new step for us, and I loved how much easier and more stable it made things.

Note the changes in the photos for this section. The first photo shows a pretty sizable rock in front. We added a few small rocks to the back, but they were nowhere near the thickness of the big rock in front.

So we added a layer of pea gravel.

And when that area was level, we added another smaller rock to the back, which fit perfectly.

Then we added more gravel to finish leveling it with the front rock (if you haven't figured it out yet, I use the words "stone" and "rock" interchangeably).

We also used them as a stabilizer and leveler between the rocks. See that big rock toward the bottom of the last photo?

Can you see how varied in depth the stone is? Much higher in the front than the back?

This is one of the tricky things about choosing which rocks go where. Some are vastly different on the left than they are on the right (or front and back) the puzzle isn't just which stones to put next to each other. It's also "what will get stacked on top of what"?

That's why I loved the pea gravel so much. It really helped address that problem and minimized wobbly layers (which would otherwise eventually shift without the gravel.)

Pea gravel, pea gravel, pea gravel! And then, on to the next layer :)

Step 5: Just Keep Building

As hobbyists, we started and stopped in sections and worked both rows at the same time. Sometimes we'd get a little frustrated by a problem area on the right, and go work on a section on the left. Again, it was like a big, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

Having the extra pallets gave us more stones from which to choose, which minimized problem solving. But you still have to work with the stone you have...and sometimes you just have to make them fit.

Sometimes, when a stone was almost right, we were able to chop off pieces using a hammer...which was also a big help. (Can't do THAT with a jigsaw puzzle!)

Remember when I complained about the tiny and small stones when we were sorting all the rocks by size (in Step 2)? Well, they turned out to be very useful: as shims on the front...and as filler in the back.

Some of the smaller, weirdly shaped, and/or super thick chunks were very helpful bolstering the stones against the hill.

Again, keep using the pea gravel between the stones and on them, as necessary, to level the layers.

Step 6: When It's at the Desired Height, Cap It

When we first sorted, we'd set aside a layer of larger flat stones to cap off the top (once we were happy with the height).

And remember that line level we'd strung across the area? Well, after tripping over the string one too many times, we took it down. We did, however, extend the string occasionally to see how we were doing. It was level enough for us. :)

Step 7: Backfill

We read varying tutorials with varying opinions on backfilling with drainage stone and/or placing a small perforated pipe behind the stone for drainage.

Each of our walls were only about 12" to 15" tall, and though there's a small possibility we may regret it and might have to address it later, we just backfilled with drainage stone in any major gaps between the wall and the dirt.

Then we backfilled the top area with soil, so any plant material could grow.

The wall has since been tested many times by visiting deer and has held up with no damage so far.

So...are you ready to see the finished product?

Step 8: Plant and Enjoy

We had a little more soil chopping to do to get ready to plant... but these photos show the finished area. (At least, "finished" for this year.)

If you'd like to see more photos, (as well as our in-progress chess garden) pop by (and kindly pardon the shameless plug).

Summer Fun Contest 2016

Participated in the
Summer Fun Contest 2016

Backyard Contest 2016

Participated in the
Backyard Contest 2016

Puzzles Challenge

Participated in the
Puzzles Challenge