By Jill Morgan
Finding sloping garden ideas for a tricky plot can seem daunting at first, but in fact gardens arranged on a slope can offer plenty of opportunities that a flat site simply doesn’t. Yes, they may need more careful planning, some professional input when it comes to calculating retaining walls and drainage, and of course plenty of muscle power when it comes to re-shaping the plot, but the end results are often some of the most breathtaking and interesting outdoor spaces.
Choose from super-chic, contemporary plans that include neat tiers, smartly rendered, retaining walls and slick water features or wilder and more relaxed plant packed borders, informal mown paths and rippling streams. The choice of hard landscaping materials is endless, each offering their own distinct characteristics. Even practical necessities such as safety railings, steps and drainage channels can become distinctive design features, that add personality to your final design.
So, sit back and take a wander through our favourite ideas and start dreaming up your masterplan for your sloping garden. And if you want even more inspiration for your outdoor space, head over to our garden design ideas feature.
1. Add statement steps
Whether you are linking terraces or adding definition to a steep slope, a set of practical and eye-catching steps will help define and add structure to the outside space. A simple stairway built from blocks, timber sleepers or deckboards will of course do the job but can take up valuable floorspace. Instead opt for some prefabricated metal steps – such as Corten steel designs. Not only do they look rather chic and introduce a gravity-defying edge to any design, but they can hover over borders and have a minimal footprint too.
2. Mix smart steps and sloping beds
Graceful and easy on the eye – setting steps flush into a planted slope is not just practical but an elegant solution too. Solid and distinct, the secret is to make sure the size of each step is right for comfortably strolling up and down and that the width is generous enough to make a bold statement, especially when surrounded with lush planting. Think carefully about choosing materials and the finished look. In this design the dark hardwood steps echo the bold windows of the house but keep the look smart, yet organic too.
3. Use gabions as a retaining wall
Retaining walls are key to terracing sloping gardens and can become striking garden wall ideas too. There are plenty of options available and these vary widely in cost, planning and installation. Blockwork walls – rendered or left bare – will require careful planning and preparation, as well as meticulously calculated drainage channels. Stone-filled gabions – such as these pictured – are a handy solution as not only are they strong enough to support hefty banks of soil, they look attractive and crucially let rainwater filter through. Gabion sizes range from 0.5m to 2m wide baskets and can be made from rigid Welded mesh or flexible woven wire. Fine Mesh Metals have a wide selection and can advise on the right configuration for your project.
4. Make room for sunken seating
Introducing tiers to a steeply sloping garden is an effect way to manage the space and create a series of small but useable areas too. You will need to call in the professionals to calculate the best layout and the size and load of any retaining walls, but the result will be well worth it. Look for clever ways to make the most of limited space. Retaining walls can easily double up as built-in lounge seating and planters so think carefully about the number of guests you wish to accommodate. Keep the décor simple and opt for a super chic stone and timber combo. Head over to our outdoor living space ideas for more inspiration for your garden seating areas.
5. Build in steps and borders
Adding return walls to a retaining wall and flight of steps can create a striking feature in steeply sloping garden. A bold combination of materials – such as this pairing of slate and white rendered walls – adds drama to the finished result. As well as being supremely practical it also helps visually link two contrasting styles of gardening too. Smart and modern garden ideas on the lower level leading up to a softer and wilder mood at the top. The short return walls also help to showcase the carefully selected border plants.
6. Go for tiered planters
Dividing a steeply sloping garden into tiers doesn’t have to mean a space that’s split right across by hard, straight lines. There are plenty of clever ways to soften and blur these divisions, particularly if you're searching for small garden ideas – one way is to use stepped, angular planters. Go for fewer, larger planting pockets – these could be built-in to your new landscaping or added as freestanding containers. Fill with tall, airy year-round planting that will soften the harsh, straight lines without casting heavy shade. There's lots of expert advice on designing flowerbeds in our guide to garden borders.
7. Divide with sweeping curves
Disguise a steep but sizeable plot by introducing sweeping garden path ideas and an equally curvy retaining wall. Not only does this subtly divide up the sloping site into a series of terraces, but it also adds a sense of horizontal movement too. In this beautiful design a snaking stone wall creates a cosy seating area and also provides the opportunity for a falling water feature idea.
8. Add character with railings
Steep terracing must comply with building and safety regs but it’s also a great excuse to invest in some super stylish railings. Choose from off-the-peg and handcrafted, bespoke designs to complement your garden’s style and setting. With so many different materials and finishes to choose from it’s worth researching the options before committing. Polished stainless steel and aluminium tubular designs give off a truly contemporary and nautical feel whereas wrought iron is much more traditional and ornate in its possibilities. Fancy a pop of colour then go for powder-coated steel railings that can be finished in one of hundreds of RAL shades. Wood, tension wire between wood and metal posts and even toughened glass are also stunning options.
9. Use slopes to showcase planting
A garden that slopes up from the house or patio is the perfect opportunity to show off beautiful planting. Keep your landscaping ideas to a minimum – a flight of timber steps or duckboards leading from A to B will link and punctuate the space without taking away from the planting. When it comes to planning borders, introduce layers of shrubs and trees for year-round form and structure and fill out with vibrant and textural perennials and ornamental grasses. Encourage low growing evergreens and foliage to spill over and soften the hard edges of any steps, patios or retaining walls and use climbers over fences to complete the abundant look.
10. Terrace with easy-care decking
The best composite decking is a smart, no-fuss and versatile material perfect for creating steps and usable levels in a sloping garden. Needing less upkeep than timber deck boards, these vinyl-wrapped planks come in a wide variety of finishes and profiles and can be easily installed to suit your individual site. Head over to our decking ideas feature for more inspiration.
11. Take a soft approach
Fancy bringing a touch of the wild to your sloping plot then play it simple and keep hard landscaping to a minimum. If you have a gentle slope, a neatly mown path leading through a flower laden meadow is an elegant solution that puts nature and natural form centre stage. Add some drama to the look by keeping the layout symmetrical and placing a striking bench or sculpture at the far end of the path.
12. Dig out a sunken patio
Maximise your garden’s usable space by digging out the base of the slope to create a sunken patio. An enclosed seating area instantly creates a cosy feel and offers an extra degree of shelter and warmth, so perfect for those cooler months. A retaining wall will have to be planned and constructed by a garden designer or landscaping professional to ensure it can support the weight of soil behind it and deal with any resulting drainage issues. This smart, urban design involved installing a hidden slot drain to handle any sudden downpours. Find more patio ideas in our guide.
13. Include falling water
A sloping garden – whether it's terraced or left angled is the ideal opportunity to bring some flowing water into the design. It could be a gently babbling stream that meanders down through rocks and is niftily recycled back to the top by a hidden pump and water reservoir or something decidedly more contemporary. In this eye-catching garden the very steep site is divided into two distinct levels with a pair of stunning water chutes and a raised pond built into the lower wall. If you want to incorporate something similar in your garden design, you'll find plenty of inspiration in our water feature ideas gallery.
14. Reinvent the rockery
Let the beauty of natural stone and Japanese gardens inspire you to transform a dull, sloping site. Fine gravel paths weaving through rocky outcrops, planted with low growing sedums, alpines, azaleas and statuesque conifers provide beautiful year-round colour and interest and cast an instantly calming mood too. This Japanese inspired Tea Garden by Wildroof Landscapes is a crevice garden full of character and texture. Local stone laid side on and packed close together makes a bold contrast with laid dry-stone walls and boulder edged planting areas.
15. Go on – add a slide!
There’s no need for an excuse – every sloping garden surely has to have a slide built in! It could be a colourful moulded or aluminium children’s version that you bed neatly into a grassy bank, but why not go all out and plump for a beautifully crafted design everyone can enjoy. This gorgeous garden includes intricate cedar-clad planters, a lawn and angled steps too. The stainless-steel slide is extra wide and adds a minimal but striking feature to an uber-modern outdoor space. We've got plenty of ways to keep kids entertained outdoors in our garden ideas for kids feature – go check it out.
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