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(ARA) - If you're like many people, you probably want more usable space in your backyard. But how do you get it without having to buy additional real estate?

Today's segmental retaining wall systems are a viable solution. They can turn an unusable slope into a stunning tiered garden; transform a lifeless patio into an outdoor kitchen; and even convert your front entryway into a spacious and welcoming courtyard.

"Retaining walls are only the beginning of what you can do with some of these products," says Jim Christensen, senior landscape architect with Minnesota-based Villa Landscapes. "Freestanding walls, columns, stairs, seat walls, outdoor cooking areas -- all are possible using the better segmental retaining wall systems."

Segmental walls are built using high-strength concrete retaining wall units without mortar or footings below frost levels. Friction from the weight of units stacked on top of one another, along with interlocking mechanisms, retains soil behind the walls. The most durable systems employ solid concrete units held together by noncorrosive pins inserted from the top of each course of units into the course below. Top-pinning systems make unit alignment easy and allow maximum design flexibility.

They're also more environmentally friendly than landscape timbers and other materials that can contain hazardous preservatives, and far less costly than poured-in-place concrete walls. The hottest trend in retaining walls is the weathered appearance, says Christensen. Weathered concrete units undergo a special texturing process to achieve a vintage, historic appearance.

"I like to use Versa-Lok Weathered retaining wall products for a natural look that blends beautifully with existing structures," says Christensen. "I also like Versa-Lok's Mosaic product. Mosaic uses three unit sizes to create random face patterns for a truly stunning appearance and its solid, top-pinning design is easy to build with, so my contractors like it. There are no hollow cores to fill like other systems, and they're easily modified on the job site for installing special landscape design elements."

* More than a Patio

Backyard dining is exploding across the country -- and that means a lot more than just throwing some burgers on a portable grill. Traditional concrete slab patios are being upgraded to outdoor cooking spaces complete with built-in grills, food preparation areas and other amenities.

"These extensions of your kitchen can be created using retaining wall systems like Versa-Lok, which are capable of building columns to 4 feet tall, freestanding walls to 3 feet, inside and outside curves, stairs and corners of just about any angle," says Christensen. "A fire pit and grate installed in the center of a paving-stone patio, surrounded by short freestanding walls for seating, makes a cozy backyard gathering place. The benches, built with segmental retaining wall units, will complement the paving-stone patio and last a lifetime with virtually no maintenance."

* Wise Investment

Not only are landscape improvements a way to get more enjoyment out of your yard, they're also a wise financial investment in your home. "When people ask me how they can get strong interest in their property, I always tell them to fix up their landscaping,"Walt McDonald, president of the National Association of Realtors, told Smart Money magazine.

A recent study by Clemson University and the University of Maryland showed that buyers of existing homes will pay up to 11 percent more than the asking price for a home that features a well-designed landscape. Homeowners who spend 5 percent of the value of their home on landscaping can get returns on their investment of 150 percent to 200 percent.

More information and ideas about how segmental retaining walls can improve your landscape are available by contacting VERSA-LOK Retaining Wall Systems at (800) 770-4525 or by visiting

Courtesy of ARA Content