Naomi Hartman & Leah Brenner
11 Design Solutions for Sloping Backyards
We are not all blessed with an open, flat garden. Many of us live in hilly towns or the rolling countryside. Terraces cut into the incline are probably the most common method for making the most of those tricky sloping plots, but there are lots of ways to have fun with an uneven landscape. From snaking paths to jutting decks and sunken seating areas, here are some ideas for beautiful and exciting sloping outdoor spaces.
1. Add a Deck
Constructing a deck over a steep downward slope affords level space for entertaining and great views of a garden. Depending on the angle of the slope, the deck could also be raised on pillars to create storage or even a play space beneath.
2. Build a Banked Border
Many plants are just as happy growing on slopes as in level beds, so try adding garden beds that rise up from a path, creating a green, enveloping corridor. Small steps cut into the bank will give you access for weeding and pruning.
3. Design Terraces Around Different Themes
Terraces cut into a sloping garden gain extra style points when each is given a clear identity. In this design by Envision Landscape Studio, the lower level contains a water feature, while above are structural plants that stand out against a white wall. Beyond is a more relaxed planting set against black stained wooden walls.
4. Plant a Living Mural
If your garden slopes upward, the rear boundary will be much more prominent. Make a feature of it by creating a planted wall, as seen here. Alternatively, grow trees in pots along the wall or train climbing plants up it for a vibrant backdrop. Here strips of lawn and shallow steps with inset lights create a green carpet leading to the lush wall.
5. Keep Plantings Loose and Low-Maintenance
Planting a slope with a relaxed mix of hardy, low-maintenance plants rather than neatly lined-up specimens that require a lot of care is a great way to make a garden slope attractive. Plus, you won’t need to clamber around on it with the pruning sheers every weekend.
6. Install a Rail
Walls and terraces can create steep drops that can be dangerous. If there is a grade change between a terraced area and the ground (even if it’s only a couple of feet), local building codes may require you install railings. Install railings for safety and style.
7. Create Zones
While an outdoor dining space is best positioned close to the house, an area devoted to reading or lounging can be located anywhere in the garden. Make the most of the more private reaches of a sloping garden by building a small terrace and adding garden furniture there.
8. Lay a Feature Path
A sloping garden is usually more visible from the house, so help link it to your interior with a gorgeous, snaking path that’s fun to look at and walk on. This tiled path in a backyard by London Garden Designer draws the eye all the way to the upper reaches of the gently sloping garden, enticing you to explore it all the way to the end.
9. Squeeze in a Seat
A cultivated sloping garden like this one is not best suited to entertaining or playing, but it is perfect for sitting and relaxing. The steep slope here has been walled to create beds; a horizontal slice of lawn, just big enough for a bench, has been included in the design to provide a spot in which to sit and admire the garden.
10. Mix Up the Materials
In a sloping garden, the materials you use to terrace the incline can be as eye catching as the plantings. In this design by Avalon Northwest Landscape, steel backs plant beds while boulders add visual depth.
11. Go Green on the Steps
Steps are a necessary ingredient of a sloping garden, but you can create a very naturalistic effect by growing grass on them. These stairs by Griffin Enright Architects are covered with Korean grass (Zoysia tenuifolia, USDA zones 7 to 9; find your zone), which is tough and bright.