Suggestions needed to replace brick planter walls

tonic888March 31, 2007

I'm not entirely sure what to call them (retaining wall, planter walls, etc) but I have these brick walls around my backyard that enclose the planters. The cement around it is the aggregate type.

I want to replace the brick with some other kind of stone, but I am not sure what or where to get it. I have looked at Home Depot and they did not have anything that looked nice.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what to use instead of the brick and where I can get it? (I'm in San Jose, CA) It does not look like the bricks can be cleaned to look "new" or "nice".

Here are some pictures of my backyard and the brick planter walls:

Please keep in mind that we are remodeling our pool and will have new brick coping around the edge. It will be a deep dark red color. So we will have some brick in the backyard still (plus backdoor steps are brick).

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Personally I like the look of weathered brick but if you just want them to look new (which they probably never did due to them being what is called used brick) you can sand blast them. You can rent a sandblaster at equipment rental yards. Be really careful if you decide to go that way because sandblasters can be dangerous.

Here is a link that might be useful: My pond the way it was before the freeze.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2007 at 3:49PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

Look at Payless Rockery or South Bay Lumber

    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 12:06AM
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Be warned, sandblasting is a very messy process, but might give you the look you want.Try powerwashing your bricks first. If you put a nice capstone on the existing wall I think you would like it better. You could even match it to your new pool coping. I was at a local stoneyard yesterday and they have some amazing choices in veneer and stacked stone products you could apply over the existing walls, if you prefer stone to brick.Good luck with the project.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 6:49PM
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davissue_zone9(z9 Sunset 14)

Why not replace them with a low wall faced with tile simular to the tile edging the swimming pool? I would also cap them with tile wide enough to act as additional seating for when you have a group over.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 9:10AM
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gotsomerice(Sunset 23)

Why are you spending lots of money to get rid of something that look really nice? I personally would spend money on plants. Try replanting something that hang over the brick wall to cover them if you don't like the look of worn bricks. Maybe rosemary or succulents or ice plants to cascade over the bricks. Those old bricks are really hard to find and people pay top money for old bricks. The new ones are not make like they used to.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 2:21PM
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I agree with gotsomerice. I think they look nice. And the masonry work looks well done. There are lots of fast-growing groundcover plants that will cover them.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 3:37PM
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Thanks for all the suggestion so far. I don't think we will go with sandblasting.. but either replace or use a veneer (not sure that will work due to how low the walls are).

As for why we are replacing something that "looks good", its just not our personal taste. Many of you may like the look of the old bricks, but we do not. I realize that many of you will think we are crazy to replace them but please don't attack me for wanting to.

And yes.. I need plants. I'm new to gardening and trying to learn what I can on this board since most of what I planted died.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 5:24PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)


Since you are new to gardening, I recommend you take some time to really think about what you want to achieve w/these raised planters. Although I personally think they look very classic, if they aren't your taste they aren't your taste.

What exactly is your taste? You mentioned wanting to replace them with something else but you don't know what. It's hard to give alternative suggestions when you put up pictures of attractive planters and the only indication is that you want something that looks new.

I think you are focusing on the planters b/c the landscaping is sparse and they don't tie in well w/the rest of the area. But you are planning to update the pool and you want to add additional plants, both should help. I think it would be a good idea to wait until you have the pool redone and design the beds, then reassess whether or not the brick really has to go. I think old brick can look good in many settings.

Here are my thoughts:

1) What are those white boards (or whatever they are) in the background? Paint them to match the fence so they disappear.

2) Wait until you get the new pool coping, then reassess the planters. Capping the brick walls is an excellent suggestion and you may find something that will work to tie the raised beds w/the pool coping.

3) As suggested by gotsomerice: plant trailing rosemary or trailing succulents (sedum) along the edges of the planters. I think trailing plants will soften the look and help the weathered brick appear more natural instead of old.

4) Tear out that yellow shrub--is it a euonymous?? The leaves really don't compliment the brick very well.

5) Try to get some "layers" going in the planters, maybe add some trellis and grow vines for height. Find some airy shrubs, perhaps butterfly bush and matilija poppy. Plant evergreens for winter interest and avoid pruning them into unnatural squares or spheres.

6) Spend time reading the forums to get a better idea of what you might want to do.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 1:03AM
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Thanks melle_sacto. I think you are right about many things.

First, I guess I am still trying to figure out what I want exactly. I prefer the natural stone look but maybe thats not really whats best for the backyard. I also don't really know what all the options are, I just think the brick and the whole backyard looks old. I think you are right that I should wait until the pool is redone and I have planted better plants.

1) The white boards are a cement retaining wall. I painted it this weekend. Here is a picture:

I think it looks better but it did turn out lighter than I had wanted. It really took a lot of work so I think I am going to leave it like that.

2) I actually like the capping idea. It would be less expensive. I'm not sure where to find the capstones though.

3) Thank. I will look into those.

4) I think its funny you bring this up. My husband and I were talking about it this weekend and I said I wanted to tear it out. I just felt guilty about ripping out something thats so old and mature. I don't like it at all though.

5) Thanks. I was trying to go for layers but a lot of the plants I planted died (I thought they were prennials but I guess not). I need to do more research.

6) Yes. I am also going to get the Sunset western garden book (checkout from library to start). I hope it will help me. My biggest problem is finding something I want to plant and then actually buying it. The stuff I pick out usually isn't at home depot or summerwinds. I wish I could get a list of their plants and then pick from there. Or maybe I should order online?

Thank you for the help.

To get started on the planters, should I post my layout in a new thread or continue it here? Also, will the Sunset garden book help me with the layers? Or is there a better book to reference?

Honestly, this site is so huge.. its hard to know where to go for information. I will stick to the California board I think.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 1:30AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

If you want a fresh look, don't allow your thinking to get stuck with what currently exists. Look at your back yard in total, not piece by piece. If you don't like the narrow brick planters where plants (apparently) survive, but don't thrive, will you like them any better with nice stone? Maybe you need a completely new design and concept -- deeper planters, fewer planters, curving shape, different materials, different plant theme?

Before you spend money on the pool or any piece of the puzzle, I suggest talking with a few landscape designers about a fresh concept so that the finished garden won't be a hodge-podge, but a well-conceived plan where everything fits together.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 2:55PM
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Speaking as someone in the middle of a complete hardscape overhaul (the demo crew rang the bell at 7:20 this morning to begin work!) I would have never attempted this project without a landscape designer. My guy charges a flat rate to design, and has steered us away from some bad decisions, as well as some overlooked details, thus already earning his fee. For example he has urged us to replace the 30 year old gas line to the pool eqpt before installing the new patio. Simple, but it slipped my mind. He also just overrode our choice of flagstone coping because of its high iron content, which would eventually bleed rust into our pool, and he recommended stone of similar colors and told me where to find it. He has enhanced the project in every way.

If I have a point, it is that he has the big picture in mind, but also has the experience to coordinate all the details. It is still crazy expensive, stressful and daunting, but I have the benefit of his experience. Mostly I appreciate his fresh perspective and his ability to translate our design ideas into reality. Now if I could only find a carpenter to put in my patio cover I might be able to relax.

You are spending a lot of money on this I'm sure. Just make sure you get what you want out of it.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 3:42PM
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catkim - Thanks for the suggestions. The pool remodel is a must as the plaster is almost down to the gunite and the tile is falling off. Thats already contracted and scheduled. Pool remodeling is expensive and the options are more limited due to retrofitting the old design. As for the planters, I will keep in mind what you said.

catkim/holedigger - Any idea how much a landscaper charges?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 4:49PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I agree with Kim, that it might be worth changing the configuration of your planters to use a more curved, flowing layout that mirrors the shape of the pool, and gives you more room to plant and soften the fences. To my eye, the narrow linear planters just don't look in proper proportion to the pool and pool deck.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2007 at 12:44PM
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Tonic- Landscaper's fees would wholly depend on what you want them to do. Design? Construction? Planting? Some do it all, some only do what they can do.

The best way to find out would be to get a few referrals from people in your area whose gardens you admire, or have had good experiences, and get some bids. This will also help you develop a budget, or at least understand what things really cost. Just double the cost and time estimates they give you (to cover last minute additions, changes and unforeseen difficulties.)

You could also inquire if any of the better nurseries in your area offer design and installation, because sometimes they will design for free if they can furnish the plants and labor. Finding good contractors is maybe the hardest thing in the world to do.

In my current situation, my designer is charging me a flat fee of $2000.00 to design the project,and he has referred some very good contractors that he works with regularly, and he is overseeing the project through completion at no additional charge. I am assuming that he gets a referral fee from the contractors, but their bids have been competitive.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2007 at 7:45PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Brick or not, the planters are just very very narrow and very linear. The one good thing about narrow planters is access--it is easy to reach every part of the planter. The drawbacks are that you are limited to narrow plants, only 1 deep, because that is all that will fit in there. It's a bit tricky to make that type of space look nice.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 7:41AM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I'd like to chime in here that I agree w/catkim, bahia, hoovb, and others: the planter shape is not a good fit w/the pool shape and they do not appear to be a good depth to really create an impressive planting border.

That said, sometimes you have to work w/what you have, other times you can make it what you want. If this is a case where you can make it what you want, do consider having the layout changed. I'm no expert on what this kind of thing costs, but at minimum at least some of the cement would have to be removed; you may end up having to redo all the cement in the end so it will look nice--I don't know how delicately they can remove parts of the cement w/out damaging other parts. I guess I'm kind of hung up on the cement work b/c that part seems, to me, to be the priciest.

Call some landscape designers and talk w/them. Hopefully they can get you a ballpark figure for cost and maybe you can afford it now, maybe you'll have to save for it. Holedigger had good tips for you and my experience is that the "better" nurseries will try to help you in whatever area they can regarding your yard, whether it's recommend plants or a designer or?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 8:46AM
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I think it would be nice if you could raise the beds up to around double the height they are now - not only the back, but incrementally along the side, too. It would give you more planting depth, as well as lessen the height of plants needed to grow up in front of the fence.

You could add a couple "layers" of a neutral stone/brick on top of the brick that's currently there, then on top of that, put in the same kind of brick that's going around your pool. (Can you tell I don't know technical terminology? :D) The intermediate choice could even have little nooks built in for growing small, trailing plants, such as Sedum.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 1:13PM
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way i see it you have unlimited options to get what you want cosmeticly. if it is just the OLD brick look that is unsightly, you can try pressure washing the brick and then sealing it with a masonrt sealer. this will completly change the look and feel of the wall.

if you are going to re-brick it with new bricks, leave the existing and brick in front of it. when you get to the top of the wall turn the brick the length-wise and install it as a cap. this will make your wall thicker and look more sound. it will also make it suitable for sitting on.

A stone veneer would also easily adhere to your existing brick wall. maybe you could veneer a flagstone on the face and then cap the wall with a brick that will match your pool. this cap could over hang the wall a few inches and create a sitting wall as well.

the possabilities are endless. just keep thinking on it until you see it in your mind, then do it. good luck with your project!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 3:05PM
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I think painting the boards has already helped :)

I agree with the masses about the planter not being right for the pool. However, I think you can change it's volume with plants for this year (and let the pool be the big cost for now).

I've got some similar planters. I've gardened before, but not in this climate. So I'm going to suggest the two part process I used.

See what's in the stores, writing down the names of plants you like. Then check the Sunset garden book, to see what it says. Then make lots of purchases of relataivly cheap plants -- nothing too large and pricy. Do try to coordinate the plants -- if some want lots of water and some don't plant them in groups a different ends of the planters, or in different planters. (I called this two part, but really, I keep going back and forth).

I've found in the past that "full sun" can mean drastically different things for different plants, so I've only planted things that I won't be too upset to lose, and I'm seeing who does best (with the sun at my house and how much I'm willing to water, etc).

You could also try some thing like Scarlet runner beans or Sweet peas along the fence. I *think* they will grow up the fence and break the visual line without needing trellis, and they grow quickly but just in the summer.

You'll probably be better off getting plants locally, you can get them a little bit bigger. You could try doing a seach on the web - there's an organizations that small nurseries belong to... I think.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 4:58PM
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One cheap fix would be to buy about three or four different packs of Nasturtium seeds and scatter them along the top edge of the wall. They will cascade over the first year and look pretty good year round in San Jose. When in flower they will look spectacular. Assuming the bed gets some summer water they are simplicity itself to grow. They are also tasty in salads if you like that sort of thing.

For planting in the bed behind I would get about 6 or 8 one gallon agapanthus - either medium or dark blue - the white ones can be a bit bright in summer near a pool. These are easy to grow and pretty much maintenance free and give a long season of spectacular bloom in the summer when the pool is most used. They will take a few years to fill in - they grow about 4 ft across and the same high. Better to clump them irregularly than line them up like soldiers.

A slightly more crazy idea is to use cracked tile and create a mosaic. If you are artistic you can do it yourself or get some art students from the local college to design something for you for cheap. Maybe a fish/aquatic theme? Or use the large 12 inch Mexican terra cotta tiles, and crack them into 3-6 inch chunks and do a "crazy" mosaic. Maybe add a few cobalt blue or other contrasting blue tiles as accents.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 2:06AM
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Like Dave, I'd vote for the mosaic for sure-- could be spectacular!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 5:03PM
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Thanks everyone for the suggestions! I have a lot of thinking to do.

The pool remodel just finished, so we are feeling a bit poor right now... so changing the planters drastically (ie shape) is not in the cards right now. But many of you have made other great suggestions.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 4:20PM
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