Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Coping with Slopes

– Posted in: Garden Design

Gardening on a level lot is challenging enough, but when you have a sloping site, you have a whole other set of design and maintenance factors to consider. The soil is often dry and rocky, making planting a hassle, and rainfall tends to run off before it can soak in, carrying away precious topsoil and mulch — and sometimes even the plants, too — and leaving you a muddy mess to clean up at the bottom. On a steep slope, simply trying to get around for planting and maintenance can be downright dangerous.

From a design standpoint, though, slopes can offer some exciting opportunities. Changes in grade create reasons for dramatic steps and walls, as shown in Fran’s photo of her backyard (above). Sloping sites are also great for showing of plants with nodding blooms, such as Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus), Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina), and Japanese silverbell (Styrax japonica).

So, if you’re a gardener who has already conquered a sloping site, or if you’re stuck with a steep site and need some help, let’s get an angle on the whole coping-with-slopes topic.

  • Do you have (or need) tips for getting rid of tough-to-mow turf and getting new gardens or ground covers started?
  • How about suggestions for favorite plants that can thrive in the challenging conditions of a sloping site?
  • Have you (or are you hoping to) turn a slope into level terraces with some kind of walls?
  • Do you have tips for building steps and paths to make slopes easier to navigate?

If you’re new to the GGW Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on anything related to designing for fall beauty on your own blog and give us the link below, or simply leave a comment if you don’t want to do a separate post. If you’ve written about the topic in the past, those links are equally welcome; it’s not necessary to create a new post to participate.

I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. It’ll go up on October 29, so please get your links in by the 27th if you want to be included in the wrap-up.

If you’re interested in checking out previous Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops, you can find them here:

Paths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden
Container Plantings
Front-Yard Gardens
Stone in the Garden
Decks, Porches, and Patios
Garden Whimsy
Trellises and Screens
Water in the Garden
Sheds and Outbuildings
Incorporating Edibles
Kids in the Garden
Pets in the Garden
Wildlife in the Garden
Water-Wise Gardening
Labeling and Record-Keeping
Made for the Shade
Front Yards Revisited
Designing with Bulbs
Time in a Garden
The Garden in Fall

Don’t forget that you’re all welcome to go back and add links to these older posts at any time.

And if you’re on Facebook and enjoy the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops, please visit our GBDW page and become a fan!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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TopVeg October 3, 2009, 10:50 am

My daughter has a steep sloping backyard site – now down to grass. Will watch this space with interest!

I know that quite a few of our regular participants garden on sloping sites, so we should end up with lots of useful links this month. Stay tuned!
-Nan

VP October 3, 2009, 1:19 pm

Hi Nan,

I did a piece on the design of our sloping garden for my Open Garden last year. I think it still fits the bill for GBDW :)

http://vpopengarden.blogspot.com/2008/07/how-it-all-began.html

PS I was browsing a secondhand book stall a few days ago and picked up a copy of Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. I got a nice surprise when I looked inside and saw who edited the book! Tell me, did Patricia also coin the term Lasagna Gardening? It’s a term I see quite a few US gardeners use, but it hasn’t made it here over the pond, so I’m planning on doing a post about it…

Yep, your post is one that I had in mind when I selected this topic. Thanks for sharing the link again.

I’ll e-mail you directly about the book.
-Nan

donna October 4, 2009, 12:58 pm

We’re getting ready to re-do our front lawn which slopes down to the sidewalk. Planning on a path with some steps, and a short wall at the front, with planter beds on the sides. Should be fun!

Our back hill is more steeply sloping hard decomposed granite. Very hard to work with, but it’s now covered in native California and mediterranean plants.

Good luck with your ambitious project, Donna. I hope you’re planning to take lots of pictures!
-Nan

Michelle D. October 6, 2009, 12:43 pm

Hello Nan,
I’ve put up a photo essay on a few steep hillside projects that we tamed in Marin County .

enjoy.
Michelle
http://deviantdeziner.blogspot.com/2009/10/gardening-on-steep-slopes-marin-county.html

Gorgeous, Michelle! Lots of inspiring ideas here. Thanks again for being such a dependable participant in the workshops.
-Nan

Frances October 7, 2009, 8:56 am

Hi Nan, good subject matter. Every single post is about gardening on a slope at Fairegarden. I think this post about the taming of the hill might fit. There might be another new post too and I will come back with a link. :-)
Frances

http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/fun-with-concrete/

This is definitely a keeper, Frances – not just for gardeners with slopes, but for all of us who are always on the lookout for fun garden projects.
-Nan

Heirloom Gardener October 21, 2009, 11:22 pm

Like Frances, all of my posts at Heirloom Gardener are indirectly about coping with my slope. Here is a collection of some of the ones that deal with the issue more directly:

http://heirloomgardener.blogspot.com/2009/10/coping-with-slopes-gardening-gone-wilds.html

Great idea, HG – a handy collection of slope-related links. Thanks so much!
-Nan

ryan October 27, 2009, 4:12 am

Great topic. So much of the Bay Area is sloped. I have a post up about building stone steps and another from earlier this year about a small slope that we terraced.

http://drystonegarden.com/index.php/2009/10/building-stone-steps/

http://drystonegarden.com/index.php/2009/01/cabernet-stone-terracing/

Wow, Ryan – these are must-reads for anyone considering stone steps or walls for conquering their slope. Thanks!
-Nan

Dave October 27, 2009, 8:10 am

I finally put my slope post together. I’ll have lots to talk about in the future about it since I do have plans for our slope but for now I’m mainly managing and maintaining paths. One day I’ll add fruit trees!

http://www.growingthehomegarden.com/2009/10/coping-with-slopes-future-fruit.html

Rest up now, Dave – you’ve got an exciting project ahead of you!
-Nan