Segmental Retaining Walls: Not Your Father's Retaining Wall
By Gregory A. Kirkman
Commercial Sales Manager
Pavestone© Company
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

segmental retaining wallsToday, modular segmental retaining walls are a staple of construction contractors tools used to handle elevation changes, but that has not always been the case. As with many of our best construction methods, segmental retaining walls or SRW’s as they are commonly referred, started its journey to construction practice along a path traveled by many other common construction ideas. First as a hair-brained idea by some visionary then to a possible but unproven method of solving a tough construction situation and finally, thru trial and error an acceptable and reliable weapon in the construction tool bag used all over the country to solve earth retention issues.

The SRW’s offer tremendous flexibility as well as almost unlimited design capabilities to the architect and engineer while offering an aesthetic and pleasing look to the customer. The walls can be designed to do almost anything that traditional poured in place concrete can do and at a substantial cost savings in some cases. The wall products allow for managing tough elevation changes and soil retention issues while still providing a look that fits comfortably into the design.

The case of the Reservoir Hill subdivision in north Tulsa, Oklahoma is a perfect example of how a properly designed and constructed segmental retaining wall can tie several construction issues together and give the architects and their customers a wonderful solution.

The Reservoir Hill neighbor hood is a quaint little community only 15 minutes from downtown Tulsa; the homes are beautifully located in a wooded, hilly setting that has been around for years. The streets that run thru the area use a European design that places the lanes of a single road at two different elevations and separates them using a hand stacked rock retaining wall. This design adds to the character of the development and makes it truly unique. The streets and rock retaining wall were beginning to show their age however and the need to replace them was apparent to everyone.

The City of Tulsa approached the homeowners and offered to rebuild the streets and the retaining wall as well as adding additional drainage in the form of gutters and storm drains. While getting new streets and improved drainage was enticing to the owners, they were fearful the new design would negatively impact the look and feel of their homes. The home owners were concerned about the look a large poured in place concrete retaining wall would introduce into their community and they had another much larger issue, graffiti. The owners were certain that within weeks of the walls completion the area would be filled with spray paint carrying artist unable to resist the new canvas for their latest masterpiece. This would obviously cause an eyesore for the residence and a maintenance nightmare for the city. Additionally to add the gutters and storm system would require the homeowners grant an easement to the city for construction. This would effectively cut down the amount of property each home owner had and encroach on the front of the house, an idea that was tough to swallow.

As an olive branch to the community, the city offered segmental retaining walls as an alternate to the concrete wall; the homeowners would be give some impute on the color and design of the wall in return for their cooperation with the necessary land easement. Stephan Earnst, a principal at Sparks Architecture, and a resident in Reservoir Hill was excited about the possibilities of using a segmental wall system as a solution to many of the issues standing in the way of a new road system. He and some of the home owners found Tim and Sandy Shoemaker, owners of The Pave-Stone Store of Oklahoma, a distributor of Pavestone and Anchor Wall Systems products. The customers approached Tim to see if Pavestone and Anchor could help with color selection and design. Crafton, Tull and Associates were the engineer of record and Tim met with Bruce Rothell, the project engineer to see if a segmental retaining wall was a good fit.

Bruce immediately saw the potential for the SRW’s to help with many of the pressing issues as well as possibly giving a cost savings to the city and encouraged the process to move forward.
Tim in conjunction with Pavestone enlisted the help of John Van Deurzen, principal in the engineering firm of John Van Deurzen and Associates. John specializes in wall design and is very adept at handling situations others avoid. John and his team came up with the design to fit the cities project and provided preliminary plans and specifications so a budget could be established. John picked the Anchor Wall Systems product called Highland Stone, This is a 6 inch tall, multi piece product that looks very natural and would be a perfect fit in the neighborhood. To everyone’s surprise the SRW design worked with the current road configuration and offered the city considerable saving over the poured in place option.

Finally the homeowners went to the distributor’s yard for the color selection. During the visit to The Pave-Stone Store of Oklahoma Mr. Earnst and the residence of Reservoir Hill did not initially see a color that appealed to them, the stock colors had too much browns and grays and not enough red, a color that was prevalent in the community. While the men struggled with what to do the women came to the rescue, while standing on a paver display one of the ladies asked about the color they were looking at and questioned if that color could be made into a wall color…..Reservoir Hill Blend was born.

Now that the color selection had been made and the homeowners had agreed to the easement concessions it was time for the final design. John and his team finalized the wall design using the flexibility and ease of construction to put the final touches to his ideas. The wall would be designed and constructed in two phases, the lower road would be constructed then the main part of the wall would go up. The wall varied in height from 4 feet to upwards of 18 feet tall at its highest point. Because of the height of the wall a jersey barrier was added to the wall design to add some safety for traffic using the new roads. Once the upper road was under construction a concrete grade beam connected to the road was formed and poured and a safety barrier for the drive lane was constructed. This concrete barrier was enclosed with the Highland Stone block back to back and then filled with gravel to surround the concrete barrier. The wall was capped with a combination of wall cap and poured in place concrete stained to match the wall color.

With all of the design and color issues out of the way the construction started and another benefit of the segmental retaining wall product became obvious, the ease of installation. The walls are very easy to install and the process is fairly simple, it does not require a large amount of big, cumbersome equipment to erect. The lack of equipment makes the logistics of building the wall easy to incorporate with the rest of the construction process. This was epically important because the wall had to be installed in phases as the drainage and roads were constructed. It was imperative that the wall contractor could complete each part of the wall on time to allow the other trades to do their part on schedule and to be able to maintain the overall construction schedule. While no project is perfect, this one went very well, all of the contractors worked together and they were able to seamlessly integrate all of the different trades in a very tight construction area. The total construction project lasted roughly nine months and when it was complete the residence of Reservoir Hill had exactly what they had wanted, brand new streets, improved drainage and a retaining wall that added to the charm of their community.

While the original wall design would have saved over $ 300,000 versus poured in place concrete, the final design including the added jersey barrier still came in as a savings to the City of Tulsa and more importantly gave the city and the Reservoir Hill and great project that was a win-win for everyone. The 38,000 square foot worth of wall is split up into several walls along 2 streets that go on for more than half a mile. The wall varies in height from 4 feet to over 18 feet at its highest. The jersey barrier is a wonderful safety feature but also a very nice compliment to the neighborhoods comfortable feel.

If you are ever in Tulsa, head north of town and find the Reservoir Hills subdivision and you will see a great example of how a municipality, an architect and engineer could come together to solve an issue using creative ideas and a flexible product to better the entire community, I think the residence will tell you they are happy with the new addition to their neighborhood.


Pavestone Press Newsletter
Volume 10, Issue 1, Summer 2009
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Building Value into Your Existing Home
By Gregory A. Kirkman
Commercial Sales Manager
Pavestone© Company
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

During this unstable time in our economy, with uncertainty in the work force and home values falling, many people are putting off the idea of purchasing a new home and resigning themselves to living in the old digs.

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Now more than ever, people are looking for ways to be outside. Why not combine the need for more outside space with the ability to add considerable value to your existing home. By remodeling the back yard the homeowner has the ability to accomplish both goals at once.

One of the hottest trends in the industry is to transform the back yard from a weekly chore of cutting the grass to a place to entertain friends, expand your living space or just get away from the every day worries.

There are several great options that are possible, you can create and outdoor kitchen for entertaining, the homeowner can add an outdoor living area complete with a fire pit or fire place to extend the season in both the spring and fall and finally you could build a quiet place to just sit and unwind while you listen to the peaceful sound of a water feature.

All of the things discussed above can be easily created using concrete pavers and segmental retaining walls for Pavestone©. The pavers give the homeowner the ability to create an area much more pleasing and durable then with traditional concrete. Multiple shapes and colors allow the customer design any type of decor they wish while insuring long term durability and very little maintenance. Using retaining walls to either raise a patio or create a courtyard allows the homeowner to build additional space into the backyard while adding value to the home. Pavestone©’s free standing wall system ( Highland Stone ) gives the client the ability to take an open area and build it into a quiet sheltered space perfect for relaxing after a long day.

No matter what types of back yard project you want to under take, Pavestone© has a product that will work to support your ideas and at the same time add beauty and value to you home.

If you can’t or don’t want to buy a new home, the next best thing is to be able to get more out of your existing one and if by adding that outdoor space that we all need crave for sanity adds value to the resale potential of your home that is truly a win win situation.

So when you start to look at your next project around the house don’t forget the backyard, and when you decide to add living space to the yard look first to Pavestone© and our distributors for ideas that will truly make the back yard as valuable as the inside of your home.

The Linnaeus Garden: A Landscaper’s Field of Dreams
By Gregory A. Kirkman
Commercial Sales Manager
Pavestone© Company
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Linnaeus GardenIf you build it, they will come. Just like the character in the famous baseball movie, Barry Fugatt, director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center, heard a voice he could not ignore. The result is a teaching garden unlike anything in the country. And like in the movie, the people have come.

The Carl Linnaeus Teaching Garden sits in the southeast corner of Woodward Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is a magnificent example of the power of dreams and the amazing potential of the human spirit. While working as extension director and senior horticulturist for Oklahoma State University, Barry always dreamed about a teaching garden he could use to teach his students and the citizens of Tulsa about the wonderful world of plants, hardscape materials and gardening. Never in his wildest imagination could he foresee the trip his dreams would take him and his followers on. Once he retired from OSU, Barry accepted a position at the Tulsa Garden Center in Tulsa’s historic Woodward Park. There he found a small piece of overlooked property that stirred the voice he had heard so many times. Unable to quell the voices Barry set out to build his field of dreams.

The result is The Linnaeus Teaching Garden. Named after eighteenth century Swedish physician Dr. Carl Linnaeus, the garden is a shining example of the collaborative effort of private donors, the landscape industry and an almost fanatical group of volunteers. Dr. Linnaeus is best known as the father of botany for his binominal (genus-species) naming system of plants. This system gives gardeners around the world an international language for naming and discussing plants. He was a renowned teacher and lecturer and was famous for his love of plants. A nine-foot bronze statue of Dr. Linnaeus stands at the entrance of the garden welcoming all who visit and promising an experience they won’t soon forget.

But first things first, Barry had his idea and a piece of property. Now he needed a team and the funds to construct and operate the garden. His first call was to Joe Howell, one of the principals at Howell and Vancuren, Inc., Landscape Architects. Joe was instantly intrigued by the idea and the concept. He, like Barry, saw the perfect setting for a teaching garden He also saw something else, a place where people could learn about a wide variety of plants and hardscape products to use in their personal and professional lives. Once the architect was on board, it was time to choose a general contractor. For that, Joe and Barry picked Aaron Rogers of Rforma Design and Build. This was the perfect team to design and build the garden, as Joe said “this was the best example of a situation where the owner, the designer and the builder worked closely together to create the perfect final plan that he has ever been associated with.” The three men controlled every detail in the design and construction of the garden.

Once the team was in place the next step was to find funding. Barry set out to introduce industry and private citizens to his dream. He was pleasantly surprised with the response. Many private citizens stepped up to donate money to the project. The industry contacts that were so vital to the gardens success quickly came on board. Pavestone© Company out of Dallas, Texas came in as a major sponsor for the hardscape portion of the project and many plant, nursery, and water feature industry leaders also gave major contributions to help make Barry’s dream a reality.

The garden was built and funded completely by private money. No public funds have ever been used to support the operation. Barry said “this could have never happened without the cooperation and support of the landscape industry and the generosity of the private citizens of Tulsa.” He added “this is almost a perfect marriage between industry leaders, private citizens and volunteers to create a wonderful teaching garden that is available to all of the people of Tulsa and the Midwest.”

With funding in place, it was time to begin the construction phase. The placement of hardscaping elements (walks, paths, pavilion and retaining walls) was particularly critical to the success of the garden. Pavestone© hardscaping materials literally became the “bones” of the project, tying together the garden’s many use areas (water garden, herb garden, veggie garden, perennial garden, etc) into a coherent whole.

With a limited space to work with, Joe found the hardscape materials critical in tying together the many plants, bushes and shrubs as well as the water garden. Along with space constraints there were also elevation changes that needed to be addressed. The design flexibility of retaining walls proved to be a perfect solution. Joe and his team were able to use the retaining walls to separate the garden into many different areas, each with a unique and different feel.

Using pavers allowed Joe to lead the visitors through the many sections of the garden on a beautiful and functional pathway. He incorporated over 16 different styles of pavers including a permeable paver used in the green house that allowed the water to move through the floor directly back into the sub soil. An ADA accessible ramp was designed into the master plan to ensure that wheelchair bound visitors could enjoy the garden.

However, the project was not without its obstacles. Again the design team took the opportunity to showcase how it could serve as a teaching facility and not just a pretty face. A long line of very old trees stood along the path leading into the gardens main entrance. These trees were critical to the look and feel of the garden. The walkway that was designed to go into the garden threatened these beautiful trees. Joe and Aaron decided to move away from the traditional paver installation method that would require excavation of 6-8 inches of soil and replace it with a base material that had very little drainage capabilities. Instead of disturbing the delicate root system they raised the elevation of the walkway and used a clean well draining rock as the base. This allowed the path to go where it was originally designed but also protected the trees’ root system and ensured they would be around to look over the garden for a long time to come.

Now at almost two years old, the garden has blossomed into one of the most unique places in the country. The two acre site holds over 500 species and 12,000 individual plants and bushes as well as a large water feature and upwards to 10,000 square feet of hardscape pavers and retaining walls creating an environment that truly has something for everyone. The facility is worth more than two million dollars and takes a volunteer staff of over 200 to make it the beautiful, peaceful place it is.

Earlier in this story, I mentioned the fanatical volunteer staff involved in the day to day running of the garden. These dedicated people are the real heart and soul of the Linnaeus Garden. Spend anytime at all in the garden and you will run into a smiling face and a welcoming personality ready and willing to make sure your trip to THEIR garden is a memorable experience. Make no mistake these volunteers are not window dressing, they must pass a grueling interview even to be considered for the program, only one out of five is accepted. Once approved by Barry, they go through twelve intense weeks of studies and tests to learn about the garden and all of its pieces so they can teach and help the public with the experience. Each student must then volunteer a minimum 50 hours in the first year to earn their rightful place as a Linnaeus Teaching Volunteer. It is a process and job they take very seriously. Linda Helms, a graduate from the second class is a perfect example of the dedication and passion all of the volunteers have for the garden. The effort and time involved builds a tremendous loyalty and love for the garden that is apparent any time you are close to a volunteer. “We travel and see many beautiful gardens all over the Midwest as part of our on going training” Linda says “The difference at the Linnaeus Garden is that it is not cared for, it is loved”.

Now that the garden is established and has grown into a full-fledged teaching facility with a well trained staff to look after it, the next step was inevitable. In the next few years, Barry has plans to start several programs to benefit the citizens of Tulsa. A children’s program is in the works for this fall as well as a program for senior citizens living in assisted facilities and a horticulture therapy program that will work with local hospitals to provide a unique setting for mentally and physically disabled patients to benefit from the beauty and healing powers of such a wonderful place.

The children’s program is especially dear to Sharon Taylor’s heart. As a retired school teacher and graduate of the very first class of volunteers, she sees the benefits of having a place to teach educators how to expose their students to the wonders of nature. Sharon says “most kids in the city never get an opportunity to see nature this close and to have an outdoor science classroom that they can have a hands on experience. This is a tremendous asset to the children of Tulsa.”

The senior citizen and horticulture therapy programs are in the infant stages but could offer amazing opportunities for the citizens of Tulsa to benefit from the Linnaeus Gardens’ wonderful surroundings and incredible volunteers and to make their lives more enjoyable and rewarding. The volunteers receive many rewards for their efforts as well. “It has been amazing to see people from all walks of life come together with one common interest, that being the love of gardening, and how those people have formed a close knit family with only one goal, to take care of the garden and all its visitors.” Sharon goes on to say “the friendships we have formed with other volunteers was totally unexpected but has been a great bi-product of the work at the garden.”

The Linnaeus Garden is a wonderful place full of beauty and serenity as well as a tremendous idea garden for the businesses and citizens of Tulsa. Walk through the garden almost any time of the day or week and you will see a wide variety of people benefiting from the garden’s many areas of interest. Whether they are individuals looking for new ideas to take home or professional landscapers or designers looking for the newest ideas in landscape technology, the garden has something for everyone. The garden has far surpassed all of the hopes and dreams that Barry and the volunteers had when they started this venture only three short years ago. If you see the garden now you would swear it has been around for many years to be so beautiful and mature. This is a testament to Barry’s vision and the volunteers love and dedication to the place that has become such a big part of all of their lives.

After a trip to the Linnaeus Garden, it is very easy for landscape or gardening enthusiasts to wonder just like Shoeless Joe Jackson did in the movie Field of Dreams, is this heaven. I you ask Sharon, Linda or any of the more than 200 volunteers who patrol the garden they will gladly tell you with the love only a mother can feel for a child, that this is not heaven, it is the Linnaeus Teaching Garden. But, it sure feels like heaven to them.