Catherine StewartGabion design ideas

I’m in love with gabions. At once both industrial chic and quaintly folksy, there’s something about that combined texture of stone and the sheen of metal mesh that really appeals. The other reason is they’re so DIY, as I’ve discovered since our first foray into gabion building early last year.

Tall gabion wall at Ballast Point Park, Sydney

Tall gabion wall at Ballast Point Park, Sydney

A few months ago, the wonderfully talented Steve Warner (Outhouse Designs) did a quick sketch of a new backyard design for me. It included some low, curved, dry stone retaining walls and an free-standing stone ‘echo’ wall a few metres away and on a similar curve to help define a pathway. I ummed and ahhed about it for a while – I loved the shape and texture of the walls but the cost of buying the dimension stone and getting a stone mason in to build them……

When I realised I could build them as gabion walls at a fraction of the cost, it got me thinking about all sorts of ways you could use gabions in garden design. If you have access to local fill material (which can be any rubbish stone as long as its dimensions are bigger than the mesh openings), they’re cheap as chips to build, as the cages or mesh will only cost a few hundred dollars.

Stone gabion design Lee Bailey Bella Botanics

Stone gabion design Lee Bailey Bella Botanics

Gardens that reflect their local natural landscape have a genuine sense of place. Using your local stone, whether that’s sandstone, basalt, slate or granite will make it feel like it fits in with its surroundings. The stone can be either rounded boulders and large pebbles or angular broken stone but if you don’t have access to stone, or it’s not appropriate, you can also reuse broken concrete, old pavers, bricks and tiles for a more industrial aesthetic (and it stops them ending up in landfill).

Gabion walls by Gabion1

Gabion walls by Earthworks Landscape Services, Ireland. National Garden Exhibition Centre, Kilquade, Co Wicklow

Whatever your fill material, the wall is very textured and dominating, saying very loudly ‘look at me’. Keep that in mind when choosing adjacent surfaces and plants, as smooth surfaces from large unit pavers, poured pavement, or lawn will look better than busy small unit pavers. Soft, weeping grasses or clipped plants are also a perfect counterbalance to the hardness of the stone.

While most gabion kits are rectangular, don’t let that limit your design ideas. You can also build a curved gabion wall, as I’m currently doing, and I’ll be blogging about its construction details here soon.

Design Carl Pickens Ellerslie NZ 2009 Gabions filled with graywacke pebbles

Design Carl Pickens Ellerslie NZ 2009 Gabions filled with graywacke pebbles

Walls
If the walls are low, than it’s the top of the wall that matters most, so keep that in mind when you’re packing the rocks, and save the best and most interesting pieces until last. If you want to incorporate a seat, you can attach some outdoor blueboard to the top mesh panel and mortar pavers onto that, or add a backing piece underneath the top mesh panel onto which you can attach timber boards – or just add some thick seat cushions.

A wall top can also incorporate succulents or epiphytic plants like bromeliads that will grow in bark chips, which you can hold in small pockets of geotextile.

Gabion wall with succulents from gabionbaskets.net

Gabion wall with succulents from gabionbaskets.net

Or form the basis of a greenwall, as in this example from Badec Bros Deco in Pretoria, SA

Gabion green wall be Badec Bros Deco, Pretoria, SA

Gabion green wall be Badec Bros Deco, Pretoria, SA

Design Steven Wells, Melbourne

Design Steven Wells, Melbourne

Screens and fences
Gabion screens and fences need the rigidity of a surrounding frame of either timber or heavier metal. At eye height, the fill material becomes more critical and potentially more decorative, so you could introduce some subtle colour variations with bands of differently coloured stones but again it’s the texture that’s the most important element.

Gabion cages with various fill materials by Natasha Carsberg

Gabion cages with various fill materials by Natasha Carsberg

While the screen can be opaque, why not incorporate some spyholes using old-style concrete breezeway blocks or a few terracotta pipes. By using smaller cages and finer mesh you can even create a sort of vertical mosaic of all sorts of objects, using shells and bleached driftwood for a beach look, brightly coloured plastic for retro kitsch, old wine bottles (ahh… remember the night we had that delicious Grange Hermitage……) or rusting metal objects for a steam-punk screen.

David Hocker of Hocker Design Group incorporated a gabion-style wall filled with blue slag glass in his ASLA 2010 Award winning garden, and installed internal lighting for an amazing ethereal glow.

Gabion wall with slag glass. Design David Hocker of Hocker Design Group. Photo Gisela Borghi ASLA 2010 winner

Gabion wall with slag glass. Design David Hocker of Hocker Design Group. Photo Gisela Borghi ASLA 2010 winner

Gabion wall with slag glass with internal lighting. Design David Hocker of Hocker Design Group. Photo Gisela Borghi ASLA 2010 winner

Gabion wall with slag glass with internal lighting. Design David Hocker of Hocker Design Group. Photo Gisela Borghi ASLA 2010 winner

 

Gabion fence by Goodman Fabrications

Gabion fence by Goodman Fabrications

 

This ingenious gate design and construction by Goodman Fabrications, Arizona, makes a gabion gate light enough to swing by incorporating a self-contained internal open section.

 

gabion grass divides

 

You could also use the gabion framework like a large vase to support dried willow, bamboo or reeds to form a light and lacy screen, or even just dried leaves and twigs like this screen at the De Young Museum.

De Young Museum Rainwater tank screen (photo Katherine Longhurst)

De Young Museum Rainwater tank screen (photo Katherine Longhurst)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cafe Ato in Seoul, South Korea, designed by BONO, has one of the most innovative gabion screens around. The heavy solid mesh and rocks are transformed into something airy and light by ‘floating’ rocks, suspended within open mesh cages. Brilliantly beautiful.

Cafe Ato Sinmunro in Seoul - Design by BONO Photo retaildesignblog.net

Cafe Ato Sinmunro in Seoul – Design by BONO Photo retaildesignblog.net

Gabion planters by Gabion1

Gabion planters

Containers
When they’re not retaining much, gabion cages can be as narrow as 20-30cm (8-12in), so you can use them to build a container for a small tree or large shrub. A geotextile fabric or weedmat behind the wall prevents potting mix from washing through. Roots won’t grow through the gabion wall as they are airpruned.

Gabion sculpture by Natalie Clark

Gabion sculpture by Natalie Clark

 

Sculpture
I love these squat pieces by sculptor Natalie Clark, based in Idaho, USA, and the way they lean over, seemingly past their centre of gravity, plus her tall gabion fountain which spills into an underground sump.

Once you have the ability to cut and join mesh, the design possibilities are endless.

 

Kielder Maze 2003 'The Minotaur' by Shona Kitchen and Nick Coombe Photo James Morris

Kielder Maze 2003 ‘The Minotaur’ by Shona Kitchen and Nick Coombe Photo James Morris

 

 

Or how about a gabion labyrinth, like this one called ‘The Minotaur’ at Keilder Castle in Northumberland, UK, designed by Shona Kitchen and Nick Coombe. Using 200m of 2m high basalt-filled walls, it has some of the darker feelings of the original Greek myths, where labyrinths were a place of slow death.

 

Gabion bench by Ore Containers, Utah

Gabion bench by Ore Containers, Utah

Furniture

Gabion furniture has a non-nonsense ‘I’m here to stay’ look about it. I’m not entirely sure I like it as I’d prefer to have something I can move about but if your outdoor furniture, say in a front garden, is vulnerable to theft, this is for you. Or it can be high quality sculpture like this sleek and fluid gabion chaise by Florida sculptor Celeste Roberge

Chaise gabion by Celeste Roberge

Chaise gabion by Celeste Roberge

Garden water feature by Gabion1

Garden water feature by Badec Bros Deco, Pretoria, SA

 

Water features and ponds

While dry stones are beautiful, many really come in to their own when glistening wet so a gabion fountain is a perfect way to achieve that in all weather. A submerged pump hidden in the bottom will also have its sound muffled by the surrounding rocks.

Gabion blade fountain by Gabion Schanskorven

Gabion blade fountain by Gabion Schanskorven Nederland

You can insert a blade spout into a gabion wall as in this example from Gabion Schanskorven or copper spouts, as used by the innovative Badec Bros Deco in Pretoria, SA. Use a lintel beam to build an archway water feature like the one by Ore Containers below. Gabion walls can also form the support for a pond liner.

On the dark side of the moon' garden Ellerslie 2009

 

Gabion water feature wall Badec Bros Deco, Pretoria, SA

Gabion water feature wall Badec Bros Deco, Pretoria, SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gabion fountain by Ore Containers, Utah

Gabion fountain by Ore Containers, Utah

You can find even more stunning gabion ideas in this video from the Dutch company Gabion Schanskorven which includes gabion walls with fireplaces, letterboxes, waterfalls, tables, benches and planters.


 

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?


24 thoughts on “Gabion design ideas

  1. Pingback: How to build a gabion wall | GardenDrum

  2. dirtgirl on said:

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful designs. I too am a great lover of gabions and only last week was admiring the ones used on the big spiral circular walk at The Armoury at Newington. Would love some in my garden!

    • Why not just start out with a single cube somewhere in the garden, just as a texture contrast?

  3. Alison on said:

    Those pictures are really inspiring – I may eventually get the courage to give the seat a go. They look as though they would suit any garden style. Need to work out what I want to use as the filler and then really think that I will give it a try. Great pictures with so many different ideas.

    • What’s your local rock? Or got any old concrete/bricks around? I’m filling my curved gabion with sandstone in the front and using broken up concrete retaining wall blocks (now surplus to requirements) as the back fill. But when looked at from the back right now, the concrete looks as interesting and beautiful as the real stone!

  4. Gabions … yes they are rather underutilized, especially in residential work Catherine but I do think Ballast Point near Mort Bay in Balmain is a stand out example of public works where the locals got on side to be part of a better outcome where they could definitely see the win for themselves in an exceptionally successful re-use of a previously industrial site…. I especially like the slat shade “pergolas” there and certainly people ARE there using it I notice .. The gabion containers …. very Santorini …. no ? The Succ Gabion an interesting integration with planting and I just can’t see why the occasional bunch of silver tufts through the step shoulder gabions wouldn’t bring pleasing relief to their sandstone filled contents. The curved wall also especially interesting and sometimes can use Mark Paul’s “new” gabion pillows in a similar way with the added appeal of epiphytic planting … thanks for another well researched feature :))

    • I also fancied the idea of using some plastic poly pipe with a slot cut out of the top to let water in and putting it crossways through a gabion wall and filling it with some orchid mix to grow broms, orchids or other epiphytic plants out of each end so they spill out of the wall. Hmmm….?

  5. Aren’t these gabions fabulous? Love them…. inside and outside. What an ingenious means of holding stones together in a practical, sturdy and aesthetically pleasing way . And don’t stones and rocks change when they are stacked and clustered? Love the way design makes us rethink uses and looks of everyday items. What a glorious contrast to soft, feathery garden foliage, too.

    • I think you’re right, Julie – there’s something about the look of soft grasses next to the hard angularity of the packed stone that just looks perfect. Each accentuates the other.

  6. Grahame Coote on said:

    Hi Catherine, I was just researching gabion ideas for a client and came across this article that I’d somehow missed. Thanks so much for the article and the great pics. I love gabions too and to see them used in so many different ways… Very inspiring.

  7. Angela L on said:

    I’m am such a Gabion fan. I have just retained my entire terrace wall with gabions (the gardener wouldn’t do it as the concept was too alien). It use to be just a hill with a terrace on top. Now it looks fantastic! I want to start relaying the big concrete pavers all the way to the rim now and you wrote so helpfully, that you stuck Blueboard to the top mesh. can you be a bit more specific? I am trying to convince my gardener to do this, but over here this concept is quite unknown and he is looking at me as if I have gone completely bonkers. And unfortunately I can’t lift the big 50×50 concrete blocks myself :(
    Thanks for all your help.

    • Hi Angela – go with gabions! We are still building our curved gabion wall on to which we are mortaring some pavers. What we’re doing in the end is not to use blueboard but to fill the cage with the stone to about 20 to 40 mm from the top edge of the cage. Then lay geotextile over the rough upper surface and pour a thin bedding slab of concrete over the geotextile to bring the top surface of the slab to the top of the cage. We tessellated the stone at the front edge of the cage right up to the level of the top level of the cage so the bedding slab will not be visible under the pavers once laid. We will then lay paver slab seats on the bedding slab. Hope this helps – please send in some photos of your walls! info@gardendrum.com

  8. AnitaS on said:

    Hi Catherine! Thanks for all the gabion ideas you shared! Gabion is one of the user-friendliest building solutions. I love them. I work with them.

  9. sally scopel on said:

    Am really interested to see pictures of your curved gabion wall and any issues you encountered as want to embark on one this summer.

  10. Perri Wain on said:

    Love what you are doing with gabions! We’d love to do a curved one as a retaining wall, but are concerned that the damp soil behind might cause the metal to rust more quickly. We have about 1800 mm of rainfall up here near Murwillumbah and clay based soils. Do you have any suggestions about that? thanks, Perri

    • Hi Perri – I’d look at using galfan mesh which includes aluminium in the mostly zinc coating, making it last much longer. Saline (coastal) environments are the worst but in your high humidity I think it would be wise. You can also order a ‘galfan plus’ mesh which has even more aluminium. Behind the wall you can use a geotextile fabric which should keep the clay soil out of the wall, which will help prevent rust issues. You also need to look at the subsoil drainage. If it’s very slow, although the wall itself should weep water, excess water might back up through the soil layers, causing waterlogging. You may need to install some ag pipe subsurface drains.

  11. Bistro on said:

    I love that glow in the dark design ideas.

  12. Peter Phillips on said:

    Hi Catherine I like the way that you have shown how such a simple thing as a box of stones can be developed in a variety of very creative ways.
    I am putting together proposals for a natural swimming pool at our house which is in South West France, and have been wondering about using gabions to form the separation wall between the swimming zone and planting, or regeneration zones of the pool. The questions I have are, how would zinc or galfan coatings affect the water, which for planting reasons will be maintained around ph7. There will be no fish in the pool but there will obviously be people. The other option for protection of the gabion wire mesh is UPVC , as the gabions will permanently be under a minimum of 200mm of water I expect that the coating would not be affected by UV.
    I have the idea that the rocks in the gabions could possibly be used to support some aquatic plants any suggestions you might have on suitable plants would be welcome.
    I would also like to hear from anyone else who might have experience of the use of gabions in natural swimming pool construction, thanks Peter

    • Hmmm, some interesting questions there Peter which will take a bit of research I think. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

  13. Meg on said:

    Peter-
    I am also investigating natural swimming pools and I have also thought of gabions as interior walls! I experimented this year with the Aquablox (RainXChange) being used here in the US as in-fill support for underground water storage tanks. However, instead of having the blocks be empty, I added some medium size stones. I had the thought that the stones would support algae and ammonia-eating bacteria. They worked beautifully in a small pond which had no pumps or electrically-supplied water movement.
    I plan to move forward with an 8′ wide by 30′ long swimming pond next year. Here in Texas, it will not have the shallow bog area because for us, that turns into an algae-filled mess. I will simply put a double-thick wall of the blox inside my liner and grow water plants in containers resting on the blox. Hope this gives you some ideas of your own!

  14. Faith L on said:

    I would expect there would be some great applications for chicken coops/runs with these as well!

  15. ashley milne on said:

    well done Catherine, best site i’ve seen on net, in 25yrs
    Ash Milne

  16. Janet on said:

    Great site. Just wondered where I could purchase glass slag for a gabion wall similar to the hocking wall. Live in Melbourne Australia.

    Thanks

Feel free to comment (no need to register)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>