Advantages. They are permanent structures and require little maintenance when properly constructed. They can add considerably to the attractiveness of the garden when the materials are properly selected to complement the surroundings. They can provide support for climbing plants. They give a high degree of privacy and act to some extent as a sound barrier.
Disadvantages. Unless you are lucky enough already to have a supply of new or good quality second-hand bricks, they can be very expensive items in a garden. They require a certain amount of skill in their construction – a badly erected wall is both an eyesore and a danger. Some preliminary excavation work is needed in order to provide satisfactory foundations to carry the rest of the wall. If the area to be screened is comparatively small, solid walls, especially brick, can give a rather shut-in feeling. They can encourage down-draughts at their bases which may have a detrimental effect on plants growing there. The area of ground at the base of a wall is often drier than the rest of the garden, especially that side in the lea of the prevailing wind, because the wall tends to shelter it from any rain not falling straight down. High walls can create shade, which may or may not be a disadvantage. Because walls are so permanent, you have to be absolutely sure you have got it right — it is no good deciding in a couple of years you would have been better with something else.
Because walling is a skilled job it would be frivolous to describe in a few words what it might take a building apprentice years to accomplish. And because a wall is such a costly item, it is well worth considering employing an expert builder to get it right. Failing that, you must equip yourself at the outset with the tools to get it upright and level – a plumb line and long spirit level are essential. Certain DIY shops sell aids for ensuring that you use the correct amount of mortar at each ‘dollop’. It is not beyond a handy person to produce a nice piece of walling, but — remember — a badly executed bit of work looks, and is, a disaster. A good book on do-it-yourself projects is a wise investment.
Brick. Brick garden walls are quite attractive if the property is made of a similar brick. Some old stone properties will take a garden wall of mellow coloured or second-hand brick without its looking odd. A few of the cheaper facing bricks are rather soft, and need a capping and foundation of harder or engineering bricks to give extra strength and keep the weather out. The use of contrasting bricks in this way can give quite an interesting effect.
Stone. Stone walls are the Rolls-Royces of garden walling but look best used where the property is built of stone, especially if the stone for the walling is rough-cut. Modern buildings and rustic garden walls do not go together nearly as well as might be imagined. The stone should be in good condition or it will suffer frost damage, and high-quality stone is very expensive.
Dry (unmortared) stone walls of more than a foot or two in height are really a craftsman’s job to erect safely
Reconstituted and imitation stone. This is another expensive building material but much easier to work with than real stone as it is manufactured in standard shaped pieces which are laid much like bricks. Several finishes are available, from blocks which simulate rubble walling to those which look like dressed stone. There are many arguments for and against the use of reconstituted stone where the natural building material of the district is real stone, but if the work is well executed and the materials chosen with care it can blend in quite well. Reconstituted stonework also seems to co-ordinate better with modern materials and designs than some forms of natural stone.