Gabions – once confined to the banks of motorways, used in foundations, or used for retaining riverbanks and coastlines, are steadily encroaching into the most prestigious domestic gardens and public landscapes having made their debut at Chelsea several years ago.
The word ‘gabion’ (French – from the Italian ‘gabbione’) simply translates ‘big cage’ essentially wire baskets of heavy galvanised wire filled with anything from crushed rock, cobbles, sawn logs, glass bottles depending on what is required. Rusty wire is sometimes preferred for aesthetic reasons – as in the case of my garden (above where I have used rounded beach cobbles held in place by rusty square metal sheets to hide an ugly block wall. During the day the colour and texture of the wall resembles an oatmeal Arran sweater, the ripples on a nearby pool being reflected on to this in the sun. At night it’s a different scene, lights placed at the base of this wall ‘graze’ the face of the cobbles – the light gradually fading as it gets towards the top. A light dusting of snow has created the opposite effect from the top.
Aside from disguising ugly walls, gabions are mainly used in garden situations for terracing and retaining earth – the advantages being these are quicker and cheaper to construct than standard walls, the cages are light and easily constructed on site and builders rubble can be easily rammed into the backs of them – the front face side being reserved for more decorative stone. Being filled with loose material they are also free draining – preventing any build up of water behind the gabion.
They can however look industrial, and if that is not the effect you want, you might be better off just building a standard wall, unless you use dressed stone or slate laid flat within the cage to resemble a dry stone wall. Using local stone for this not only looks more convincing and is ‘greener’ as it means less road miles, but is also cheaper.
Cheaper still when you recycle materials found on site that would normally end their days in a skip. We found paving slabs in the above garden which were doubtless ‘all the rage’ in the 1950s but are now looked upon with distain. We broke each one (on purpose!) and placed the broken sides against the face of the gabion revealing the aggregate which resembled broken candy (or peanut brittle when wet).
In order to stop the cages sagging, it is best to fill the cage in stages.
Fill one third, then brace all sides with galvanised wire, before filling a further third and bracing once more.