Designing Hillside Gardens

Gardening on level ground is normally preferred by everyone; however, this may not always be possible. This does not, however, mean you cannot create a beautiful garden. A hillside garden can be easily incorporated along the contours of your sloped landscape. For any garden to thrive and look attractive, the plants as well as the design need to be appropriate for the specific area. This rule of thumb should also be applied to sloped landscapes. Although planting a hillside garden has its challenges, with a little extra effort and a well-designed garden plan, these challenges can be easily overcome. The end result will be a beautiful hillside garden that not only adds interest to your home but will provide viewing enjoyment for years to come.

Before taking on your hillside garden, you should carefully consider how it will be used and how it will be viewed. You will also need to take into account specific factors such as drainage, soil, light, and existing growth. Consider how steep the hillside is and whether or not irrigation will be easily accessible. Determine the drainage patterns as well. Where is the water going? How well does it drain? Choosing the proper plants for a hillside garden depends on these elements. Likewise, the type of soil and its stability as well as available light in the hillside garden are equally important.

Successful hillside gardens depend on good soil. Many hillsides are sandy or high in clay. Amending the soil with compost is always a good idea for promoting healthy plant growth. Does the hillside receive full sun or partial shade? South and west-facing slopes generally receive more sun and are prone to drying out quicker; therefore, plants that can withstand drier conditions should be considered here. On the other hand, north and east-facing hillsides get less sun and will have damper soil. Choose shade-loving plants or those that enjoy moist soil for these hillside gardens. Consider planting alpines in the sun, and plants such as ferns, hostas, or other shade-loving perennials in the darker areas. For faster coverage and low-maintenance, implement a nice groundcover in the hillside garden, such as bugleweed or lily-of-the-valley.

Most hillsides can be made relatively stable with a good mix of plants. You should include groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and small trees in the hillside garden. There are a variety of shrubs that will perform quite nicely within a hillside garden. Conifers tolerate slopes and poor growing conditions better than many other trees. These also help to provide the hillside garden with year-round color. A varied planting is much more effective on a slope than one that is strictly suited to one kind. A mixture of plants reduces the force of rainfall, striking the layers of vegetation rather than the ground. This, in turn, will also reduce the amount of run off from the hillside garden. When it comes to choosing plants for the hillside garden, you should keep in mind that the larger the plant growth is, the deeper the plant roots will be. On a hillside, deeper roots mean a more successful garden. Plants having shallow roots may not be as stable or strong enough to withstand harsh weather. You wouldn’t want to watch all your hard work wash down and away from the hillside. Therefore, look for varieties that have deep roots. These plants will anchor the soil better, leaving less chance of washing away. Many groundcovers are suitable for this purpose. Since most hillside gardens tend to be hot and dry during summer, choosing drought-tolerant plants may be the best way to go. Ideally, the best plants for hillside gardens are native ones. As with any garden, plants that grow naturally within your particular area have a much better chance of survival than non-native plants.

Cover any open areas between plants with suitable mulch or boulders. The type of mulch you use on a hillside garden is important. Try to steer clear of mulch such as straw or bark chips. These will only wash away in periods of heavy rainfall. Bark chips, for example, will not last long in a heavy rainfall, and the hillside garden will only wind up looking like a muddy mess while the chunks of bark make their way into your neighbor’s lawn or halfway down the street. If you use the wrong mulch, the plants may not thrive as well and erosion could become an issue. Shredded bark makes a suitable mulch for sloped areas. Boulders and logs within the hillside garden can create beautiful backdrops for garden plantings; however, always make sure these are firmly imbedded in the soil to prevent them from rolling down the hillside and causing possible damage.

So what is the best way to deal with a slope when trying to create a hillside garden? There are numerous design options that can be implemented for hillside gardens depending on your particular needs. Sometimes an unruly slope can be made useable simply by cutting out garden paths across the hillside. If you remember to allow for run off, paths can become a built-in drain for the hillside garden. Add some rocks along the inner edges of the path to slow the water flow during downpours. On a hillside, controlling the amount of run off is important. Try not to direct the flow of run off, however, towards areas such as your neighbor’s property. If the hillside is large enough, building steps is also an option. Allow these to meander their way through the hillside garden rather than simply going straight up and down. This not only helps reduce problems with run off but will also blend in easier with the plants, creating a more natural appearance.

Terraces can be incorporated with landscape fabric placed behind a rock wall, landscaping timbers, or railroad ties. Hillside gardens hold up quite well from the use of terraces. Terraces create multi-level areas for plantings that not only look attractive but can prevent run off and other problems associated with slopes. Another design option for the hillside garden might be a retaining wall. This can help prevent a steeper hillside garden from sliding into the yard or other areas. If the slope is easily accessible to water, you can give it a special touch by adding container plants to the hillside garden. Simply dig level platforms, as you would for steps or terraces, and use these areas for placing attractive container plantings. This will not only make the hillside garden more personal but will allow you to mix it up a bit, keeping something in bloom at all times. As with any other garden, maintain a color scheme that will unify the hillside garden with your home and the rest of the surrounding landscape. Another way to make the most of nearby water is to create a waterfall within the hillside garden. Slopes are natural places for water; in fact, this type of terrain is excellent for adding small cascades. There are numerous easy-to-use kits that are widely available at most garden centers. You could also add in a small rock garden for an additional design feature.

When designing the hillside garden, begin planting from the top of the hillside and work your way down. This will not only be easier for you but better for the plants; they are less likely to become trampled on. It also gives you the additional benefit of viewing the hillside garden as you go. If something isn’t working out or simply looks out of place, you can go ahead and make the necessary changes. On the other hand, you could also arrange the plants in pots first and make your adjustments as needed before digging out any holes. Your low-maintenance plants should be planted along the top of the hillside garden, while the higher maintenance ones should go towards the bottom. You may need to use rocks or stakes to help stabilize plants until their roots have become established.

Watering the hillside garden is extremely important, especially if it receives full sun most of the time. Hillside gardens can develop dry spots, especially during hot spells; therefore, water needs to be able to thoroughly saturate the ground in order to reach the roots of plants. One good way to accomplish this task is to implement some sort of irrigation. There are special hoses and other equipment that you can purchase for this, or you can choose to make your own from an ordinary garden hose. Clamp off one end of the hose so no water comes out. Poke small holes about an inch apart throughout the length of hose that will be used in the hillside garden. Place the hose across the top of the hillside garden and turn it on. The water will slowly soak into the hillside. Another option includes digging out small water wells on the downhill side of plantings. This will allow water to fill up the well, giving it sufficient time to soak into the ground and reach the roots before running off.

A hillside doesn’t need to be a disadvantage; instead, use it as an opportunity to enhance your landscape by incorporating an attractive hillside garden. You can use pathways, steps, and terraces to help define your hillside garden. You can use rocks, landscape timbers, and other suitable materials to create retaining walls or other interesting features. Your hillside garden can consist of container plants that can be moved around throughout the seasons for year-round interest. Waterfalls and other features can be added to the hillside garden as well. Allow your imagination to flow. As long as you carefully consider all of its design elements beforehand, you can create a beautiful hillside garden that will flourish for years to come.

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