Most garden designers and landscapers would always recommend terracing sloping gardens. Terracing levels parts of the garden and improves access, so this must be a good thing? Well perhaps yes and perhaps no, and this is why.
Sloping gardens are undoubtedly a design challenge, but the slope itself should not be regarded as the problem that must be designed out. The slope can provide opportunities for a more interesting garden. This post about design a garden on a slope aims show how to work with the terrain of the garden to create a more usable space, without spending a fortune on terracing!
Basic Design Principles when dealing with a slope
There are 4 basic principles to remember:
- Up slopes make the garden appear shorter.
- Down slopes give the appearance of a longer garden.
- Bright colours tend to appear closer then paler pastel colours.
- Surface water runoff and drainage are issues that need to be addressed
One train of thought is that the slope is a waste of garden space, as such using terracing to create more level areas in the garden must make the garden a more usable space – and indeed it does. However, the question that perhaps needs asking is this; how much extra benefit will having 2-3 flat areas of garden make, compared to the cost of creating the terraces?
Do sloping gardens waste valuable space?
The usability and function of any garden is obviously very important, especially as gardens are shrinking in size. Modern gardens need to work harder to ensure you get maximum benefit. So, having a space that is not flat must then render it unusable and as such wasted, surely? Well only if that part of the garden IS the part of the garden you would prefer to sit. If the slope is in an area that you would not want to use, how does the terrain adversely affect your life?
Using terracing to create extra flat areas will not make you use that part of the garden. You will have just spent a lot of time and effort levelling off ground. It is really important then to consider what you would actually use the space for before you start digging.
Just because you pop a chair on the top terrace, it won’t make you sit there if it’s easier (and sunnier) nearer the house.
There are 3 questions to ask of any garden, flat or sloping, that determine the starting point for any design:
- Where is the nicest part of the garden to sit?
- How do you get there
- Once there, what is worth looking at?
The issue of the slope, at this stage does not come into it. So in the above image, the top terrace has a little seating area, which is lovely IF that is the part of the garden that gets the sun at the time the owners are most likely to want to sit out. We are inherently lazy creatures (in spite of our best intentions), you simply will not bother to walk uphill to a top terrace unless that terrace IS worth sitting on.
Sloping gardens do not then waste space but terracing can waste a lot of money!
Simply creating a terraced seating area will not make you use it. IN addition, building and landscaping a terrace is very expensive. But if ALL of the garden is not used once it’s built, the cost benefit ratio is out of balance. Which means money, time and resources has been wasted.
An alternative approach
This alternative viewpoint focusses more on how you would use the garden, this creates areas of used and unused space. The used areas need to be flat and accessible, the rest of the slope can be left as it is; you would not be walking or sitting in these areas. These areas can use plants to disguise the contours of the land, giving the impression of terracing without the expense of actually building it.
Imagine using plants to give the impression of terracing instead, Lavender for example; loves good drainage, thrives in sunshine and poor soil. Plant the lavender across the plane of the slope, leaving gaps between the rows. infill the gaps with plants that vary in height, the rows of lavender become the levelling elements, disguising the slope. Plants like box or sarcococca can be used in the same way if the slope is less sunny.
The horizontal lines the plants give the impression of terracing, large boulders can also be used.
To make a more interesting garden display, vary the heights of the plants used, if all the plants added are the same height or shape, the angle of the slope is just highlighted. Use tall upright plants to hide the contours of the slope.
Finally, what would make you go to the end of the garden?
If this involved walking up or down a slope, there must be a reason to venture to the end. Just having somewhere to sit is not enough. It needs to be somewhere that is worth the effort it takes to get there. Instead of just a seat, have swing seat, or a focal point that invites a closer look; or even better, make the journey either there or back just full of fun.
It wouldn’t just be the kids that went down the slide, would it?
Garden Planning Tips Sloping Gardens
It is not that terracing a garden is a bad option, its just an expensive one. If by reading this post it just makes you think about how you will use the garden. Rather than creating areas you might use, the garden created will be better.