Building a Garden Wall

In addition to being an attractive landscape feature, a simple garden wall is an ideal way to learn bricklaying, particularly if you are planning a more ambitious project and want to hone your skills.

Tools: Concrete tools for footing, pointed trowel, mason’s hoe, wheelbarrow, stiff brush, mason’s line, line blocks.

1. Set the footing and lay bricks. Dig a footing that is 2 inches longer than the wall, twice the width of the wall, and as deep as the frost line in your area. Form the edge of the footing with 2x4s or let your hole act as the form. Pour concrete to just below grade. Allow the concrete to cure for several days. Snap chalk lines along the footing to define the perimeter of the wall, which should be centered on the footing. Lay the bricks, using the same techniques as for a veneer wall, checking for plumb, level, and alignment as you work. As you set the bricks in two rows together, embed corrugated metal brick ties in the mortar about every 12 inches in every third or fourth course.

Drainage for a Retaining Wall - If your wall is a free-standing one, there is no need to worry about drainage, other than sloping the headers slightly. But if your wall is more than 2 feet high and is cut into a slope or holds back a terraced planting area, it will have to bear substantial water pressure when the ground becomes wet. In such a case, be sure to provide drainage in the form of a sloped perforated drainpipe set in a bed of gravel.

2. Top off the wall with headers. Once the wall reaches the desired height, cap it off with a header. You can use header bricks laid flat or formed concrete headers or row-lock headers, flagstones, or limestone block. Slope the headers slightly to allow for drainage.

Building a Curved-Wall Planter

The serpentine lines of this brick planter do more than lend it an elegant appearance. The curves actually add significant strength and vertical stability to the wall. If you have some experience laying straight brick walls, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to build this graceful planter. The biggest challenge is laying out the plywood template; the bricklaying is straightforward. As with other mortared brick walls, this project requires a footing. To avoid having your project ruined by frost heaving and cracking, check with your local building department about the frost line and footing depth required in your area.

Tools: Circular saw, hammer, pencil, string, sabersaw, shovel, trowel, brick set, jointer.

1. Cut the template. From a full sheet of Id-inch plywood, cut 24x48-inch and 24x96-inch pieces. Fasten them together end to end with cleats and screws, as shown. Lay the plywood panel on a flat surface (a lawn or a driveway will do) and draw a straight baseline 2 inches from the long edge. Measure from the baseline and the end of the sheet to locate the four radius centers shown (mark these on the lawn or driveway). Use a drywall square or a framing square to help you find the spots. From each radius center, draw two curved lines using a compass made out of a pencil and string. Have a helper hold the string at the radius center while you draw the lines. Draw all eight radii on the board. Use a saber saw to cut out the curves.

2. Dig and pour the footing. Set the two template pieces on the ground at the wall site. Separate them so there is a consistent 8-inch gap between them (use lengthwise bricks as spacers). Drive in stakes and nail them to the template pieces to anchor the template firmly so it will not shift if you step on it while you dig. With a square shovel, dig a trench for the footing. Dig several inches below the frost line or at least 12 inches deep if frost is not a problem in your area. Dig along the template and the straight areas of the wall. Tamp the soil and shovel in 2 to 3 inches of gravel. Pour concrete to within a couple inches of grade. Allow the footing to cure for a few days.

3. Lay the bricks. Use the template as a guide for laying the bricks. Make a one-course dry run to see how well full bricks fit and to adjust the width of vertical joints between them. Stagger the two tiers of bricks, as shown. On the first course and every two courses thereafter, place metal ties across the tiers at 24-inch intervals. As you lay the course just above final grade, make weep holes every 12 to 18 inches. As you work, check the wall for plumb. Hold the outer template up against it every other course.

4. Cap the wall. Top off the wall with row-lock headers. At the corners, position the bricks as shown in the lower portion of the drawing. Or, for a more finished look, miter-cut the bricks using a circular saw with a masonry blade. Strike the joints and allow the mortar to cure for a few days. Coat the inside of the wall with a masonry waterproofing compound. In the planting area, place 6 inches of sand or pea gravel for drainage. Cover with topsoil and add your plants.

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