If you’ve got a sloping garden, you’ll literally be fighting an “uphill battle” — gardening on a slope is much more challenging, and generally much more expensive, than gardening on a level surface.
Not everything that works for a flat garden will work for a sloping one, and creating a garden you truly love is going to take more work, more creativity, more money, and more time. With the right design ideas, though, a hillside garden can be uniquely attractive.
If you’ve recently moved in and you’re more or less working with an unattractive barren slope, that’s likely because the previous owner had no idea what to do with the sloping garden. You’re not going to let that slope get in your way, though — you’re determined to design and create a beautiful garden, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
Before you get started, building a vision for your sloping garden is an absolute must. When it comes down to it, there are three different approaches to building the sloping garden of your dreams:
- You can leave the existing slope in place, more or less unaltered — working with the natural cards you’ve been dealt. This is by far the most budget-friendly option for your sloping garden, and the extent to which you can be happy with the results depends on the incline of the slope. Sloping gardens look best if you use curved, free-flowing shapes in your design. Even if you try to leave the landscape intact, you’ll almost certainly need a garden path with steps.
- Terracing everything and adding walls is your next option. Any earth-moving operations are bound to represent a hefty investment — but the final result can be a sloping garden that’s safe, comfortable, and beautiful, all at once. This is also the approach you’ll want to go with if you are going for a more manicured look in your garden, but that only works if you plan your garden design ahead of time. An impromptu, haphazard, design approach won’t get you the results you want.
- The best of both worlds. Do you have a larger sloping garden? You may want to terrace the parts of it that are adjacent to your home, allowing you to enjoy a comfortable and gorgeous seating area, outdoor kitchen, kids’ play area, and other features. Further away from your property, you can simply let the slope be, focusing on choosing the right plants and trees for your garden rather than investing in expensive landscaping work.
Tips to Help You Design a Wonderful Sloping Garden
Are you working with a sloping garden in its “raw” — natural, unchanged — shape? You’ll have the opportunity to design a sloping garden perfectly suited to you and your family. To get the best possible results, though, you’ve got a wide variety of factors to consider. Let’s take a look at those that matter most, so you don’t make choices you’ll regret down the line!
- Your budget. Be realistic. You can make your vision for your sloping garden come to life step-by-step — not everything has to be done in one go. However, earthmoving work on severe slopes is a job you can’t DIY, so if you dream of manicured steps, walls, and level terraces, you’ll have to have to leave space in your budget for a specialized landscaping contractor.
- The curvature of your slope. Gardens that slope down from a property easily feel spacious and magical. Upward slopes can, on the other hand, make you feel like you’re surrounded by dirt walls on all sides. Add heavy terracing features, and the feeling of being boxed in can be amplified heavily. Every gardener wants their green space to be an oasis of freedom, not a prison — so consider ways to open your garden up more.
- The purpose of your garden. Sloped gardens will, with the addition of terraces, walls, privacy screens, and dense shrubs, create natural opportunities for multiple outdoor “rooms” — defined spaces with specific purposes. What do you want to do in your sloped garden once it’s finished? Keep that in mind as you brainstorm design ideas. You’ll want a seating area, and maybe an outdoor kitchen, close to your home. Every gardener will also want a lawn. You may additionally be hoping to create a kids’ play area, a vegetable garden, and a rock garden, for instance.
- The soil conditions in different parts of your garden. Gardens with steep slopes, and especially large sloping gardens, are going to have low-lying areas where rainwater will accumulate and soil conditions are moist. You may also have extremely sunny areas. Choosing the right plants for each part of your garden is essential, but it’ll take more work than it would in a flat garden. Have your soil tested, or use a home test kit, to find out which types of plants can thrive where in your garden.
- Always consider how any heavy landscaping work you’re planning could impact neighboring properties, or you could be in for a world of hurt and lawsuits.
Choosing the Right Plants for a Stunning Sloped Yard
Because soil and light conditions will differ between the top and bottom of the slope, you will have an unmissable opportunity to plant a large variety of different plants. People who have decided to create terraced areas, which will each be level, catch two birds with one stone — the individual areas won’t just be easier to garden in and enjoy, but they also provide ideal conditions to design a garden with multiple “mini themes”. One of the terraces in your sloped garden could become a herb or pollinator garden, for instance, while another can be a paradise for succulents and cacti (given the right climate).
Ornamental climbing vines, large attractive shrubs, and trees can draw attention away from problem areas, or create an eye-catching feature, around border areas. If you’re adding stone walls or steps, making artful and creative use of the unique vertical opportunities sloping gardens offer is guaranteed to beautify your garden.
So, what kinds of plants might you want to add to your sloping garden, and where? We’ve put together a list of factors to keep in mind, with examples of plants that would liven your sloping garden up in no time.
Shrubs to Soften the Atmosphere
Sloping gardens can easily look dramatic, and even a little frightening — especially if the slope is in your front yard or near a driveway. The easiest way to visually soften the slope is to add dense and attractive shrubs with beautiful evergreen foliage or gorgeous flowers. They’ll break up the landscape, and give the impression that the slope is a lot shallower than it is.
Some of the most attractive shrubs for a sloping garden include:
These perennial evergreen shrubs are native to Europe and Asia and are a popular choice for people in search of dense and compact shrubs. Boxwood shrubs appreciate moist and well-draining loamy, sandy, or clay soil. They aren’t picky about pH levels and cope with full sun or partial shade. Boxwood bushes grow to be about two to eight feet tall.
This genus of woody or perennial needled evergreen shrubs is full of low-maintenance shrubs that can withstand diverse growing conditions. Though it depends on the species, yew shrubs will often grow to be four to six feet tall and four to 20 feet wide. They won’t care whether you put them in full sunlight, partial sunlight, or a shady spot, making them a good option anywhere in your sloping garden. Yew prefers moist, well-draining, and loamy soil.
Mountain Lauurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Mountain laurels are flowering broadleaf evergreen shrubs that belong to the Ericaceae Native to eastern North America, their most eye-catching features lies in their gorgeous white, rose, and pink flowers — which bloom in spring and will keep your eyes off unsightly walled areas. This shrub grows to be around five to 15 feet tall and wide. Mountain laurels attract pollinators, butterflies, and songbirds! Keep your mountain laurel in moist but well-drained acidic and loamy, sandy, or shallow rocky soil. These shrubs thrive in partial sunlight.
Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)
These absolutely stunning deciduous shrubs are famous for their attractive bright red flowers which bloom in the spring and summer. The flowers of the flame azalea are funnel-shaped and attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Flame azaleas typically grow to be four to 15 feet tall and eight to 10 feet wide, and can soften and brighten your sloping landscape. When it comes to light, the flame azalea isn’t picky and can grow in full sun, partial shade, or deep shade. They like moist but occasionally dry well-draining soil that is loamy or sandy and acidic.
Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica)
Japanese camellia, or common camellia, is a woody evergreen shrub in the tea family, and it’s native to Japan, Korea, and China. When mature, this plant can reach 10 to 13 feet tall and five to 10 feet wide. The flowers of the Japanese camellia are cup-shaped yellow, pink, red, white, and variegated flowers that bloom in spring and winter. They also attract pollinators and songbirds! To keep your Japanese camellia healthy, plant it in a spot with partial shade and moist but well-draining soil high in organic matter.
Flowering Plants for Your Sloping Yard: What to Pick?
Unless you’re going to invest in heavy and extensive landscaping word, your sloping garden will have irregular, rounded, shapes that absolutely don’t lend themselves well to a manicured look. You might as well embrace the organized chaos, and wildflowers complete the look.
Some flowering plants that will look amazing in your sloping garden include:
- Clematis, which produces amazingly colorful flowers that bloom during much of the year and is easy to care for as long as you give it full sun to partial shade and moist, well-draining soil. You’ll be seeing plenty of butterflies, too!
- Lavender, which can grow quite tall and is beautifully fragrant.
- Coral bells(Heuchera), if you’re a fan of orange-red foliage.
- Dwarf forsythia is a more compact alternative to the larger varieties, and will still grace you with is abundant yellow flowers. They’re also supremely easy to grow and care for.
- Wild violet flowers are low-maintenance, beautiful, act as ground cover plants, and thrive in light shade with moist, rich, soil. What’s not to like?
- Deadnettle is an understated, and often-overlooked, wildflower that will look wonderful in a cottage-style sloping garden. If pinched back, they’ll grow bushy.
Adding Trees to Your Sloping Yard
Your garden won’t be complete without trees, which can add much-needed shade, provide privacy, and become wonderful focal points. Trees also help to prevent soil erosion — but not all trees are great choices for sloping gardens. Some that will thrive on hillsides include:
- Douglas firs, if you’re looking for evergreen trees.
- Manuka trees for gardeners in search of evergreens with an abundance of flowers.
- Sugar maples (yes, the trees used to make maple syrup!) if you’re looking for a stunning tree, which will never cease to wow you with its abundance of red foliage, that can thrive in the shade.
- California live oak is a great option if you’re hoping to create a shady canopy for other plants, or for a seating area.
- Hickory is a wonderful all-purpose tree that does well in all soil types.
Creeping and Climbing Vines for Your Sloping Yard
Use vines to add vertical greenery, or to provide ground cover. You have countless options to choose from, but here’s a look at some of our favorites:
- Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) — The Virginia creeper is one of the best vines to grow in your sloping garden, as it spread rapidly and is easy to take care of, thriving almost anywhere. Grow Virginia creepers on fences, trellises, along walls, or allow these vines to grow as ground cover plants.
- Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) — Star jasmines are flowering evergreen climbing vines grown as perennials. Their fragrant flowers will bring pollinators to your garden! Star jasmines flourish in partial shade and like moist loamy soil with a neutral to acidic pH level. Use these vines as ground covers or on trellises in your sloping garden!
- Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) — This broadleaf evergreen vine is a fast grower and a perennial. The alluring flowers are trumpet-shaped with gold, orange, and red shades that bloom in fall, spring, and winter. Give your cape honeysuckle well-draining soil and grow it in full or partial sunlight.
‘Zoning’ Your Sloping Yard
The fact that the top of your sloping garden is likely to be warmer and fairly dry, while the bottom of the slope is probably going to be moist to soggy could be considered a challenge — but with strategic planting choices, it can also become an asset. After considering your climate, you may like to create a rocky succulent zone in an especially warm and sunny spot, and a swampy or boggy area where rainwater builds up.
If your climate is right for succulents, some of the best to consider are:
- Agave (Agave americana) — Agave plants look amazing and are tolerant to drought, dry soil, and heat!
- Echeveria (Echeveria elegans) — These lovely plants form extravagant rosette shapes in various colors and are easy to care for.
- Haworthia (Haworthia attenuata) — This spiky boy is sure to look amazing in your garden with its unique fleshy leaves.
- Graptopelum (Graptopetalum paraguayense) — The most interesting thing about this succulent is that it can survive frosts, unlike most succulents, and can even revive after prolonged frost exposure.
- Dudleya (Dudleya brittonii) — Dudleya succulents will instantly stand out in your garden with their very colorful fleshy leaves shaped like flowers!
The best moisture-loving plants include:
- Primroses (Primula) are a genus of over 400 thirsty plants that are perfect for the wetter areas in your sloping garden. Their small but pretty flowers are pollinator magnets, and these flowering plants can be grown in clay soil.
- Bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) are gorgeous flowering plants that do best with shade.
- Black chokeberry shrubs (Aronia melanocarpa) might be right for your sloping garden if you’re looking for a shrub that spreads widely and quickly and brings pollinators, birds, and even small mammals to your garden.
- Canna lilies will brighten up the moist, soggy, areas of your sloping garden, and their beautiful flowers can be yellow, pink, orange, or red, among other colors.
Best Plants to Help You With Erosion Control
Hillside gardens are especially prone to erosion. While there are many ways to combat this problem — walls, timber baffles, and rocks included — you can also enlist the help of plants that anchor your soil in place. There’s absolutely no shortage of plants that will help you fight erosion, but some of the most gorgeous ones are:
- Rockrose (Cistus) species have unique, papery, flowers, and these small shrubs also stand out for another reason — they can thrive almost anywhere, and cope well with drought and heavy winds.
- Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) isn’t just beautiful, it develops deep roots that make it perfect for erosion control.
- English ivy (Hedera helix) is a superb climber, but without vertical options, it’ll also be a wonderful ground cover plant.
What Else Should You Keep in Mind When Designing a Sloping Garden?
Walkways or garden paths are an integral part of any garden. They simultaneously break up the landscape and provide the route that allows you to get from one area of your garden to another. We have certainly seen our fair share of perfectly symmetrical, “clean”, garden paths in sloping gardens, but we strongly believe that a curved, gravel or rocky, walkway generally works best in hillside gardens.
If your slope is severe, you will need to add steps. This can be done with rocks, but curved steel edging or wooden borders are other wonderful options. By adding defined rocky borders to the sides of your pathways, you’ll create a space that’s perfect for wildflowers.
Don’t forget to make creative use of lighting in a sloped garden, and if you have extremely steep inclines, lighting can be used to create a romantic atmosphere, but also to warn people that they’re about to take a dive if they keep going.
Adding a vegetable garden to a sloping yard can be challenging, but many creative minds have overcome the odds of failure by choosing to add “veggie boxes” — essentially container gardens, along walkways on steep inclines. This choice is an easy way to gain access to a level space where you can grow vegetables without a hassle. As a bonus, veggie boxes also look wonderful, and can have a modern or rustic feel depending on the style and materials you pick.
Perfectly-manicured lawns are really only an option if you are going to terrace your sloping garden — a good investment if you have kids, or hope to create a seating area on a level surface.
If you’re wondering how to grow an abundance of shrubs and flowering plants on a hillside, we’d also like to call attention to the Dirt Locker system, designed in the United States. These interlocking High Density Polyethylene panels, made from recycled materials, are a creative way to battle soil erosion and provide level planting surfaces. Dirt Lockers come in a few different colors, and allow you to create a neat-looking garden easily and quickly.
Sloping gardens aren’t for the faint of heart — but armed with a hefty dose of dedication and plenty of creativity, you can absolutely design and create a sloping garden that will impress everyone who has the privilege of catching a glimpse, and make you happy every day. Whether you choose to transform the existing landscape with terraces, or to keep the existing slope in place, the best way to design a sloping garden you will love is to plan it out in advance