Garden design with level changes: 5 garden designer techniques for tackling a garden with level changes
Good garden design provides 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 are garden designers is to use thoughtful and effective garden design to help turn a negative issue into a positive opportunity to create something interesting.
Despite the relatively flat natural landscape near Tythorne Garden Design's southern Lincolnshire HQ, we are contacted by customers with gardens with quite significant level changes. Despite often a cause of great concern, 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 provide texture, interest, and a definite sense of direction and purpose.
Obviously, no two gardens are ever the same, but here’s Tythorne Garden Design's five point guide to designing gardens with level changes:
1. Make it practical: designing useable changes of level in a garden
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 either can’t see it or can't get to it easily and safely. And please don't forget to plan for how it will be mown safely. 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: an opportunity to create something safe and interesting
If we need to incorporate steps within our garden we have a fantastic opportunity to design a positive feature for the garden. If they are going to be used or seen regularly, let's make sure they are attractive and interesting. Above all, however, garden steps need to be safe. Ideally, that means that they are comfortably wide and have a gradual ascent/descent. Step treads (horizontal) and risers (vertical) of garden steps should always be consistent in terms of dimensions (ideally between 80-170mm for risers and a minimum of 350mm for treads).
We should also think carefully about the materials we use when designing 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 and stable. 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. Garden terracing: using good garden design to create attractive and manageable levels
Terracing a garden 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 can be constructed of brick, stone, or timber, but for higher terracing stone-filled gabions can be an attractive and cost-effective option.
4. Successful slopes and ramps: designing gradual level changes in a garden
There are circumstances where a managed slope or ramp in a level may be preferable to steps or terracing. Slopes or ramps are, for example, essential for wheelchair users and if used carefully they tend 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 too can a gentle grass slope.
To be practical for regular use, the gradient of a garden slope or ramp should 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. Garden planting design for 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 how banked seating in cinemas or theatres enables the maximum number of people to see the performance).
Well considered shrub or groundcover planting can also be very useful for stabilising sloping ground 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? Maybe we'll need to terrace the area first to make it easier to work on?
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.