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Ask Maria: Help me Choose a Colour for my Retaining Wall

This reader is stuck when trying to choose a colour for her retaining wall. Here’s my colour advice and a look inside my newest exterior masterclass module. 

My 15th module for my Exterior Masterclass is live right now! And it’s another WWMD 🙂

What would Maria Do with THIS: Porch/Patio/Fence/Deck and I even mentioned outbuildings in this one!

I did get a good question about retaining wall colours this week and here it is:

We live in a 1930s bungalow in a part of town that is quite eclectic. It’s known for its artists and we love color here. I love my green and purple house.

The big problem we have is that our entire front yard is surrounded by a 5’ high concrete retaining wall, which we have never quite known how to deal with.

As much as I’d love to have it clad in stone, it just isn’t in the budget. I painted it cream years ago, but I’ve never been happy with it. Should the steps also be green, or should they be the color of the porch floor and retaining walls?

I’ve put off making any decisions as my husband has been dealing with cancer over the last few years but this year he is better & we are stuck at home and decided to finish it. But what color?

Well? What do you think?

What colour should I choose for my retaining wall?

Well, I see a bare wall like this and on the exterior, I’m thinking, this needs more than just colour. We’re back to landscaping.

I know. I’m like a broken record with landscaping.

Kinda like the way I am with lamps.

Because here’s the thing, the second question to ask yourself after:

What colour should I paint X (outbuilding, fence, deck, porch, retaining wall) on my house?


Would landscaping make a difference here?

When I sent MaryAnne White (my talented virtual landscape designer) the photo of the retaining wall, she said “Paint it green to match the house and add some cascading plants!” And find some interesting tile that would go with her artsy house for the stairs!

Brilliant right?

After I started searching retaining walls and cascading plants I came up with all kinds of beautiful ideas:

Interior Dreamer

I do love green on a black wall. However in this case my readers retaining wall connects to her green house so it can’t be black.


Prescott News

Plant material in front of a retaining wall is beautiful. Suddenly, we don’t need stone anymore.

Hot Gardens

Here’s the before again:

Keep in mind this is photoshopped so it’s as natural as copying and pasting can be 🙂


Here’s the house and the wall together:

You could grow vines on a retaining wall as well:

Just a reminder, this is how to access your account in order to watch Module 15:

Go to:
Enter Your Username and Password
Forgot your password? Simply follow the “Lost your password?” prompts on the page to reset it.

If you’d like to learn how to choose exterior colours using The Killam Method, check out my Masterclass here.

Here’s review I just received:

“I loved it. I am working on the exterior of my 1969 orange brick colonial style house. This really clarified a lot of our decisions. My children are design-minded and participating in our home renovations. I’ve been surprised by how accessible and interesting they’ve found this course.”

If you have a question for my Ask Maria posts, email me GOOD photos (they’ll have a higher chance of being posted) here.

Related posts:

Add Instant Curb Appeal with the Right Fence Colour; Before & After

Ask Maria: Does My House Need Shutters?

Ask Maria: Help me Update my 60s Exterior: Before & After

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  • Kristin says:

    I love this! I would probably use the same tile on the stairs to the house to tie it together even more.

  • Lorri says:

    Cascading plants would be enchanting!

  • Vicki Williams says:

    Wow! I was at a loss until I read the rest of your article. What wonderful advice. The green wall and the cascading plants. Life changing. So terrific! and inspirational! Maria you are so good! Thank you for your posts! Oh and your white tulips! OMGosh!

  • Liz in Oregon says:

    I like the very last photo with the wall painted a dark color (purple?) that ties in better with the fence. The vines, or any greenery, are more natural against that color than the green, to my eye. Besides, I love purple! 🙂 The tiles are a nice eclectic touch.

  • Janine says:

    I am always blown away by how your mind comes up with these solutions. I’m over here struggling to get halfway good at checkers – you’re playing THREE DIMENSIONAL CHESS.

  • Carolyn says:

    Wow!!!! That wall looks amazing. The paint color and cascading plants = brilliant.

  • JanetDR says:

    Gorgeous result!

  • Maggie S says:

    Maria, I love these before and afters (really I love anything you write!) Thanks for always providing informative and educational content!! To amuse myself while at home I have been going back over your old posts!! They are just as interesting the second time around –that is because just like your style, they are “timeless” 🙂

  • Nancy says:

    Thank you what a difference .
    I did totally love the black wall with plants .
    Any way black could be used ?
    If one was to do a tile with black and green ?

  • Tara Dillard says:

    Whatever color is chosen for the wall, stain the fence/arbor that color also.

    Too chopped up visually only staining the wall. Makes the space look ‘smaller’, hodge-podge-lodge.

    Would choose same color as house, but slightly darker. This adds depth.

    Cascading plants perfect. Noticed gorgeous dwarf Japanese maple at the house. Several could be espaliered at the base of the retaining wall. Again, more flow from the house. Little maintenance. No trellis or wire needed.

    Loved your GOAT post, pics with your nephews.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

  • Lynn says:

    I agreed with Maria! Great solution, no need for expensive cladding.
    I see the problem as as monolith of a wall and fence.
    I would move the fence back two feet and add plants in front of the fence to add depth and interest. Also, I would saw off the tips of the fence because the picket points are too busy and conflict with the trellis. The fence does need to be too high because you already have the wall.

  • Ange Mills says:

    Your talented landscape designer had a great solution to the retaining wall dilemma.
    Your client could also have someone from her artsy community paint plants on the wall along with ground plants.

    I hope you’re staying safe and healthy during this uncertain time that everyone is facing. I so enjoy ready your blog during our lockdown in Washington state. Take care and keep blogging? ❤️

  • diana mclean says:

    Good Day Maria = I don’t know what direction this home faces and when it gets sun and shade. Is there a water supply close by?
    The house is so unique. Cascading plants are wonderful but remember, these plants go everywhere i.e. ivy, jasmine, etc. It would look lovely as long as it is maintained. Perhaps painting the wall the purple (fence appears purple on my monitor) as it is eccentric and you live in an eccentric neighborhood. Plant sky pencils hollies in front of the wall, if they are good for your zone. They will give a nice vertical look. At the base of the hollies, you could have a nice ground cover. The one I like is creeping jenny and some lambs ears. All depends on when you get sun.
    For the steps, it appears you do not have any lighting on them. If there is none, I would keep the steps a lighter color as dark in the evening could be dangerous. If you want tile, please be sure they have a grain/sand finish so no one slips and falls. Of if painted, you put the granules in the paint. For me it would be a nice shade of warm gray.

  • Sheree L says:

    Yay! I love the “Ask Maria” posts so much! Brilliant ideas from you and MaryAnne! And some great ideas from your readers as well. I have learned so much from your blog, Maria. My only regret is that I didn’t find you sooner so I could have save myself from making some decorating mistakes!

  • priscilla says:

    Perfect! I love the idea of tile on the stairs.

  • Karen says:

    I was thinking, paint a colorful mural on the wall, but I love the idea of the plants, too!

  • Cathy says:

    I like Liz in Oregon’s idea to paint the wall a purple to tie in with the fence, or they could plant cascading vines on the fence like clematis, kiwi vine, trumpet vine, honeysuckle etc etc. Cathy

  • Heddy says:

    I loved this post Maria. I have the same issue…almost…when a neighbour built a fence atop a retaining wall. I feel like I’m in a prison on that side of the yard. This was great advice, and I now feel motivated to do something about it. Will send you photos.

  • Lucy says:

    Always such thought provoking posts! I love them! Covering her wall with vines like in the last picture would get my vote even though they would be more upkeep. The greenery would tie in with the rest of her yard and makes her steps either painted or tiled plus the colorful fence the focal point. She needs more landscaping but maybe not in the budget now. The vines covering the wall would be cost effective and wouldn’t matter what color you painted it. Great ideas!

  • Cindy says:

    This looks like a fun project. A colourful painted Plant mural on that cement wall in an artsy neighborhood would be so unique and interesting and low maintenance. Unless you hire a gardener here and there, the plants can easily take over. Love the tile idea also…
    Great post as usual Maria!

  • Liz in Oregon says:

    I came back to suggest a plant mural painted on the wall and I see a couple of others already posted the mural idea. This would require little maintenance and zero water and tie in with the artsy community. Maybe a local starving artist would be thrilled to paint a trompe l’oiel mural for the owner (after checking the zoning laws for “signs.”). There are lots of great ideas that my friend google came up with. I still think a purple wall works best unless the mural totally covers it. Did I mention that I love purple? 🙂

  • Sunni says:

    We painted ours to match the house stucco color. Taupe.

  • Liz in Oregon says:

    One more thought if the owner decides on a mural…be sure to use an “anti-graffiti” coating over it so it can be cleaned off without destroying the original mural. Even nice neighborhoods get visits from graffiti artists like Banksy or vandals.

  • Patricia Burgess-Cossey says:

    I don’t care for the green wall and pinkish beige picket fence. I know the green wall supposedly blends in with the house, but looking closely at the house I see some light grey and some dark grey. I think I would have painted the wall a light grey (I’m all for the cascading plants) and the trellis and picket fence a darker grey.

    I am/was an interior designers and even we see things differently. I wonder if you did a color photoshop picture with the colors I mentioned?

    • Maria Killam says:

      I think there’s more than one option as well however there is definitely no grey on the house. And photoshopped landscaping makes it harder for the photo to look natural because the plants are transposed from another photo, that’s also what people are reacting to because it doesn’t look that great. Thanks for your comment, Maria

  • Michelle says:

    I actually like the cream wall. Left as-is, or she could go a shade or two darker with a green-beige, adding some decorative boulders strategically placed along the base and call it minimalist low-maintenance. Or provide some sort of seating with slatted wood benches behind a path of slate stone. I don’t know if she is worried about theft, but potted plants could add some depth to the space.

  • Judi Chevalier says:

    I love your ideas for transforming the retaining wall. I don’t have this problem but love your solution!!!

  • martha schaub says:

    I love the goats. Have the same set up inside for cats is cool too.

  • Cyndia says:

    Thank you so much for your solutions, Maria! And thank you to MaryAnne as well. I somehow didn’t see this when you posted about it (weird, because I read and watch you almost daily), so that is why I’m late in responding. My instincts were telling me to paint the wall green, and the idea of a mural has been running through my mind for years, so it’s always helpful when others confirm those ideas. I love the idea of colorful tiles too. And now I’m looking for some cool vines that will drape over the wall. Unfortunately, the area in front of wall is city right-of-way, so I can’t plant anything there. Thanks again for your help!

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