Turn your hillside or slope into an asset in your garden

A natural looking hillside blended into the gardenCredit: Photo by Jane Gates

Hillsides can be a challenge to landscape. Even if your hillside is not exceptionally steep, water will roll down the hill without sinking in as deeply as it would on flat land. Soil and stones will also roll downhill. The idea of designing a hillside successfully is to keep soil in place while making the area as attractive as possible. There are many ways to do this.

Keep soils in place by anchoring the soil with roots. Choose plants that are at least somewhat drought-tolerant and will grow well with water that may not always reach deeply into the soil. You can plant a low-growing carpet of ground cover plants or you can design in trees, shrubs, bulbs or other plantings to make your hillside exciting. You can even use materials that are not living like stone, shredded bark (go for the shredded rather than bark chips: they stay in place better), gravel contained with edging materials or patterns of block work, pavers, stepping stones, bricks or other interesting materials.

Design in effects that will enhance your whole garden. If your garden is formal, consider using a single ground cover type of plant or create symmetrical plantings that can be geometric or controlled. If you want a natural look blend in natives or sprawling plants in drifts the way nature would. You can also use non-living materials to make a textural statement to fill in between plantings.

Keep in mind that you will want to have access to those hills whether it is for maintenance or to get to areas behind the hillside. This is a perfect opportunity to design in stairways. Stairs can be part of the aesthetic layout of your hillside as well as being a practical passageway. You can lay out steps in straight lines or curve them artistically up the hill. You can naturalize your steps by setting large stones or chunks of wood into the ground. Or you could use formal, hewn rock, cast blocks or neatly designed wooden stairs to create effects or designs.

Landscaping hillsides can actually be an asset to your garden and offer opportunities you’d miss if you didn’t have slopes.