Re-building a low retainer with steps

To make sloping land arrable one of the things you can do is to terrace it. The practice of terracing Cévennes mountainsides, by building dry-stone retaining walls, goes back hundreds of years. One of our priorities here has been to re-build the dilapidated dry stone walls supporting the new growing areas: Potager, Verger and Polytunnel. With the help of Dry Stone Walling experts from Yorkshire, Tracey and Andy, we started with a fairly low retaining wall that holds up the main Potager terrace. This is the finished wall, complete with steps to move from one terrace to the next, and how it was done.

To start with the old wall is pulled back, the lines are marked and new footers are put in place. Starting at the end of the potager where a new freestanding wall, ‘the Yorkshire wall’ ends.

To set us on our way with the new retaining wall, Tracey and Andy laid the first course and Tracey started building a set of steps to provide access from the lower potager and the poly tunnel up to the main vegetable growing area.

I could then continue on with what Tracey and Andy started to finish the wall. Starting with a good foundation gave me the confidence to follow what they had taught us.  Working slowly and taking sections back down when they did not look right, I worked up to Tracey’s steps.


The guide line is tied to 2 metal poles which help the waller to stay true to the ‘batter’ – the line of the wall – which slopes inward making it stronger. The line also helps to work the wall up in courses – layers of stones – finally arriving at the last layer all at the same height and ready to place the top stones or ‘coping’ stones.

From this angle you can see the batter of the wall it is almost at a height level with the soil. A huge amount of stone get hammered into the back of the wall to ensure all gaps are filled and the wall is packed to ensure there is no movement.

The wall is now finished and extended beyond the steps. Andy Cauldwell built around the large chestnut tree, and the two Andy’s topped out the whole wall with huge stones laid flat. It is a great piece of work, so strong and looks as though it has always been there.

In the first autumn I planted up the top edge of the wall with lavender and Irises as they will be happy in the dry conditions next to the wall. The Lavender brings bees and another herb element to the garden whilst the Irises help stop erosion and leaching as the ground level slopes toward the wall. These two plants also provide a pretty border to the path. The picture below shows it in all its growing glory.



Originally posted 21/5/2006: updated with more info and pictures.

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  1. Excellent blog many thanks for spending the time to write and upload. That looks like some serious graft, but well worth it id say.

  2. Hey great post and the wall looks great.

  3. A lot of work went into your wall, but it sure looks great…beautiful lavender.

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