Garden Walls, Retaining Walls, Free-Standing Walls

What is the Difference?

There are a lot of different products out there for building a landscaping wall. How do you know which one is best for your project? The answer to that depends on what you are going to build. All three types of walls can be built with concrete wall block units or natural stone. Concrete block is usually sold by the unit or by the Square foot and often has different cap options for finishing the top layer of the wall. Natural stone for making walls is called Wallstone in the industry and is sold per pound. We can help you with all the material calculations needed for your project.


The easiest and most common are Garden Walls. These are low walls, typically no higher than 18”. They can be built of out of natural stone or a concrete wall block unit. Frequently people will fill in behind the walls with plants, mulch or landscape pebbles. Since they are low walls and don’t retain much weight they have a much simpler construction and don’t require engineering. Great Lakes stone sells all the products needed to complete and installation, including the block, landscape fabric, Wallstone, Retaining Wall glue and we even carry landscape rock for behind the wall.


Free-Standing walls are designed to be viewed from both sides. They can vary in height, but usually these are built no taller than 36”. People commonly build free-standing walls for bench walls, seat-walls, privacy walls or as an architectural element to outline a patio or an outdoor living area. These walls need to be sturdier because they are often used for sitting on and tend to be taller than garden walls. Unlike simple garden walls, with a free-standing wall it is important to make sure that you build a proper base. This involves digging a ditch and filling with a compacted layer of crusher fines topped off by a layer of sand. Be sure to stop by the store or call for more detailed information on this process. If you are using a concrete wall block product, you will need to use a product that has a finished face on both sides. If you are building out of natural stone, you will build a double wall with a face for each direction. This is due to the fact that natural stone for walls comes 8” deep standard. The extra wall is needed for the additional stability needed for sitting on. Most freestanding walls are topped off with a cap. There are a huge variety of caps available for both concrete products and for natural stone.


Retaining Walls are walls that face just one direction and are meant to hold back earth from a change in grade. These can run from walls just a couple feet tall to large commercial undertakings multiple stories tall. Once you get over 4’ tall, you will need to have your wall engineered. These are the most complicated systems and involve the use of geo-Grid to stabilize the soil as well as drainage rock to prevent moisture build-up behind the wall in addition to the vital base preparation that we saw on the Free-Standing walls as well. The staff at Great Lakes Stone can help explain these processes and help with an estimate. Please just keep I mind that we’re not an engineering firm!