Don’t be Afraid of Sloping Gardens

To many people a sloping garden seems like a bit of a headache – there’s nowhere flat to put a patio or lawn so the garden isn’t really usable, yet the thought of bringing in heavy machinery to create terraces and build retaining walls can be slightly terrifying!

In fact, a sloping garden presents a whole raft of opportunities: the creation of terraces enables the garden to be divided into distinct ‘rooms’ with different character.  The addition of steps and pathways linking the terraces makes the garden a dynamic space with movement and drama.  Sloping sites provide different perspectives – you may be able to create a seating area at the top with views over the whole garden or use the levels to disguise sheds or bin stores.  Finally, sloping gardens are ideal for anything that is assisted by gravity, whether it’s a water feature or a kids’ slide!

If the gradient is quite gentle it may be possible to use the contours of the ground to create undulating slopes, giving a more natural feel to the garden.  With steeper gradients, creating a series of flat terraces may allow a more practical use of space. Adding terraces will mean the introduction of retaining walls. There could be a significant cost associated with earthworks and wall construction – if the budget is restricted consider creating level areas only for paving and lawn with the planted areas on graded slopes.

Retaining walls can be built from a variety of materials – timber sleepers are a cost-effective material.  Other options include dry stone walls, rendered concrete, brickwork or stone-filled gabions.  It’s important to choose a material in keeping with the style of your house.  Remember that you will need to include appropriate drainage alongside any retaining wall.

There are some important factors to consider when modifying a sloping garden.  Number one of course is safety – steps should be sized to allow users to walk safely through the garden.  Changes in level above a certain height will require balustrades. Even if no balustrade is needed consider adding a planted bed at the top of a retaining wall to prevent anyone from coming close to the edge.

When reprofiling your garden consider your neighbours – you don’t want to create a raised platform that enables to you to peer over into their garden.  Conversely, you don’t want to lower the levels to the extent that their garden starts to slide below the fenceline into yours!

Topsoil on slopes is likely to be thin and prone to erosion – don’t leave it bare.  Choose a selection of groundcover plants, and plants with deeper roots to help stabilize the soil.  Avoid plants that require a lot of maintenance since accessing them is likely to be tricky.  Using evergreen plants will mean the soil is protected by foliage even in Winter.  Tops of retaining walls can be planted with trailing plants to tumble over and visually break up the hard landscape.

In summary, a sloping garden presents an opportunity to create something really exciting, which needn’t cost the earth.  For help with your sloping garden please contact jane@artisangardendesign.net

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