Monday, June 4, 2012

Ideas for Gardens with an Uneven Terrain



Not everyone has a yard that is flat as a pancake. 

For fun, I thought I would show you a series of back gardens where the home owners had to contend with the challenges like hillside slopes and deep ravines. Most of these beautiful gardens were designed and installed by professionals. We'll look for lessons from the designers and affordable alternatives to hiring a crane and a crew of burly landscapers.

Garden #1: Hillside back garden. In this first backyard, the land slopes steeply up and away from the foundations of the house. The professional designer's solution? Add a series of curved terraces into the hillside. 

A stone pathway and staircase leads you around the side of house and down into the garden. This first picture is the view from the stop of that stairway. 

More affordable Alternative: I actually think this may even be a little bit of a case of boulder overkill. I personally would have gone with fewer big stones and more plantings in the nooks and crannies. Sometimes not having tons of money and a crew of professional landscapers can actually make you more creative. Imagine instead an old fashioned rock garden set into the slope here.


A curved hillside of boulders in that last shot, leads your eye around to another set of steps that take you up to first level on the hillside terrace.

Note that the grid lines of the large flat stones in the foreground draw your eye in the direction of the stone steps. Affordable Aternative: Concrete pavers instead of cut stone.


This has got to be one of the most tasteful presentations of a hot tub I have ever seen. There is even a space heater incase things gets chilly. What luxury!


If the hot tube doesn't take the edge off a long day off the office, the soothing sounds 
of the splashing water probably would.



Did yo notice that the designer has cleverly placed the botanical equivalent of a waterfall 
beside the real waterfall?



The designer has also done a really nice job of mixing foliage shapes, colors and textures.


This garden has another nice feature we must admire while we are here. It is just behind the cedars that you can see in the near-distance on the right.


What a great space for relaxing around a campfire! Imagine sitting fireside and toasting marshmallows on a cool, late summer evening. Bliss!

More affordable alternative: What is the most important design feature of this part of the garden? 

Did you answer the elaborate stonework? It is certainly statement making, but I don't think it is the most important element. 

What is more crucial are the shrubs and evergreens which surround and enclose the area, sheltering it from the noises of the busy city surrounding it. The greenery functions like a cocoon, enclosing the space and making it an intimate gathering place.

Once you release this design secret, recreating this area becomes doable. Create a semi-cirlce of shrubs and evergreens. Lay down a flagstone or pea gravel patio area in the center. Then, place some adirondack chairs in a semi-cicle around a store-bought fire pit.


Garden #2: Steeply sloping property. Next, we are going to look at second garden at the side of a house, where the land slopes toward the back of the property. There are two ways to get down the slope. 


You can take the more direct route and go down a set of stone steps. Here we are looking back the way we came.


Or you can meander down a snaking path of grass and walk in among the plantings. Here, we are looking back on the grass path we have taken down the slope from the front garden.


But before we go further, let's take second and go back to that first view down the slope. I want to make a point about the design function of the arbor.

The arbor is a destination; a Pandora's box if you will. I beacons to the visitor and invites you to come further. Let's test the theory by looking at the view with and without the arbor.



Suddenly there is nothing encouraging you to go any further. The doorway says, "Come in."


And what a shame not to visit the lower more woodsy section of the garden!


The rhododendron is beautiful and there are lots of woodland plants to admire as well.



Before we go, let's take a second, and admire the skill of the gardener who managed to grow something this pretty and exotic in a northern garden, where the late summer is often dry.

Part 2 will be up next. 

I also promise to post the winner of the Free-Range Chicken Gardens book draw as well.

45 comments:

  1. Those are beautiful! I wish my peeps' garden wasn't quite so flat... purrs

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  2. Those are amazing back yards! Wish mine looked like that :)

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  3. What stunning gardens you have featured, I just love the mix of plants in oth gardens... So easy on the eye! Oh for that hot tub, too!! Thanks for showing them to us.
    Jenni

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  4. Sigh and sigh again - this takes my breath away! :-)

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  5. Very thoughtful post, and I find myself going back to the pictures over and over to test for myself what you are pointing out. Interesting!

    I had a hard time finding anyone who could design attractive stonework for any price, and so we ended up with a standard paver patio and fake looking wall, straight bluestone walks, and a pea gravel area that was under-executed. I hired two different expensive landscape designers, but nothing was done with any real visual interest, they were just "installed". So my solution is exactly what you highlight here -- interesting and creative uses of lots of plants! The plants are my focal points, not the blah looking stonework, which just becomes the background.

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    1. Laurrie, I would not give up on stonework altogether because of a few bad experiences. Done well, stone can really add something to a garden's design.

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  6. The planting around the waterfall is inspired, and so lush and beautiful. What a joy it would be to linger in any of these gardens.

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  7. How gorgeous! So beautiful.

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  8. You have shown good examples here, the foliage is the most important feature, but in some of the shots the stone takes over. The gardens are beautiful and there are lessons for us all to learn.

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  9. Where I am amazed about is that you have such large gardens in your country. We are living here with a lot of people in a very small country, means only a few have a garden like this size. Having a large garden will not automatical mean the garden is gorgeous. But this one is beautiful.
    Have a great week Jennifer.

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    1. Marijke, We do have lots of space in this big country of ours, but not everyone has a huge garden. Most of the new subdivisions have very small lots. There are also people who garden on apartment balconies or condos, as well as townhouses. I hope to do a post on small space gardening soon.

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  10. Hi Jennifer
    Great shots and interesting ideas. As much as I agree that too much rock or too much of anything puts things out of balance, I urge homeowners to make sure there is enough structure. Unless most of the plantings are evergreen, a Canadian garden fades away from November till April. But with stone, wood and evergreen plantings, there's always something to look at, even if it's covered with snow.
    I look fwd to Part 2 of your ideas as well as the next set of photos.
    PS - I always check how you've changed your "Header" picture! This post looks like it's Viburnum - maybe Mariesii?

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    1. Astrid, Excellent point about structure. I absolutely agree that evergreens, stone and structures like arbors and pergolas add interest year round. The header is a Viburnum 'mariesii' that I admired on a recent garden tour. The large shrub was simply stunning with its wide sweeping branches and big, beautiful white flowers.

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  11. I read with great interest the work with the slopes. We have some run-off issues that we need to address. Some of it will be taken care of with some more rock, though nothing like what you have posted here, think smaller scale. Love the arbor beckoning you into the forest.

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  12. I love all of the ideas in this post and the extensive use of stone. The arbors and pergolas make everything seem so warm and homey even with the stone. When the plants are incorporated they soften everything.

    Eileen

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  13. I love how you break it down. I agree the arbor beckons you to explore more of the garden. Great ideas, and great suggestions to fit most any budget.

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  14. Gorgeous! Everything is so balanced and well considered. Excellent resource for ideas. :o)

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  15. Those are really lush and beautiful. How i wish i also have resources to do our own!

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  16. Nice ideas for cheaper alternatives.

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  17. I paid close attention to this post since I have a large slope on the front side of my garden and we have been tossing around ideas for 2 years now. Definitely want to do something with boulders but don't want to spend a fortune. Love all this inspiration and your expert advise!

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  18. All the pictures are just so beautiful...a treat for the senses, really !
    I feel like getting lost in these gardens in this hot summer.
    Thank you for sharing with us the information on how to plan a garden on an uneven terrain that too at an affordable cost. These ideas can be applied in hilly areas where the landscape is very uneven.
    The way the landscaping has been done in this garden, is really admirable.
    love,
    Sanghamitra

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  19. I think you are so right about the first garden. Although beautiful, it looks almost commercial, like something you would do for a magazine spread but not in real life. The second garden seems more inviting.

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  20. Exquisite! How I wish this was my garden! :)

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  21. Love, love, love this post. You have given me so many idea. Thank you.

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  22. Such beautiful gardens, but I appreciate your advice for those of us on a somewhat smaller budget:) It's ironic that you posted this now, Jennifer, because it seemed nearly every garden I visited in North Carolina recently was on a slope. I was amazed at how creatively the different gardeners used stone steps or other techniques to stroll around the garden. They were lovely gardens, but my calf muscles appreciated my flat prairie when I got home!

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  23. It's so funny, when I gardened on a slope I yearned for a flat yard. And now that I have a yard that is flat as a pancake it feels like there isn't much interesting about it! I loved the big boulders used on this slope as they have a very natural texture to them as opposed to wooden terraces but what a huge amount of work to bring those in!

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  24. The plantings around the waterfall in the first garden are exquisite. I love the second garden, with its trellis framed by rhododendrons and just the overall use of plants. Really lovely.

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  25. I mentioned in your blog in my latest post: http://mary-goingnative.blogspot.com/2012/06/you-are-my-sunshine.html Check it out, if you like.

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    1. Mary, Thanks so much for thinking of me for this award and for your kind words about my blog. I am honoured.

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  26. Almost all of my terrain is uneven, so this is really so useful to me Jennifer.
    Everything is so beautiful here, and than you so very much for the ideas!
    xo.

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  27. Nice alternatives and a well designed post. One thing though, the arbor. It still has a sense of entry without because there are trees on either side of the path, and the Viburnum arching completes the look. But you are right, the arbor reinforces the 'come in' feel.

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    1. Donna, I absolutely agree that the Virburnum and the trees contribute immensely to the appeal of the wooded area in the second garden.

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  28. Jennifer girl I am so behind in seeing your posts !
    I love the decision on what is tacky and what is tasteful for a garden .. it is so much an individual taste .. you can even think something is tacky but it tweaks something within you that makes you place it in your garden anyway ;-)
    Peonies !! .. I have actually ordered one for the Autumn shipping .. called Green Lotus .. I have only one right now so my logic is that it needs company so it is a must ? haha
    I love all of this landscaping .. but seclusion is my favorite .. the sound of running water and of course the look .. and yes I saw the imitation from the beautiful plant of tumbling "green water" ?
    Roasting marshmallows on a cool evening .. well , since we don't have the money for a wonderful stone pit .. we resorted to a little charcoal drum .. and I am so looking forward to roasting marshmallows on it .. hubby boat HUGE marshmallows to try them out on it. Now how sweet is that ?
    Love the new header picture girl !
    Joy : )

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    1. We can't afford an elaborate stone fire pit either, so we have one of those affordable, store-bought outdoor fireplaces. Enjoy those big marshmallows Joy!

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  29. Jennifer, thank for so interesting tour to the gardens. I love the rhododendron. it's very nice!

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  30. May we all have the money to spend so lavishly on something we love to do. What a hot tub enclosure - that is definitely the Rolls version. Excellent stone work. Very cool to take away the doorway to compare. I would have liked it better if it stretched from tree to tree rather than just sitting in the middle - almost as if the door is half open somehow. See that you've been by to see the peonies at the RBG - we were there the past three sundays - if you see a couple with a Jack Russell when you're there the next time - be sure to say hello!
    Barbara

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    1. Barbara, I will definitely watch for a couple with a little Jack Russel the next time I am at the RBG. It would be fun to meet you.

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  31. Hi Jennifer. What wonderful and beautiful ways to take care of those uneven spots in a garden. All of them are just beautiful.
    You asked about my Alexander Loosestrife. I have only had it in the garden a couple of years but so far it has remained compact and in its place. A few more years and it may or may not spread. My hard clay soil will likely keep it from wandering too badly.

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    1. Thanks so much Lona, for letting me know your opinion of the Alexander Loosestrife. The variegated leaves would be a nice addition to my garden.

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  32. Well, out of my reach are the originals but you give clever and interesting alternatives.

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  33. All somewhat larger than the average garden, but some great ideas, also love your header photo.

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  34. These gardens make me desire to live in a cooler climate with lush plantings on a bit of a slope! Beautiful inspiration!

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  35. Another beautiful garden and wonderful post. I escaped the Texas heat just by looking at that waterfall and the cool,green fern leaf. :0)
    david

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  36. Last year I had another steep slope added to my garden. I've posted some pics of my process for dealing with the new slope. This is a budget garden, only labour help I can afford is my brother. Thank goodness he is willing and able.
    Pics can be seen at http://tudorpot.livejournal.com/344563.html

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