How to Best Deal with a Sloping Garden

Published on April 6th 2021
A steep bank covered in plants
Most of us have flat gardens, but for those who garden on a slope, this can bring challenges. However, it also provides great opportunities! In this article, I'll explore some of the options and help you make the most of your sloping garden.

First, before starting any planning, you need to figure out the direction of your sloping garden.

1. Does your garden slope upwards, like an audience, would look to a stage performer?
If so, then your plants will be presented to you in the same way that nurseries create those banked displays at flower shows. All will be on show to admire!
The headline picture is a sloped garden that my team and I created that shows what can really be achieved with the type of space.
2. Or, does your garden slope downwards, and disappear out of sight?
If the slope from your property falls away, then a lot of what you have in your garden will go unseen from your home.
You'll need to make it easy to get down to the bottom and look back.
For this type of sloping garden, you should consider creating a flight of steps, or if your garden is wide enough, perhaps a meandering path that gradually leads to the lowest point.
Perhaps a little summer house and patio at the bottom is the answer? There you can sit, relax and enjoy the garden!
Cotoneaster softens the edge of steps
Cotoneaster softens the edge of steps

What is a terrace garden?

In simple terms, a terrace garden incorporates raised beds that slope down the garden, in a step like fashion.
Creating terraces of level areas between retaining walls is a good solution for dealing with a steep slope.
It is a matter of 'cutting' some areas to build the retaining wall and 'filling' others using the soil excavated from the 'cuts'. This creates a series of over-sized steps.
Clearly, this groundwork is best done before you embark on planting, and it can be costly.
However, small diggers have transformed this. Some are small enough to even pass through a garden gate!
Tip: When cutting and filling, it is important to avoid mixing the topsoil and the subsoil. The topsoil should be stripped off first, and then the subsoil should be levelled before returning the topsoil on top.
Mini diggers are readily available
Mini diggers are readily available

Earth retaining walls

Walls can be constructed of brick, stone, concrete blocks or even recycled railway sleepers. Anything will do, as long as the retaining structure is securely anchored.
It's also vital to allow surplus water - which might build up behind the wall - to drain through the wall freely. Drainage pipes at regular intervals might be necessary.
Pebble filled gabions are increasingly being used and have the advantage of providing pockets in which plants and climbers can establish themselves. Gabions also provide nooks and crannies in which wildlife can live.
A close up of a flower garden

Softening after the build

Whatever you use to hold the soil back, the retaining walls will look harsh for a while.
If you leave planting holes in the wall, you can insert suitable plants to soften the effect.
Alpine plants
Many alpine plants are suitable. For instance, Aubrieta, Alyssum, Campanula, alpine pinks, saxifrages, stonecrops and Viola.
Trailing and climbing plants
Another option would be to choose a climbing plant, which can be planted on the top and encouraged to trail over the edge.
Ivy provides year-round cover and colour.
a variegated ivy plant draped over a wall
*Hedera helix* 'Goldchild'
Perennial sweet peas will flower for months but sadly lack the gorgeous scent of their annual cousins.
Some of the less vigorous varieties of Clematis are perfect for falling over the edge of walls and softening the hard landscaping materials.
Clematis flowers at Chelsea Flower Show
A selection of new Raymond Evison bred clematis
Scented summer flowering Jasminum officinale will fill your garden with scent on summer evenings.

Shop for Jasmine and Clematis plants grown by independent nurseries on Candide.

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