Stone walls are built in two basic forms: freestanding and retaining. Freestanding walls are self-supporting , open on both sides and can be built on flat or sloping ground. Retaining walls are open only on the front side: the other side is buried since it holds back soil, creating a raised, level area in otherwise sloping land. Retaining walls are associated with hilly, rolling terrain, where their work is required.

Stone walls can be designed with aesthetic value as well as practical. Freestanding walls can lend a natural background for a mixed perennial border and at the same time separate and define functions of areas: the formal garden from the informal, the lawn from the street and the patio from the field. Or it can lead along a walkway to the front door and separate public space from private. Terraces can be created from retaining walls holding back slopes and create useful living spaces such as patios or courtyards while at the same time providing beautiful views of level gardens and steps formally holding back the daunting bank at the back or side of a house. The marriage of walls with landscape solves many practical problems while also providing shape, form and direction.

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