Creative garden retaining wall is made of books; see other examples of walls

garden retaining wall made of books in Hamburg NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Now is a good time to install hardscapes in your yard—things like paths, trellises and retaining walls for raised beds and slopes.

Here’s a creative idea for a retaining wall that I saw at Plantasia in March. It’s made out of old books.

While this wall was in place for only a few days and was displayed inside a building where it never got rained on, I think it could work in the real world. The books wouldn’t look as good after mud got splashed on them, but if you’re the kind of person who likes terra cotta pots dotted with moss, you would be comfortable with the worn look.

The books might warp after they got wet, but they probably would still do the job of holding dirt in place, at least for a season. And books are inexpensive enough that, if you didn’t mind spending the time, you could replace the wall every year. The paper from the used books could go in your compost bin.

The exhibit was prepared by students from Niagara County Community College and fit into Plantasia’s theme “Every Garden Tells a Story.”

The books were set atop large bricks. The students used paperbacks as well as hard cover books.

Used books are plentiful, easy to find and can be very cheap. Go to garage sales in the late afternoon. By the end of the day, the sellers are tired and don’t want to pack up the books again and lug them into the house. You will be able to get a bargain.

You may be aghast at the idea of treating books so badly. But let’s face it– Not every book is a treasure. Not every novel stands the test of time. And nonfiction books go out of date. If you come across a great read, enjoy it yourself, then donate it to your local library or other book sale. You’ll still find enough books that in good conscience you can use for this project.

Retaining walls are part of many gardens that you can see on garden walks and Open Gardens, but you may have overlooked them in the past. Check out the walls below that we saw on past garden walks to get inspiration as you’re planning your garden, and don’t forget to look for these details as you visit gardens this summer.

backyard garden on Summer St in Buffalo NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

This is part of a huge garden bed built on top of a driveway. The garden even contains full-grown trees. The diagram below shows how it was constructed. You can see it on Garden Walk Buffalo. See more views here.

diagram garden on pavement in Buffalo NY
Image courtesy Ellie Dorritie

This diagram shows how the huge garden beds seen in the photo above were constructed on top of the driveway.

lights along fence in garden in Tonawanda NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Here’s another garden bed built on top of a driveway. This was seen on the Saturday Night Lights portion of the Ken-Ton Garden Tour. See more views of that garden here.

backyard in South Buffalo NY 2012
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Brick pavers form a retaining wall for garden beds in this grassless backyard seen during the South Buffalo Alive Annual Tour of Gardens. See more views of these gardens here.

retaining wall for garden in Amherst NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Walls can be used for gardens, but they can also be used for slopes. This Eggertsville gardener was concerned about erosion. This garden was seen on the Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk, which takes place in the University Heights area of Buffalo and Amherst. See more views of that yard here.

pergola in Amherst NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Amherst gardeners took advantage of a natural slope in their backyard, using Medina stone for the wall and steps. The yard was displayed on the Amherst Garden Walk. See more views here.

hort wall made of upcycled chimney stacks in Buffalo NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

You can use salvaged materials, such as old chimney pots, in your wall. This low wall doesn’t support soil; it serves to distinguish the walkway from the grassy area. Container plantings are placed on top of the large stones and flowers are planted inside the chimney pots. This garden was on Garden Walk Buffalo. See more views of this garden here.

Lost Ruins in backyard of Buffalo NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Walls don’t have to be solid. This one, dubbed the Lost Ruins by the gardeners, uses old building materials and displays quirky items as well as plants. It was on Garden Walk Buffalo. See more views here.

6 Comments on “Creative garden retaining wall is made of books; see other examples of walls

  1. Donna, I know what you mean, but I’ve seen lots of decorations, inside as well as outside, that are impractical. I remember in the ’90s when all the decorating shows were showing us how to upholster a headboard for our beds. I wondered out loud how you would clean it. On an episode of Trading Spaces, a professional designer used wallpaper paste to adhere straw to the walls. Totally impractical! Maybe the wall of books is something we want to see and enjoy in someone else’s yard rather than our own.

  2. Linda, that’s a good question. I don’t know how to build a wall, so I don’t know exactly how they stay in place. I don’t think they would blow around, especially if there are a few hardcover books in there.

  3. Are the books just set on the wall or are they secured in some way? In my garden they would blow around. I’ll bet that a used book store would be willing to sell a load of books for a deep discount. I have great reverence for books but I agree, not all books are valuable.

  4. Thanks, Linda. There certainly a lot of different looks you can achieve in your garden. A couple of people have emailed me to say they’re appalled that I would suggest using old books in a retaining wall. They insist that books should be preserved by selling them or by donating them to libraries. As I told them, not all old books are valuable. In fact, there are some books that libraries won’t accept, even as a donation. For example, my local library didn’t want my out-of-date encyclopedia. I was able to get a few bucks for it at a used book store– They sell books like that by the yard to people who just want something pretty to set on their shelves. At least I was able to keep those volumes out of a landfill and have them serve some useful purpose.

  5. Thanks for all these really cool ideas. It proves that whether casual or formal a garden can be beautiful and an inspiration.

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