2016 / Solving problems


A hillside, or a sloped piece of property can be both a blessing and a curse. While sometimes it can make an area of garden seem unusuable, it can also offer wonderful opportunities to create unusual garden areas that are much more interesting than anything built on the flat. What follows are some tips for taming that hillside or slope, and maybe even making it your favorite part of your garden.

1) Think about water. Before you jump in the car, drive to the local nursery and load up on plants, you need to have a plan. This is especially important with areas that aren’t level. And to avoid disappointment later, you need to think about water. Not about where water to water the plants with  is coming from, although that is important, but where the water from the sky goes when it falls. Does the hillside slope towards the house or away from it? Does the water have an established path? Is that path ok, or is it causing problems? If you could change anything about where the rainwater goes, would you?  Knowing where and how rainwater runs is essential.


This blog entry could be solely about this topic, and would go on for many pages. However, in an effort to give a basic overview of what to do with slopes, we will leave the subject for now except to say it that it pays to know where the rain goes. With that knowledge, you can figure out how to make a successful garden.

2) What is practical? A retaining wall may be impractical if the slope is too steep, because you will need an engineer, and it might look rather fortress-like in the end. In such a case, terracing the area, adding several retaining walls, could be the answer. This can be done with wood, formal stone walls, or with strategically placed boulders.


To read about a job that we did a few years ago, building a terraced garden on an extremely unforgiving hill, please click here.

3) Be creative with the paths. There is no need to don climbing gear when walking up or down a steep slope. Simply have your pathways zig-zag, or wind almost parallel to the slope, and you will get from point a to point b almost effortlessly. Create a flat place for a bench halfway up, and you will hardly realize you’re on a slope at all!


4) Thinking about a water feature? A slope is an ideal place for a waterfall, as gravity will work with you.


5) Stay away from formal, structured plantings. It will be hard to make a formal garden look convincing unless it is on a very symmetrical base, and that can be difficult to accomplish on a hill. Natural plantings, cottage garden-esque drifts of plants, or groundcovers suited to the environment will create something that looks like it belongs. Consider a rock garden if the slope contains ledge or rocks – alpine plants didn’t get their name for nothing!


6) Level some of it. If you can level enough to make a place for a couple of chairs and perhaps a table,  you may not need to do much with the rest of the slope, access-wise. Just plant some plants around the area to integrate it into the landscape, make a cup of tea, and enjoy!


Taming a hillside can involve a quite a bit of work, but it isn’t an uphill battle. Nor will everything go downhill once you start. With a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, you can reclaim valuable garden space, and feel a well earned sense of accomplishment!



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