All Things Gardening forum: leveling a flower garden site

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springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Mar 31, 2014 7:55 PM CST
How important is it to level a site for a flower garden, visually? It doesn't run downhill enough to adversely affect the plants-say... water runoff or whatever. It just looks like it runs downhill. So I'm thinking I could add soil to the lower end to build it up and then make a step at the end, like a terrace. But it would take a LOT of dirt and energy and money. The site is about 45 ft long and 30 ft wide. Of course the top end would not need any soil and the lower end would need quite a bit. I just wondered how important it is visually to level this? or would most people just leave it and plant it the way it is? I plan on putting a row of hosta along the entire length of this side of the house and then a walk path in front of that about 3' wide and then a row of coleus along the entire length again. The rest is going to be random plantings-no pattern. I have a harvest gold crabapple and a small white metal table there w 2 chairs. I will add some hydrangeas and rhododendrons and such around the area.
Thumb of 2014-04-01/Frillylily/73809f

Name: Tom Cagle
SE-OH (Zone 6a)
Old, fat, and gardening in OH
Coppice
Apr 1, 2014 2:54 AM CST
If your beds were four feet wide with four foot walkways you'd need a lot less soil...

I'm must sayin'
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
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ge1836
Apr 1, 2014 2:57 AM CST
This is a question I wish I had asked myself when I started the Lasagna garden.
All of our property slopes away from the house and that area is quite steep.
I have not had and problems with watering but its a killer on my legs when weeding and planting.
I believe after you have set in the larger plants you will be able to see what needs leveling.
Mulch helps soil running in a heavy rain season.
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Apr 1, 2014 4:37 AM CST
Many plants which require good drainage do better on a slope.
I am for keeping the lay of the land, and putting money into neat plants!
Name: Margaret
Near Kamloops, BC, Canada (Zone 3a)
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mcash70
Apr 1, 2014 8:44 AM CST
Caroline, that makes a lot of sense. Thumbs up
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Apr 1, 2014 9:08 AM CST
Caroline, I like that idea too! Like I said it is a gradual slope, I don't think it will affect water run off in a negative way. I don't really notice when I am out there working as far as being hard on my feet. I do have an area in the front of the yard along the highway that drops off steeply to a culvert ditch and I planted some daffodil bulbs there earlier in the year and I really felt that on my legs. It was a hard area to stand up along. That is why I thought daffs would do well there though, just plant and forget!
You can see the degree of the slope in the picture if you look at the bottom of the house where it meets the soil and on the left side of the pic the foundation sits almost on the ground level and at the other end of the house there is a gap there. I wonder about just leveling that one 4ft strip along the house where the hostas are going? I think it is visually more noticeable where I can see the foundation changing?
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Apr 1, 2014 10:59 AM CST
I agree with others to work with your slope. Perhaps have your path kind of wander down so you can create some planting pockets along the way, which you could level up or not. If you have access to big rocks, they can often soften a slope as well, particularly if they are half buried so they look natural. Where your foundation steps might be a good spot for an evergreen, to mask that obvious change. What a fun open slate you have to work with. Keep us posted with pictures!
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Apr 1, 2014 4:30 PM CST
I'm the last person you should listen to for aesthetic advice!

I'm a total nerd-engineer so I like square corners.

Shallow terraces, perhaps edged with a single row of bricks or small stones would appeal to my graph-paper aesthetic. Maybe just a row or semi-circle of stones down-slope from each bush so that its little patch of soil and mulch would be level.

If you wanted to level off the entire slope, much better to do that with 3-5 terraces, each 3-4 feet wide, with paths between them 2-3 feet wide. That way, the path that you walk in could be dead-level and the soil surface in the beds could be level. The "up-down" pathways could either remain the current gentle slope or be "stair-cased" and supplied with paving stones laid flat.

Each "terrace" or partly raised bed could have a 6-12" wall along its bottom edge (and maybe nothing on its upper edge).

One nice thing about narrow beds running along a slope is that you never need to shovel farther than around half the width of the terrace, and you only need to change the depth by at most 1/2 the height of each terrace "step". And you can throw the topsoil from each path onto the bed, doubling the depth of the good-soil root zone.

Since you only need shallow "steps" and not a strong retaining wall, maybe just treated boards would be enough to edge them: like 6", 8" or 10" boards.

I like concrete paving stones set on edge and leaning "in" a little. They are cheaoer than wood, unless youget a real bargain on wood!

The 1" thick kind, 12"x12", look more solid and can give you a 12" wall if you want it that high. My second JPG shows some 12" square pavers in the background. Solid.

The 3/4" thick pavers are 8"x16" and hence cheaper if you run them the "long" way. You can use those either way: 8" wall or 16" wall, but I've started to think that the 16" wall doesn't look as cottagey as lower walls. My first, 4th, 5th and 6th JPGs show the 8x16" pavers used the long way: informal and friendly.

I stood some 8x16" pavers up the tall way in JPG #2 foreground. Those do need to lean in a little more, for stability, and I adjust them every few years (or I should, to keep them tidy).

You can get these pavers in a neutral light gray color. You can paint either kind, for example with a roller. Maybe match the color of your siding, to tie the beds to the home.

It might even look nice if you gave the beds a gentle curve along the contour.

Oh, yes. You need to allow for drainage unless your subsoil already drains well. A few slit trenches running through and under the beds, filled with gravel or a plastic pipe, so that heavy rain runoff doesn't have to perk through each bed, one by one, to reach the bottom of the hill.

Or "herringbone" the beds and paths at a moderate angle to the slope, so that a downpour would be guided to the central up-and-down path or stairwell, and then straight downhill.

These are the closest examples I could find online, but I was picturing walkways between each bed. Bear in mind that this website SHOULD be named "Expensive Homes and Gardens"

http://www.houzz.com/terrace-garden/p/80
page 4 Cor-Ten raised beds
p. 6 Las Villas
p. 8 Nature's Beauty
p. 11 Monroe House & Alfresco Living

My untidy, geeky versions are:

Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/4583fa Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/ee7848 Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/cc44ec


Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/a123d2 Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/109634 Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/ff64cc

I barely started this staircase before I was distracted:

Thumb of 2014-04-01/RickCorey/b8b25e

[Last edited by RickCorey - Apr 1, 2014 4:32 PM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #581696 (8)
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Apr 2, 2014 8:46 AM CST
wow that link was like ritzville!
You gave me some neat ideas, I'm going outside today to stare at my project site lol Seems like I do more thinking than doing lately.
I hadn't thought about curving anything instead of keeping the lines straight. Curves would distract the slope a little I think so may look nice. Yesterday I did more assesment and it seems to drop about 18 inches from one end to the other. That would be about a 45 ft length. It would be way too much soil to level the whole thing.
Name: Jewell
South Puget Sound (Zone 7a)
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Jewell
Apr 4, 2014 10:55 PM CST
I have moved a lot soil around on our sloped lot over the years. You don't have to move much to make terraces and you can do it as you go a little at a time as money, salvaged bricks, rocks, etc become available. Last year was the first time I actually bought new bricks to make a wall that varies from 8" to 2 1\2'. It is a little more than 30' long.
Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/c81955 Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/5f9fa5. I picked my area that would be flat and tossed the dirt up making kind of a path to work from. After I had the bottom area flattened almost to the shape/height I wanted I laid the bricks and the did the final dirt tossing and raking smooth. Since my soil is loam it was accomplished in a week-end (if you don't count the couple of months of cardboard layering to get rid of sod) here are a few other pictures of terracing from around the yard. I have never bought soil. I just move and smooth.
Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/e2ee82 Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/e65b72 Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/c75d66
Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/28584f Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/a159a6

Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/f410c5 this last photo is the first area picture a year later. In some areas the moss is beginning to take on the cement blocks. That's our Doberman, Ciara in her fashionable pink winter sweater.

Here is my next terracing project. Believe it or not the ground falls about 12" or more from right to left. I have some standard cement foundation blocks I'll be using with flat cement pavers to cover up the holes.Thumb of 2014-04-05/Jewell/a17e23

[Last edited by Jewell - Apr 4, 2014 10:58 PM (+)]
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springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Apr 5, 2014 9:02 AM CST
wow a beautiful yard!
Name: Debra
Garland, TX (NE Dallas suburb) (Zone 8a)
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lovemyhouse
Apr 5, 2014 9:47 AM CST
If you just want it to 'look' level, maybe put taller plants on the downslope and shorter ones on the up slope? Smiling
If you don't ask, the answer is always 'no.'
Name: David Paul
(Zone 9b)
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DavidofDeLand
Apr 5, 2014 3:44 PM CST
Rick,
I've heard you are an engineer. I'm all ears! Is that a title that you and fans lovingly gave you who have been here a longer time then I have, because of your analytical/mathematical talents, or are you an engineer in another field than gardening and structure?
Name: Dianne
Sacramento, CA, zone 9a
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soilsandup
Apr 5, 2014 10:44 PM CST
Jewell - we think along the same lines Big Grin When I redid my front yard, I just worked with what was at hand, things that my neigbors or relatives did not want, and I absolutely did not want to have to "buy" any soil.

Frillylily - here are a few photos of what I did in my front yard.

This area had a slight slope so just adding a railroad tie to the front part was all that was needed. Soil from the sod removed from the front of the railroad tie supplied the added soil and organic matter to behind the railroad tie. That tie was lanquishing in my sister's yard for years and they gladly gave it to me.

Thumb of 2014-04-06/soilsandup/c23ba2

This area had a little more slope to it. My neighbor across the street was redoing his yard and got a bunch of rocks that he wanted to get rid of. He even carted them over to my yard for me.



Thumb of 2014-04-06/soilsandup/e7e84f Thumb of 2014-04-06/soilsandup/d86a35

The before shot of that area.
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Further down in the line, I had two terraces here. The upper area had a row of small rocks, and the bottom area, I just used some old fence post to break the slope.
Thumb of 2014-04-06/soilsandup/ff2cc3

This area had the most slope. I wanted to plant vegetables here so I finally broke down and brought some bricks to make a retaining wall. Materials was about $200 and it took an afternoon of stacking. No cementing needed.
Thumb of 2014-04-06/soilsandup/b379dc Thumb of 2014-04-06/soilsandup/fd7dfc

I also just shuffled soil from place to place, added compost, reused the lawn that was removed by burying some, and always knocking the dirt off of the clods that I sometimes toss out. One of my other neighbors grow tomatoes in pots, and when he threw out the potting mix at the end of the season, I was there at the curb carting his discarded potting mix to my yard. I did not buy any soil and got rid of all the grass in the process. Thumbs up


Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Apr 10, 2014 5:48 PM CST
Jewell and Dianne, you've done some really great work!

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