Designing Gardens in Awkward Places
From the point of view of the amount of sheer hard labour that goes into the creating of a garden, those with gardens on more or less level sites are at a distinct advantage over those with awkward sites. On the other hand, the design possibilities of many awkward sites are far more interesting than those of flat sites. If yours is an awkward site, don’t despair: it may be a blessing in disguise.
In these days, with the general scramble for building land, houses are now being built on plots which even a decade ago would have been considered unsuitable. And this does not only apply to sites in the country: there are many awkward sites in towns too. Gardens on sharply sloping hills that would once have been thought fit only for goats are now not uncommon. To the ingenious gardener, no site is too difficult to beautify. Fascinating gardens can be created on such unpromising sites as old quarries.
The basic design principles for awkwardly sited gardens are the same as those for level gardens, but there are a number of special considerations to be borne in mind.
Terracing comes to mind immediately we talk of gardening on slopes, and in many cases this may be entirely necessary. Indeed, if your plot provides the scope for such a development, all well and good. But before you rush into a terracing project, ask yourself this question: Is terracing the answer? Try to envisage the completed job.
There is seldom any problem with terracing a site on a slope falling from the house. The main point to bear in mind is that part of each terrace going down should be visible from the top. Where possible, elements of surprise should be incorporated along the paths down.
There are some sites, however, which do not lend themselves to this sort of approach. This is never more true than when a slope rises rather steeply immediately from the house. Whereas a falling slope has much in its favour, a rising slope visible from your windows can give an awfully confining impression — unless, of course, you are on a hillside where the sheer expanse takes the eye up and away.
A short, wide plot, for instance, that may have a boundary fence at the top of the slope, or a shield of trees, is not the one for terracing. The vista you would be attempting to create would be halted in its tracks.
A different, less formal approach is one that ought to be applied here, perhaps with a selection ofwithin the whole garden, ie. for heathers, rockeries, even a falling stream, all reached by a winding path accentuated by specimen trees and shrubs.
Terracing on gently rising slopes is quite permissible since one can achieve a sort of rolling, undulating impression with banks, rather than strict walled-in sections. But in this case, try to hide the linking features, such as paths and steps, since these tend to emphasise the fall to the house and thus shorten the vista.
One tends to think of an entirely symmetrical lay-out for terracing but this is not necessarily the best way of approaching the problem. Terraces can easily be curved or slanted. Indeed curving may be necessary if you are to follow the natural contours of the site.
Naturally, a long, gently-rising upward slope is better for the creation of vistas, but on the other hand a downward slope offers more scope for the surprise elements, and with both it is important, before you set out on the planning, to remember to weigh up the aspect.
Terraced sites, particularly those on hillsides, can present severe exposure problems and it is necessary to know how your site will be affected by biting winds, frosts and rain. You can then choose your plants accordingly and build in some shield features where desirable. If your slope is in the back garden, the front part of the terracing will be in the form of a patio with steps out to the garden proper. Alternatively, the terracing may go tra-versely and not be immediately connected to the house, in which case linking paths will be necessary from the flat area around the house to the rising or falling grade. On larger plots, consider emphasising these entrances to the terracing with covered walk-ways, or conifer-lined paths, etc.
A lawn on gently rolling sites can be extremely attractive — even on steeper banks, so long as you have the right sort of mower. But on slopes it is vital to get it free of hollows or bumps — otherwise you will get scalping. They should be eliminated by lifting the turf up and scraping or adding earth accordingly.