All I Want for Christmas is a $20,000 Dry Stack Stone Retaining Wall

We are lucky enough to have a backyard swimming pool, which is a total blast for our family in the summertime, and which by default becomes the visual center of attention for the whole backyard. Much of my “intensive gardening” takes place around this pool, since I like to make its environs as inviting and floriferous as possible in the summer.  Unfortunately, the pool is surrounded on two sides by nearly 100 linear feet of retaining wall made from those god-awful wooden railroad ties.

A glimpse of the timber wall. The sight of it even makes Max feel morose.

These railroad ties must have been all the rage with builders and landscapers back in the early 80s, because they are ALL OVER my neighborhood, which was constructed at that time.  I suppose they’re okay for some applications, but I really don’t think they should be “featured” in a garden as ours is  in our pool area.  Especially when they begin to rot, as our wall has.  It seems each year a new section of wall either collapses or is gnawed from the inside out by carpenter ants, and we’ve had to replace parts of it three times now.  This year, the corner section is going:

This part is totally deteriorating.

As you can see, I had the clever idea to grow cotoneaster over the wall in order to conceal it, or at least to distract the eye with something more comely.  Unfortunately, the cotoneaster is nearly as hideous as the wall, so that plan didn’t exactly pan out.  This summer, as I observed the timbers in this section of wall gradually decaying like teeth on a corpse, I decided , damn it, I’m going to get some estimates for a stone wall to replace this thing!  Stone…lovely, earthy, beautiful, weatherproof, ant-proof stone…once I began to imagine it, it was hard not to become completely infatuated with the idea of a gorgeous stone wall gracing my backyard.

For several weeks I gazed at images of stone walls on the internet.  I measured my site.  I sketched ideas: the wall would sweep around the pool in a gorgeous S-shaped curve, it would be mostly shades of gray but with some hints of orangy-earth tones to match the color of existing rock already scattered around.  It would be the prettiest wall ever.  It would be the Scarlett Johannsen of walls.

Time to get an estimate.

The first place I called was a local landscape maintenance company that I like.  Their estimate was around eight grand.  Pricey, yeah, but I knew it was probably on the low side.  I think this company would have built a good wall, but the vibe I got was that it wouldn’t necessarily have been an artful wall.  That’s what I want.  Artful. 

So then I called up another contractor I knew.  I became familiar with this contractor during my brief stint working for a local landscape designer in DC, and I knew the company did beautiful work and that they could definitely build an artful  wall.  So one of the guys came out, and he talked to me about what I wanted, and being the geek that I am, I described to him my “dream wall” and I even did a little sketch on his notepad.  And he was very nice, and he said we could go to the stone yard together to hand pick the stone, and he said, “maybe in the future we could consider some low-voltage lighting,” and he wove me a beautiful fantasy about the building of this wall. 

The last thing he said to me was:  “So I’ll call you in a few days with the estimate and we’ll go from there!”  Then he gave me a warm handshake and left me with an array of glossy brochures.

That was four months ago, and he still hasn’t called.

I was stood up by the stone wall guy!

The truth is, I suspect he was waiting for me to call him before he took the time to work up the estimate.  I suspect that, when we met, he glanced around and deduced from the plastic lawn furniture and cheap reed fencing that selling me an exquisite stone wall was probably unlikely.  So he gave me the brush off – sort of like in high school when the guy stops calling the girl once he realizes she’s not going to put out.

But he was right, damn it.  The reason I didn’t call him and ask “hey, where’s my estimate?” is because I’m pretty sure a beautiful stone wall built and installed by this company would set us back at least twenty thousand dollars.  Perhaps much more.  Even if I had that kind of money sitting around, I don’t know if I could bring myself to spend it on a retaining wall.  I have a good dose of thrifty Scottish blood in me which is constantly at war with my shameless and extravagant desire for a beautiful garden.   Twenty thousand for a car, a college education, emergency open-heart surgery – yes.  Twenty thousand for the wall? 

The railroad timbers aren’t THAT bad.

So in the meantime I will be taking suggestions for better plants to spill over my timber wall in order to camouflage it.  And I will be adding this book to my Amazon Wish List:

 It’s not as good as the “dream wall”, but it’s $19,975 cheaper.