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The Walled Garden

That concrete block wall surrounding your home can be a lot more than just the barrier where your property stops and the neighbor's begins. Walled gardens are one of the oldest garden types, going back to the Persians thousands of years ago.

In those ancient gardens there were high walls for protection, a water feature (often a long narrow pool) in the center, and plants lining the pool and paths--all very geometric, formal and balanced. It was a symbolic representation of heaven come to earth.

yellow garden wall

A strikingly beautiful example of a painted concrete block wall with tile murals and tile fountain at the Los Angeles Arboretum.  Unfortunately, this wall has been painted a much drabber color recently.  I liked it better in yellow!

We are the direct inheritors of that walled garden tradition--from the ancient Persians, through the Mediterranean, into Mexico and then, the American Southwest. As this garden style traveled across the oceans and continents and through time, the gardens within the walls became more relaxed and the plantings more casual. The idea of a beautiful enclosed and private space for personal enjoyment has, however, continued.

To see a spectacular classic Mediterranean walled garden at the Getty Villa go here. 

wall with privet hedge

This charming dual hedge is Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonica) wearing a skirt of Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens).  These plants soak up the heat from the wall, keeping your garden noticeably cooler.

6 things you can do to enhance your garden walls:

1. Plant a hedge or a border with tall plants to cover up the wall. One overlooked aspect of concrete block walls is that they soak up heat during the day and radiate it at night. A hedge or other tall plantings can help minimize this. Additionally, being surrounded by "growing green walls" can be very soothing -- especially when the temperature is over 100F outside.

pampas grass blooming by wall

Here, a row of very hardy Pampas Grass completely screens a dull, unpainted gray block wall. 

For some traditional and unusual shrubs and other plants to consider for hedges in front of hot concrete block walls, go here.

2. Use trellises full of climbers in front of the wall. Several large trellises as high as your wall, spaced at regular intervals, then planted with vines or climbing shrubs is not quite a hedge, but gives a living green wall effect.   Trellises have the benefit of being shallower and taking up less garden space.

You may wish to consider painting your walls in addition to trellises, hedges or climbers. 

3. Seal and paint your garden walls. When selecting the color for your walls, choose several colors and buy one quart of each. Then paint large sample swatches on the walls. A color that may look great as a little square may become overwhelming when you paint 500 square feet of it. We suggest, unless you are truly adventurous, that you select a soft pastel -- pale green or apricot or sandy yellow--or a terra cotta color. Or paint wide horizontal stripes in two of these colors. Plants naturally look good against these colors.  

purple outdoor fireplace

One of the latest color trends has garden walls being painted intense purple or bright teal or shocking pink. Those colors are for the brave! Visitors will definitely notice your walls -- they may not notice the plants or anything else in the garden. Here, the fireplace and adjacent wall have been painted deep purple.

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4. Have the walls stuccoed and painted. The same painting guidelines apply: buy quarts of various colors and "test drive" them on your garden wall before you paint it all. Some stucco comes colored. 

rock wall

5. Add a real or artificial stone facade to your garden wall. This option is, of course, expensive, but the rock wall effect is guaranteed to give the image of age and permanency and quality.

6. Place a tile mural or a hanging fountain on the wall. We have seen some outdoor walls, particularly enclosing patio areas, that have been entirely or extensively tiled. Gorgeous -- but costly! Adding a modest size tile mural or tiling the background area around a hanging fountain can be less expensive and provide a dramatic focal point for your garden. Doing this on a painted or stuccoed wall, as you can see in the photo at the top of this page, is very attractive.

For 5 new ideas to improve the look of a retaining wall, go here.


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