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Garden Design

How to build a CURVED gabion wall

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart

April 14, 2015

RECTILINEAR” he said. “Maybe you haven’t noticed but the basic premise of a welded mesh gabion wall is that it’s made from rectilinear components”.
“Yes, but what if they were all curved?”, I persisted. “Wouldn’t that look amazing? All those chunky textures but in lovely circles and sinuous curves…..?”
You could chine gabion mesh cages to make a really big curve but that wouldn’t work for the small radius you want…..”
At this point my husband sighed the sort of sigh that only the husband of a visionary but mad gardener could sigh. It’s the sort of sigh that says:

‘I do not understand why you feel it necessary to put me through what I know will be months of work and trial and error but I can see that there’s no point in either saying no, or complaining about it. It will be done’

Unfortunately for my husband, he’s an intelligent, resourceful and very practical man, which means he’s the perfect candidate to be tormented with such projects.
And so it began.

Landscape Concept Plan by Outhouse Design

Landscape Concept Plan by Outhouse Design

The garden design
The original garden design layout had been done by my friend Steve Warner of Outhouse Design. Unable to make decisions in my own garden, I sensibly turn to a professional to advise me, and Steve’s design featured a circular low retaining wall surrounding our established claret ash leading into a wonderful snake-like curve in front of the deck and then on to another circular paved area beyond. This distracts the eye from the existing competing straight lines of timber deck, pool and fence, none of which are parallel, making a confused jumble of shapes. As we look down on the back garden, a design that works well when viewed from above was paramount. This is something Steve is really good at – taking the constraints of a a disordered garden and creating order and pleasing shapes without regimentation or formality where none is wanted.

He’d suggested the wall, approximately 400-500mm (15-20″)** high and not retaining much could be a dry stone wall, knowing we had a lot of site stone. Then I had the whole gabion wall epiphany.

 

The gabion wall curves, reverse curves and also drops down along its length

 

The wall design
The wall not only curves in a circle, and then elegantly reverse curves, but it also drops over 500mm (20″) along its length as the ground falls towards the lower circle. We couldn’t bury a lower level of gabion cages as the tree’s roots cover the whole area. The whole backyard is over sandstone floaters, so it’s not got a lot of soil in which to grow and it was really important that we didn’t damage any major anchoring or feeding roots. OK, let’s ratchet up the difficulty level another notch!

 

The curved gabion wall drops 7 times along its 9 metre (9 yard) length

 

Small Y shaped section ties the curved gabion wall back under the deck

To keep the wall at a roughly even height, it steps down 7 times along its nearly 9 metre length, each of those step-downs only one gabion mesh square, except for the paver-topped seating area which steps down two squares to accommodate the extra thickness of the pavers. The wall is 320mm (12½”) thick to give it enough weight and solidity for a low retaining wall while maximising the size of the enclosed garden bed.

The wall also has a small curved offshoot to tie the retained section back under the deck and there’s a small 2 metre (6ft 6″) long freestanding ‘echo’ wall on the other side of the garden that blends into a low rendered wall for a colour and texture contrast.

Materials
Having looked online for what materials we could use, we went back to our (by now) friends Matt and at Ally at Permathene P/L to buy sheets of galvanised 75mm (3 inch) square gabion mesh from which to fashion our own curved gabion baskets. The mesh is made from 4mm (5/32 inch) wire – any less and it won’t hold its shape well enough.
We bought:
3 sheets of 2000mm long x 1000mm wide (= 6ft 6in x 40″)
22 sheets of 2000mm long x 500mm wide (actually 2030mm) (= 6ft 6″ x 20″)
15 brace/support rods (with hooks at each end)
25m roll x 1m wide woven weed mat (= 82ft x 40″)
300 galfan C clips
20kg bags 10mm blue metal (stabilising aggregate)
500mm (20”) wide tree root barrier
Cold galvit paint
Reinforcing rod for a ‘deadman’ and as anchor pins

 

Bolt cutters, tape and wire fencing tool

Equipment
spade
bolt cutters
tape measure
level
stringline + metal rod as a central peg
wire twisting fencing tool
large pliers
C-clip tool (a pneumatic tool we hired from Permathene)
a car’s spare wheel

 

Putting in the end panels for each section

Basket design
The circle around the tree has a succession of 2030mm long (80 inch) panels forming the outside perimeter of the wall, matched by necessarily shorter length panels (approximately 1650mm = 65 inch) for the smaller radius inner curve of the back of that wall. Each of theses main sections is internally divided into thirds (every 9 squares or approximately 675mm = 26″) with a dividing panel on the radius. Because I wanted a continuous layer of rocks spread along the top, these internal dividers are cut one square lower than the 2 main end panels of each main section so a layer of rocks can cover them.

Showing cross bracing near the top of the wall that will be hidden by the top layer of stone

Showing cross bracing near the top of the wall that will be hidden by the top layer of stone

A further cross brace within each of these 600mm (24″) internal sections positioned about halfway up the wall’s height helps keep the curved side panels from bulging beyond their correct radius when filled with rocks. NOTE: this means there is a cross brace or divider about every 300mm (12″) along the length of the wall. Any further apart and the wall might bulge between supports.

Cutting the mesh panels to use as a bottom plate

Cutting the mesh panels to use as a bottom plate

There is no welded mesh with a natural radius. I have seen an installation where a bespoke base was welded and galvanised in a part circular shape to order but this is very expensive and so the bottom of the basket had to be made from sections of rectilinear mesh. We cut sections of mesh in a shape that generally followed the curved footprint of each section but they are cut a little bigger so that there’s plenty of attachment points for the long curved side panels. The easiest way to get the right size is to cut them as a ‘top’ for the two curved walls.

Sometimes the bottom mesh and slide panels aligned so that normal ‘C’ clips could be used to attach the side to the bottom, but more often the attachment had to be achieved by allowing a protruding piece of wire from the base to be wrapped around the bottom rail of the side panel.

Assembled curved gabion cages

Assembled curved gabion cages

 

Reo rod pin inserted into a small concrete footing

To make sure the wall won’t get pushed over by expanding tree roots, there is also a reinforcing bar ‘deadman’, which ties the wall back into the garden behind it, plus two reo-bar ‘pins’ concreted into the rock below the wall to stop the base of the wall ‘sliding’ sideways.

Using a central peg and stringline to mark out both outer and inner curves

Using a central peg and stringline to mark out both outer and inner curves

 

Bending the wire mesh into a curve around the car’s spare wheel

Creating the curves
First we marked out the radius of each curve on the plan using a central peg and stringline. If you use a constant radius for each curve, the finished curves will look much better than if you try and do it by eye. But we couldn’t find anything online that described how to bend the mesh panels to the right diameter curve so it was trial and error. The first trial was to use straps to wrap a panel around a circular water tank of about the right diameter. After leaving it for a while, the straps were released and bang! the panel snapped straight back to flat. Failure!

Treading down the curved panel to relax it back to the correct radius

 

At this point Tony realised that we’d need to bend the panel beyond the curve we eventually wanted to get the mesh past its elasticity point, and then relax it back until it hit the sweet spot. But how to do all the bending while keeping the curve roughly even along the length of the panel? We needed something that was 1. round (der!) 2. strong enough not to get damaged by the metal mesh 3. not too heavy for us to manage together.

The mesh panel now stays locked in its curve

The mesh panel now stays locked in its curve

Our first thought was the heavy gas cylinder in the carport. This wasn’t bad but we found that the spare wheel from the Subaru wagon was even better as it was a larger diameter. Tony bent the mesh panels around it, by pushing it into the curve while pulling about a 600mm (24″) long section at a time. He’d then tread the curved panels down to relax them back to the right diameter and hand bend the last few squares to make the curve smoother and more consistent. When we tried to short cut without the pre-bending, we soon discovered that we couldn’t rely on the base panels to hold the whole thing in shape. It quickly wanted to ‘unbend’. So bend all the panels to the desired end shape first, then assemble.

Spreading blue metal and positioning a cutout section around an important tree root

Spreading blue metal and positioning a cutout section around an important tree root

Assembling the cages
We spread weed mat below the base mesh to prevent any weeds we hadn’t yet found and removed from growing up through the wall, as by the time you do see them, they are impossible remove. Where the ground was uneven e.g. over a large tree root we wanted to keep, we added some blue metal aggregate below the bottom mesh panel to create a level base course. In some cases we also cut the mesh panel and shaped it around the larger tree roots where they were higher than our base course. I’m sure there will be some of you who think ‘why would would you fuss about that – just cut the tree root!“‘ but, I can assure you, every major root is important to a tree’s stability and health (especially in our shallow, sandy soil), so cut them at your peril!

Painting the cut ends with cold galvit

Painting the cut ends with cold galvit

To cut the base panel pieces we positioned the curved wall panels in place, and then cut a base panel slightly wider than the wall, painting the cut ends with cold galvit.

Leaving a long cut end to loop back around the adjoining mesh

Leaving a long cut end to loop back around the adjoining mesh

 

Using the pneumatic C clip tool

To hold the separate wall mesh panels together and also to the base, we used a combination of the C-clips we’d bought, attached using the pneumatic C-clip tool we’d hired, or leaving some of the cut mesh panel ends longer and then looping them around the adjoining mesh panel using the wire twisting tool or large pliers. Although the C-clip tool was fast, it was very difficult to get it into some of the tighter spaces, especially at the base, so we found that the looping method was better in the end.

 

Using the wire twisting tool to loop the cut mesh ends

 

C clip attaching two mesh panels

C clip attaching two mesh panels

 

Tree root barrier behind the wall, conduit for lighting and deadman reo bar

We also put a dimpled plastic root barrier behind the wall to prevent garden soil from washing into the wall. The gardens drain through to the soil below the wall so we didn’t need drainage pipes behind the wall. Finally, we added lengths of electrical conduit through the cages before we filled them so we could add low voltage wall-mounted path lights.

Showing the looped mesh method for joining two panels

Showing the looped mesh method for joining two panels

 

Filling the gabion cages, starting with broken concrete block

 

Filling the cages
Having assembled the base and the side walls, tying the base to the side, and then the main cross bracing, it is a simple but VERY laborious matter of filling the cages with cut stone for the desired effect. Each piece needs to bigger than 75mm (3″) across one face so it doesn’t slip through the mesh. Like the letterbox gabion cages, I filled the internal, unseen sections of the walls with old bricks, broken concrete blocks (from the demolished wall) and rubble, to reuse as many site materials as possible, save on removal costs and keep the good rocks for presentation. I also made small ‘bridges’ across the tree roots we wanted to save so they didn’t get squashed.

Yay! I've finished packing the first few sections!

Yay! I’ve finished packing the first few sections!

Image by gardendrum.com

As I wanted the faces and top to look closely-tessellated, I used mostly smooth-faced sandstone rather than random or rumbled stone and kept aside pieces that had a right angle, or two, for the edge pieces and top corner stones, as well as sorting them to get a mottling of different colours. The packing took the bulk of the time spent on the whole project. Pieces had to be wedged firmly into place, often by using rubble pushed in behind them to keep them stable. We used sandstone from our own site as we have lots of exposed rock underneath the house and behind our swimming pool in quite a variety of colours. Tony cut out bits of rock and broke it into smaller pieces using a handyman-level electric demolition hammer, which cost us about $350.

 

The seating wall section topped with sandstone pencil-round pavers

Finishing off
We had initially thought the cage would need a top panel but we decided that using standard square or rectangular mesh would not look right. We then contemplated fashioning a single tie wire out of the galvanised wire of the same diameter as the welded mesh. These wires (many of them to replicate the welded mesh) could be set on the curve’s radius and both hold the two side panels parallel and add to the look by adding a radial element. But in the end we decided that it would just look too busy, and a good effect was achieved by adding some hidden radial supports just below the top row of filling stone so it was not visible. It still offered sufficient stability but didn’t detract from the look of the sandstone from above that we wanted.

We added a sitting section by mortaring on some sandstone pencil-round pavers that had been carefully angle-cut to go around the curve. To do this we finished the packed stone below the top of the cage, spread some geotextile and then concrete on top to bring it up to level. We then mortared on the pavers.

 

The result – functional but also very beautiful

The result
The walls are striking, unique, and beautiful. They are not stable enough for people to walk along or sit on as they disturb the stone pieces, except where we added the paver seating slabs. But they look terrific, and the wonderful contrast between the smooth, sweeping curves and the chunky, tessellated rock is one the most admired parts of our garden.

Sinuous curves created by gabion walls – we love our garden

And yes, I have since found a new challenge for my clever and long-suffering husband – to mount a large and very heavy rusting steel ‘wheel’ sculpture delicately balanced on its narrow edge….without the support being visible!

[** I have converted metric measurements to US equivalents but US-manufactured mesh panels no doubt have slightly different overall lengths and widths.]

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Julie parker
Julie parker
6 years ago

Looks amazing! What an achievement.

Alison S
Alison S
6 years ago

This is SO beautiful I want to jump on a plane and fly to Australia NOW to see it. Shapes, colours, textures, planting: all perfect. I want one too but I need the husband to go with it!

Anne-Marie Strickland
Anne-Marie Strickland
6 years ago
Reply to  Alison S

Don’t do it, Dianne. Just get a bloke to build the gabion wall.

Helen
6 years ago

I knew you were a garden design tragic my friend but I never realised just how difficult this project was. Is this madness or genius at work? Your attention to detail to get the job just right, and Tony’s willing collusion, fill me with admiration. The world will no doubt appreciate the generous sharing of your hard-won experience and knowledge.

Devon
Devon
1 year ago

Wow. That’s a great possibility for a house we are buying. Inspired how you used the tire to do the bending. And you are right that landscapers probably wouldn’t take on such a project, mostly because of the time involved in all the bending.

Amanda Commins
Amanda Commins
6 years ago

The walls (and the whole garden) look fantastic. I suggested to my husband that we could try to do something like this (in a much smaller version). He just went slightly pale and snuck away…

Congratulations to you (and Tony)!

jannaschreier
6 years ago

I thought it was genius when I saw it, but now I know the full story I am utterly blown away! An amazing feat. Well done you both. By the way, has it got the approval of your daughter, who spurred you on in the first place?

Alison S
Alison S
6 years ago

OK, so I need the husband AND the designer!

Adriana Fraser
Adriana Fraser
6 years ago

This is amazing – it looks fabulous and I wish I had somewhere to copy it!
Love the stone and the way you packed them in Catherine. All I can say further is WOW!

steven
steven
6 years ago

Such an epic and detailed project. Without the knowledge of the complexity of the project one could easily think its an “easy” project with just a few nice curves and some stones!! Surely that wouldn’t take long!! Perhaps not! This art piece is a real credit to you and Tony and your attention to detail, hard work, engineering and determination resulted in a fantastic result. I feel quite privileged to have seen the “Great Walls’ in real life, and I’m so glad I didn’t sit on it in the wrong place!
And how’s the mounting of the steel wheel sculpture going?

Tracey
Tracey
6 years ago

You must be so pleased with the outcome, your curved gabion walls look wonderful!

I especially like the way the shape of the gabion with grid pattern of the mesh add structure and contrast to your gardeN. You must look for excuses to go out into the garden all the time.

You have inspired me to attempt a curved gabion seat in my own garden and I am sure the detailed information in this blog will save me countless hours of head scratching and cursing.

THANKYOU!

Tracey
Tracey
6 years ago

Will do, thanks again.

Lakes Ponds and Streams by Biologists

This brings a whole new appreciation for dry stacked walls. In your travels since building the wall do you ever find a few accent rocks that you’ve slipped into the wall? The virtue of being malleable is very appealing!

Celia Blackman
Celia Blackman
6 years ago

Your hard landscaping and gabion walls look wonderful

Harshal Ravindra Kabadi

awesome… how much it costs? looks expensive.

Brandon Zaring
Brandon Zaring
5 years ago

We are looking to build the same type of wall but five feet tall and two feet wide for strength . It will be for a privacy wall around a pool. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated 🙂 Cobble rock will be used and we have plenty of it . Their is some slope that tapers down . We’re looking to do approx 100 feet.

Tom Sidla
Tom Sidla
5 years ago

What a great article. Very informative and helpful to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to post it.

Pogmorerobynpogmore@gmail.com

I want to do a straight retaining wall, using up absolutely tons of cement rubble which happens to be here, lying around. Actually MY Tony has built a nifty little wall about 1metre high to store it, and this wall seems stable, and looks very nicely rustic . Like a drystone dyke in Scotland.
So I want to build it , in a cage, sunk into the ground, tethered by metal stakes, WITHOUT pouring cement to stabilise it. We would need the black plastic around it to stop tree roots from getting in.but, otherwise, I think the idea is good. I would like it to be about 1metre high.
What do other people think?
R.

DIY USA
DIY USA
5 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing this. We have a very steep clay hill that we need to retain. So, we plan to use Gabion walls to create steps on the hill so that we can finally plant something, and solve the erosion issue. We didn’t think we could do it ourselves until we saw your excellent step-by-step pictures. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Jude
Jude
5 years ago

I wish I’d seen your post before I build a kind of drystone effect wall with broken slabs, on a very slight slope. It needed to curve very slightly, and I’d wanted to use gabions, but you can only buy straight ones.
No doubt my husband is very pleased I did not see it.
Your garden looks amazing!

Allan
Allan
5 years ago

Thank you for this – about to embark on a very similar project and this has given me the confidence to tackle it! Looks spectacular – hopefully I can do our garden some similarity of justice!

Brett
Brett
5 years ago

Ditto, we are also planning to build curved gabion retaining walls. I too feel a lot more confident after reading your very detailed blog.

Thank you.

Scott Wilson
4 years ago

Catherine, this is an outstanding article. I plan on making a gabion wall garden bed around one half of a 42 ft diameter dome greenhouse. Yours is the first article I’ve found that adequately discusses the challenges of a curved gabion. My plan is to sandwich the bed between two parallel gabion walls, each about 24 inches high and eight inches wide. I’ll be using smaller stone and welded mesh with smaller openings. I had anticipated the need to have cross braces between the two walls to help maintain strength and reduce bowing, but now recognize the need for more cross bracing within each wall than I anticipated. I’m now thinking of adding deadmen that are attached to the outer wire and the inner wall.The rebar pin in a footing to prevent sliding is genius. This is at a school garden and the students will certainly brush and lean against the outer wall; stabilizing it was an idea I hadn’t fully figured out yet. Also I would never have considered the need for cold galvit. Your project is beautiful. Thank you for the great ideas and superb description of your process.

Be Thou my Vision
4 years ago

Hi Catherine and Tony,
Thank you so much for this carefully detailed site with it’s insight on ‘how- to-do’ plus planning. Enabling others (so they can avoid the pitfalls and gain from your hard work) is very kind and generous . Cheers, Sharon

Be Thou my Vision
4 years ago
Reply to  Scott Wilson

Hi Scott,
I am also considering a 35m low curved gabion for a school project. I am wondering if you have commenced and how you are handling students within the vicinity whilst the project is underway. Especially stones …near windows..sigh…!! Also, how do you intend to cap the top of the gabion? Any ideas would be really appreciated. Cheers Sharon

Paul
Paul
4 years ago

That’s an awesome job. Well done. I’m contemplating taking on a similar job in my back yard. Can you tell me how this the steel mesh you used is please

Paul
Paul
4 years ago

Yes. I’m sorry. I meant to ask how thick the steel mesh was. Thank you

Paul
Paul
4 years ago

Thank you so much

Helen Gardner
Helen Gardner
4 years ago

What a wonderful article, and I love what you have done with the curved gabions. You deserve to be very proud of your achievements. I might have missed it, but I wonder if you can estimate how many hours this project took? We have a similar shaped plot with a diagonal level change of 3 feet diagonally across the plot and my husband would prefer to keep it as grass and mow it. I have some other ideas (which is how I found your article) but will need to be able to do the work myself!

don
don
4 years ago

you can go to a farm and ranch store and ask for hog panels

Judith Joy
Judith Joy
4 years ago

There is such brilliantly detailed assistance in your post. Thank you. We want a curved double skinned wall with plants-shrub size, growing in between the gabion walls. The whole on the edge of a steep slope of rough grass to enclose the garden area. Does that sound feasible to you experienced people?

Jason White
Jason White
3 years ago

Hi Catherine! This has been a super helpful post and it looks amazing! I also plan to create a curved gabion and I am curious what gauge wire you guys used. The only local person I can get some from has 6ga and I am concerned it might be to heavy to bend. I have seen other websites that sell 9 or 11 ga. I like the idea of a heavier duty cage but am nervous I will struggle to get the curve I want. Thanks for the info =)

Jason White
Jason White
3 years ago
Reply to  Jason White

Actually I found a post you replied to that states yours was 4mm which I found out is 6g which works perfect! These panels aren’t cheap here in the US and you can’t just find them anywhere. There are a few landscape products that I found and like but seems to only be made and sold in Australia or Europe and I can’t justify the shipping.

stephen O'reilly-Nugent
stephen O'reilly-Nugent
3 years ago

Very helpful post and beautiful work. I have a circular gabion border to construct around an elevated birch tree. The area was excavated before my time leaving the tree on a mound about 1.0m high with a 3.0m diameter. Just wondering what your thoughts are on using star pickets to secure the structure and keep its shape before we finish it with the rock. Do you thing I could remove the star pickets after the baskets are filled or would you think the star pickets would need to remain in situ. Thanks for all of the helpful learnings, all the best

Catherine Stewart
3 years ago

Thanks Stephen. Yes I think it would be a good idea to pin the gabion cages into the existing ground around your circle, and I’d leave them there. However rather than star pickets which would be difficult to cut off low enough to be hidden inside the rocks as well as harder to pack around, I’d use reinforcing rod like we did (see above). You can set it in a small concrete footing and cut it to lower than your gabion cage height.

Rob
Rob
3 years ago

Thanks! I like your curved gabion wall idea and will use it on our small very slopes property just purchased in southern Bavaria. I think it will be beautiful inexpensive way to terrace & create flat areas. Would like to share pictures after if possible. Rob

Karen Shaw
Admin
3 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Hi Rob, Please do share images of your curved gabion wall. Good luck with the project.

Rosie Logie
Rosie Logie
1 year ago

Hello Catherine, this article of yours has given me the insights i needed to have faith in my curved gabion idea for a terraced retaining wall at our hills home. The only thing holding me back now is concern about wastage. Did you find you were able to use most of the mesh panels when cutting your curved tops /bases, or waa there a lot of wastage?
Many thanks for taking the time to share your step-by-step process with us!
Warm regards,
Rosie, Perth

Catherine
Catherine
1 year ago
Reply to  Rosie Logie

Hi Rosie, yes, there is inevitably wastage when you’re cutting something curved out of something rectilinear. But it was only the bottom of the gabion and so there wasn’t too much and you can use some of it as internal ties across the wall.
The panel wastage depends on how tight your curves are, as well as the panel width. It’s a good idea to draw it up first, either digitally or on graph paper, so you can place the curves on your sheets for minimum wastage.
regards Catherine

LittleMissProductive

I came here as the picture caught my eye – one one with the ‘sloping’ gabion sides. I’m going to do the same, but straight along the fence to level a 60cm slope. Excited but much planning going in. Thank you for the walkthrough x beautiful. And the seats too. Think I’ll borrow that idea somewhere.

helen mckerral
helen mckerral
6 years ago

Wow, Catherine, they look FANTASTIC!

Denise Woodhams
Denise Woodhams
6 years ago

Looks fab Catherine, I want one!