Garden design for a sloping garden: 5 tips for designing a garden on a slope
Garden design is essentially about providing solutions for perceived problems, and there are all sorts of reasons that cause people to hire a garden designer. Some of our customers feel that their garden is too overlooked, is too boring, or is simply too small or too large. Whatever the problem, our task is to use garden design to help turn the negative issue into a positive opportunity to create something interesting.
Despite the relatively flat natural landscape here in southern Lincolnshire, we are frequently asked to look at gardens with significant level changes. Often considered a problem, a change of level in a garden can actually be a real asset. A good garden designer will always see it as an opportunity to add some interest to the space, as well as a real sense of direction and purpose.
Obviously, no two gardens are ever the same, but here’s the Tythorne Garden Design five point guide to garden design with level changes:
1. Practical garden design: functional garden level changes
Whatever the nature of the change of level, our gardens must be practical. There is no point in creating a beautifully manicured lawn if we can't get to it easily and safely, or can't maintain it with a lawnmower. We need to always think about access to the main areas of a garden- can all members of the family reach them comfortably and efficiently? If they can't, we need to introduce a solution to manage the level variations more successfully.
2. Designing garden steps
If we need to incorporate steps within our garden there are a few basic garden design 'basics' for us to consider. Ideally, garden steps should be comfortably wide and should ascend/descend gently. For safety, the treads (horizontal) and risers (vertical) of garden steps should always be consistent in terms of dimensions- I prefer between 80-170mm for risers and a minimum of 350mm for treads.
We should also think carefully about the materials we use for our steps. Stone paving, bricks, timber, or gravel (only for the treads, of course) can all work well, but as always it is a good idea to ensure that materials are consistent, stable and easy to see. It’s really worth also considering how they will perform when they are wet or icy because slippery steps are an accident waiting to happen. We want to be able to enjoy our gardens throughout the year, and this simply isn't going to happen if we can't safely negotiate our steps.
3. Designing garden terracing
Terracing can be a very effective solution for more significant level changes. Essentially, terracing involves dividing a slope into sections of level ground, with a vertical barrier at each change of level to retain the higher section of land. Depending on the heights involved, this vertical barrier is often constructed of brick, stone, or timber, but for higher terracing stone-filled gabions can be an attractive and cost-effective option.
4. Designing garden slopes and ramps
In some circumstances, a managed slope or ramp may be preferable to steps or terracing. Slopes or ramps are, for example, essential for wheelchair users and, if used carefully, they can to be easier for people with other mobility issues. Slopes and ramps are also much easier for lawnmowers and wheelbarrows, and are considerably more fun for children with bicycles or go-karts. A hard-landscaped ramp can make a strong ‘visual statement’, but so can a gentle grass slope.
To be practical for regular use, the gradient of a garden slope or ramp must be no steeper than 1:10 (although for regular wheelchair use ramps gradients of 1:12 to 1:20 are generally considered more suitable). In addition, it’s important to make provision for the efficient removal of rain and surface water, particularly in winter when ice can be a dangerous hazard.
5. Successfully planting a garden with level changes
Planting a slope, bank, or terrace can be a rewarding experience, and a good way of making the most of a ‘difficult’ or largely inaccessible area. Planting can be particularly effective if the land slopes down towards a property, as more of the plants will be readily visible (in a similar way to the way that banked seating in cinemas or theatres enables the maximum number of people to see the performance).
Well-designed shrub or groundcover planting can also be a very effective way of stabilising the earth and making the most of a graded change of level. Once again, however, it’s important to remember the practicalities. Will we, for example, be able to safely maintain the planting on steeper banks or terracing? And will heavy rain cause the soil to errode if the slope is too steep? Perhaps it will be better to have more lower level changes rather than a few taller ones?
So, there we have it- just a few things to consider if we are designing a garden with level changes. Handled carefully, a change of level can be a real plus point, so why not see how we can make the most of yours?
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.