Landscaping steep bowl shaped slope-backyard

taterville4February 19, 2012

I bought a house on a hill last year, acre is long and narrow. The front yard downhill is manageable and looks nice but the backyard has me stumped. I have a 2-story house which shadows my right hand side hill in the summer. My back hill is full sun. Direct behind my house (can't see in pics) is usually shadowed & muddy when it rains. I have red clay soil and Kentucky Bluegrass grass growth is spotty. I would like budget landscaping ideas to slow the runoff and provide privacy on the right please. I dislike willows and am allergic to sumac, game for any other suggestions :).

House is being built, back porch will be parallel to ours. Would like to create some privacy plus stop of the runoff I'll get from that house being built. Thinking a 2ft stone block retaining wall and a few trees?

This the bowl shape and steepest part of my back hill. Property line ends right before the tree with the roots showing.

This is how most of my back yard looks. Slopes right down to my back deck.

Property line ends beyond the pic midways down the left side hill. I'd like some simple stone steps here. I'd like to make use of my woods, but I've slid down on my bootie going down before.

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The water has to go somewhere, you don't want it to sit in your yard.

see the thread further down on the list titled:

Yard drainage/flooding issue..need to pump water. HELP?

and on page 2 there's a thread titled:

Back yard drainage

Both have the info you need to start figuring out what you need to do.
If I were you, I'd get the drainage issue fixed first. That's going to take the most time and money to address, then you can better plan your plantings knowing where the water is going to flow.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 6:39PM
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Some ideas,you select.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 6:55PM
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Are your pictures sequenced panning right to left? You should add pictures that are taken from a plane equal to front of house, looking down the side lot straight to the back slope. The pictures should convey how much space is available between the side lot line and the house. (On the R. side where you want privacy.)

When you say you want plantings that will slow runoff, where exactly are you talking about? On the hill?

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 2:24AM
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Yes, how large is your lot? Your survey was pretty recent, and it would show you on that. And what planting zone are your in? Most of North Carolina is pretty warm.

If you want privacy, then a fence is the best way to get it; find out what the codes are in your neighborhood, this is really important if you have an HOA (homeowners association). The town you live in will also have codes, and rules and you'll have to get a permit to put one up.

Chainlink is nice because you can plant vines on it, but a solid fence is good too, but more work with keeping the painting or staining fresh. Plants CAN be used as a fence, BUT people still walk through those, or balls get tossed into the middle of them, and it becomes a great excuse for them to trample on your efforts.

You usually have to keep a fence a few feet into your yard, and then you have to mow the outside space beyond the fenceline, not all bad, just know where your survey marking pins are for your lot and keep YOUR area mowed so people don't think the fence is the property line.

If you have a lot of water in low part of your yard in the spring or fall, then you will have to put the support posts for a wood fence ONTO concrete pads to keep the water from rotting the bottoms of the posts. Chainlink fences can be set into concrete that it poured into the holes. Your city people will tell you how deep to set your posts for the frost in your area.

Do you have any rocks in your woods? It looks like all the topsoil was removed and if there are rocks in your area, then if you could find some and drag them home they are very good for making dry stacked stone walls along your slope. If you buy rocks, that gets expensive very fast, but they are usually less than having a stacked block wall installed.

We had a backyard like your's and brought home lots of large rocks when new subdivisions were going in around us. We made our low walls along the face of the slope, and we had a few shrubs and trees that could take the seasonal flooding, but most of the perennials were on the slope.

We used the "cut and fill" method to make flat places on the slope, and the rocks held the soil. Cutting the soil makes a flat place to put the plants into-so they don't slide down the hill. It's best to have your more drought tolerant plants there since a slope gets a lot sun, and it's very well drained.

Tell us what your planting zone is, but your zipcode into this website, and find out. I looked at NC and it seems that you could be 7a, 7b, or 8a by looking at their colored map of the United States. But you also want to remember it also gets very cold and if you chose any climbing roses or vines, then you will look for things that can take colder temperatures, and find out if what you want to plant can take a zone 6a/b or even zone 5a/b.

Here is a link that might be useful: Zipcode Planting Zone Finder

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:25AM
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Yikes, I would heartily recommend consulting a local LA about the runoff and stabilization issues before adding any cosmetic plant material. It would be money well spent in the long run. Utimately, it looks as if much of your budget will need to be allocated to "invisible" yet proper corrective drainage systems and hardscape. Not sexy but what else can you really do...

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:29AM
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Tater-v, sumac and poison sumac are two unrelated, not remotely similar plants. What allergy to what plant? '

Adrennemb, where are you seeing instability and drainage problems? "Muddy when rains" could mean that grass the builder planted doesn't grow in the shade and that now there's no good cover. (What's up with that, Tater?)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:12PM
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@ Yard - Slope greater than 60 degrees, water from two directions, clay soil, disturbed hillside integrity, undercut base of hill,
proximity of residential structure? Not something that I would tackle myself (or recommend others to do) without expert guidance :)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:35PM
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Adriennemb, my eyes do not see slope greater than 60* or water that doesn't drain or undercut base of hill. And the OP is not claiming those things. Tater, suggest you do some clarification on these points.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:43PM
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Yaardvaark, yes the pics are right to left. I'll get better pics as soon as I as the mud dries up.

On the right side, my house is near the property line as well as the new house next door. I don't want to plant anything too tall, just shorter trees and ground cover/plants. I do not get good sun on this side and grass didn't do well.

I'm allergic to poison oak, ivy, and sumac...and bees.
Right after my property was seeded, we had the biggest rain of the year, washed everything down hill. They dug a ditch beside my driveway and reseeded afterwards, but I don't think with enough seeds. I have patches of beautiful green grass and bare spots as well as having beautiful grass under my deck which of course didn't get seeded, lol. I've read rebel is a good one to overseed with.

Under my deck is never muddy and my crawl space is dry. I just can't walk in my backyard anytime after a rain.

Adrienne- I don't know what my slope is. My pics are from my back deck, I'll have to measure the distances. I think the back hill is natural. The whole neighborhood is very "hilly". Many houses are placed just like mine, they just don't have any plants or walls for me to get ideas :). The water does drain down both sides of my house. The right side has a ditch beside my driveway and the left side slopes all downhill to the neighbors. I don't think my hill was undercut.

Phoebe- my lot is .92 acres. I'll have to have hubby locate the survey for me, it was in Dec 2010. I'm in zone 7. I don't have a HOA. Though I would love a fence, a few feet off the property line would be a bit too close to my house. I've saw some gorgeous ones I want against the back of my property one day, I like the PVC.

There were a lot of rocks in my yard. We have them bordering our front flower bed and the big ones in the lower part of our property. I'm sure there are more in our woods. There are 3 houses left to be built and the subdivision will be complete.

I didn't do the cut and fill when I did my butterfly bushes, maybe why they didn't survive?

During the summer, my yard is bone dry and dirt is hard as a rock. I don't have an erosion issues. I think if I can find my survey and post a pic of that and pics standing on top of my back hill it would be easier to see what I'm talking about? I lived in an apartment for 11 years before this, so I'm a beginner at all this. Thanks ya'll.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 7:45AM
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Ok, I have my survey. My property is 100x400'. My paved drive is 197.2', so my house is about 200ft off the road. My house is 16.7' from the right side property line. I'll scan it at work today. It doesn't have elevations or slopes on it.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 8:25AM
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Taterville, if you want to actually know the slope at the back of your house, all you need is a straight edge (like a 2" x 4" x 8") a tape measure and a level. Place the 2 x 4 as shown in the diagram below. set a carpenter's level on top and position the 2 x 4 so that it's perfectly level. Then, measure the vertical distance to the ground surface at the downhill end of the 2 x 4. Divide the rise by the run and you'll have the slope expressed as a percent. That is, if you want to know.

Poison "oak" and poison "sumac" and poison "ivy" are actually all the same plant: Toxicodendron radicans. (It's had other latin names previously, but names sometimes morph.) It is not actually any oak, ivy or sumac. Those are just the common names that people call it. Being "allergic" to Toxicodendron radicans does not give anyone reason to fear ACTUAL oak, ivy or sumac. None of those plants have the irritating chemical found in T. radicans.

When you get the side pictures, it'll be easier to ponder your original question.

Still, when you say "slow the runoff..." I'm not exactly sure what runoff coming from where and routed how, that you are talking about. Please elaborate on this. You might explain the path of the water and some details about what's happening with it.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 10:56AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

A couple of things worth clarifying here. Regardless of whether the rear slope is a stability problem or not, the clay soils and frequent rains year round probably mean an ongoing slow drying out of flatter areas planted to grass, which will likely mean ongoing issues with tracking mud, especially with pets. Amending the soil and reseeding or resodding the sunnier areas as well as intercepting runoff off the rear slope so that it doesn't also saturate the flat turf area would be a great help in getting the flat areas to not remain as sticky wet clay after each rainfall.

As to poisonous plants, in fact poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac are not all the same plant, and poison oak doesn't occur naturally on the east coast.

It is also more common here on the west coast to place property line fences on the property line rather than several feet inset, especially in suburban smaller lot situations. It wouldn't have occurred to me that this isn't standard practice over most of the USA.

Regarding what to plant in the mostly shaded side yard, if it os too shaded for grass to fill in thickly without thinning out over the year, I would recommend looking into shade ground covers that root as they fill in, perhaps with a bark mulch pathway or stepping stones or gravel. I'd suggest consulting the Southern Living magazine equivalent of the Sunset Western Garden Book for lists of appropriate shade tolerant small trees/shrubs/perennials for that shaded side yard. Your local full service garden center ought to be a good place to get more specific suggestions on what will work in your area. You also have a great resource
in regional nurseries such as Plant Delights in nearby N.C., I'm sure they're also some in S.C.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 4:36PM
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As to poisonous plants, in fact poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac are not all the same plant, and poison oak doesn't occur naturally on the east coast.

Well, isn't that just the trouble with common names? Out here, the East and the Midwest, we call Toxicodendron radicans by all three names, though we are referring about 98% of the time to one species. But the real point of my earlier post is that it's not a Quercus (oak) and not a Rhus (sumac) and neither of those plants produce the dreaded toxic oil that causes havoc. There's no reason for this lady to fear real, true Sumac!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 5:15PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Aren't sumacs sometimes listed as allergenic to people with hay fever? West coast poison oak is not as cold hardy, which is actually a nice feature as it doesn't grow in the Sierra Nevada mountains above 6000 foot elevations, about the only place it won't grow. If you saw poison oak side by side with poison ivy(which doesn't occur west of the Rockies), you'd see they resemble their namesakes more than each other. It'a too bad poison oak is such a troublesome plant, because it is both beautiful, easy to grow, and has great wildlife value, and even good for bees and honey.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 6:35PM
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Poison oak honey is super tasty and supposedly helps decrease your allergic response. I came from the midwest and had never encountered poison oak. Apparently, it will still produce a response even when there are no leaves.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 10:46PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Oh it most definitely will provoke dermatitis even without foliage. The urishol is also very nasty stuff if inhaled during forest fires.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 12:32AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

ding ding ding.... I've been a winner - having experienced all 3 different poisons; oak, ivy and sumac in my life.
The sumac was the worse. Contracted it on a marshy island just outside of Boston Bay on a surveying trip with my class .
I don't know which was the scariest sight ; Watching a blistery swollen red student waddling down thru the crowds of people to Holyoke center or seeing us walk back thru the square wrapped in white guaze Zombie looking bandages.
Not pretty.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 1:33AM
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I have poison ivy and don't do much to eradicate it. My yard has way more black widow spiders than common for my area and I don't often use insecticides on them. I tolerate snakes if they are not venomous and there is almost always one around somewhere.

I communicate all this to the neighborhood mothers. I don't need a fence to keep the kids out of my yard.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 7:35AM
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My side slope is 29.5%, My bowl is 36.7%, and my back slope in middle is 26.5%.

Close up of house survey

view from edge of driveway viewing right hand side of property showing side slope and bowl.

standing at base of bowl viewing back of deck. Where you don't see the green grass is mud puddles right now.

standing in the middle of the flat ground where the deck steps start. Puddles from rain two days ago. The tiny trench is where my hubby attempted to make a trench at the base of the hill but I didn't like it.

Sidenote- on the poison whatever, I know the vine that grows around a tree I'm highly allergic to. My grandpa burnt it off a tree one time and I was not close but in the yard and I blistered horribly and whatever grows in the woods broke me out too many times from not touching but accidently brushing up on so I stay away from all :).

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 7:46AM
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You did an excellent job with the photos, survey, and the slope measurements.

The slope was to be expected from the photos. A 3:1 slope (33%) is common. The steeper a slope is, the cheaper it is for the contractor to build and a 3:1 is about as steep as one can safely go with most soils. Such slopes tend to be a nightmare for homeowners, but that's the way it goes.

You can assist us to better map your property with a few additional measurements. Use the graphics below.

In the graphics above, the red lines are extensions of the house and deck geometry. Sight along these lines to make your measurements as close as possible. Take measurements A to B, A to C, D to E, and G to H. The tape should be held in a horizontal position.

The measurements from E to F and H to J would be difficult to do in the horizontal. Since you have given us the degree of slope, you can lay the tape on the ground along the slope and we will then compute the horizontal distance from the slope measurements.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 9:59AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I pray you don't have a basement. I think that is mainly a midwest and east cost thing.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Taterville, Let me toss out a couple of observations. It looks like grass can grow because there is some. But I note that it's only in the swale and where it seems some shade has protected it. This indicates that new seed or young grass might have dried out during the establishment period. There's no way to overcome this other that doing it over and making sure it doesn't dry out while establishing. I don't know if that addresses your "slow the runoff" statement, or not. Still need clarification what you mean specifically.

Insofar as privacy on R. side of deck is concerned, a simple, tall-growing hedge would take care of that. If you want it to be narrow, 'Sky Pencil' Holly @ 2' spacing might to the trick. If you don't mind it being fatter and taking up more room, you might consider one of the viburnums that grow in your area at a spacing of 3' or 4'. (North Carolina spans three hardiness zones so doublecheck locally what works where you are.) There are other large shrub possibilities, too, so you might check at the local garden center for their recommendations. I would stay away from most conifers or pyramidal hollies due to their ultimately growing too large... and wide.

A redbud tree by the deck could be nice if you want a little shade and some spring color there. It might be encompassed in future plantings.

Because of the low permeability of the soil, probably amend the soil with organic matter where you plant. Depending on how bad it is, you might even need to plant a little high. Make sure there's drainage. You can neither let new plants dry out, or drown them by having them stand in water for extended periods.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 9:21AM
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Thanks for the diagram, super easy to figure out how to measure. I measured 16.7 feet from the side of my house to get C , then measured from C. I own about halfway up the right hill based on this measurement.
C to A 42.5ft
A to B 4ft11in
D to E 12ft7in
G to H 18ft3in
J to F @ 27ft (harder to measure this one & also found some snake holes and big rocks:))

I don't have a basement, I'm a two story with a crawl space. There are quite a few 2 story with finished basements in the neighborhood that are sweet, but not as up on a hill as I am.

I googled the redbud, very pretty! They look kinda like a dogwood. The septic lines aren't on this side of the house, so roots shouldn't be an issue. How many feet from the house should a tree be planted? Dh liked the sky pencil holly. They would be good for not getting past the property line. We are in the Piedmont region of zone 7. Our farmer's market should start getting plants in soon so I can check pricing.

On the slow the runoff thing, I guess I mean the water seeping into plants/grass instead of just hanging out in my back yard.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 4:57PM
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Yes,color pics are better.I render it into texture pic.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 8:17AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Would you consider coring some of that out and installing a retaining wall?

1) Avoid water retention in your crawl space
2) More usable space

Just a suggestion.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 10:04AM
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Things are coming along very nicely. I bet when you were in school you were one of those students that always did your homework; I never did mine. lol

Most of your measurements worked fine, but something went wrong with the measurement of point A. That's my fault, not yours; my instructions were not adequate for the task.

As we go along, there will be times when you need to mark a place on the ground in a semi-permanent way. Any number of things can be used; stakes, tent pegs, or nails with a ribbon attached.

Now let me revisit the location of point A. You will need to place a marker at point A that is at the bottom toe of the slope about mid way in the curved transition between the relative straight line of the toe running behind your house and the straight line of the toe running along the side of your house. Begin at point A and measure along a line parallel to the back of your house to a point that aligns with the back of your house, shown in my graphic as point B. Earlier you gave that distance as 4ft 11 inches. That may have been correct, but because we may now be starting from a new location for A, you will need to repeat this measurement.

Now go back to point A and measure parallel to the side of your house to a point that aligns with the back corner of your house shown as point C. Think of the box defined by the the three points and the back corner of your house as a rectangle. It is the width and length of this rectangle we seek.

You did not give a distance from point E to F and I assume that the slope is just too long and slick to make the measurement. That's OK, there are other ways to find the location of point F. I'll prepare some instructions on how to go about it.

You are getting close to providing the data needed to produce a base map defining the terrain you have. It wont have the precision of that of a professional, but is certainly suitable for planning purposes. The precision can be improved as needed.

Taking what can be used from your photos, the survey, and the measurements requested by yardvaark and myself, I have made a drawing. Contours shown are at 1 ft intervals. Scale, small squares equal 2ft. I will add to and make corrections as additional data comes in. Below is a thumbnail. The full sized drawing Is in the optional link.

I would invite everyone to use any of the graphics I provide to convey your ideas for the site.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Lol, yep I did my homework but I should have studied this section a bit more :).

It was a bit drier so I started over, starting with same point C 16.7 feet from the house,
A to C is 43.4 ft
A to B (bowl intersection) is 7 ft.
A to back right corner of house 18ft.
B to corner of deck 17.4ft
D to E (toe) is 12.7ft
E to F is 33ft
G (corner of dining room beside deck) to H is 18.3ft
H to J is 25.9 ft
J to F 27ft
left corner of house to toe 25.6ft, toe to top of slope 23ft.

On a happy note, while trekking around the house for measurements the tiny kaleidescope butterfly bushes I planted last year and thought were goners have green leaves on the bottom, yay!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 2:14PM
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We are still having some problems in communication. It is important to make the measurements in line with the building geometry as best you can (shown in green). In the graphic below I have plotted the points and the distances given and connected the dots with light blue lines for the top and toe of the slope. There seems to be some divergence from the expected shape of these lines indicated by the photos and shown in red. While the accuracy is not particularly good it may be the best we can do.

On the location of point A, you are still not understanding my request. In the graphic below I show shaded in yellow the rectangle I seek the dimensions of. I have also included a photo for clarification. You should now have a marker placed at point A. Please start your measurements at the marker and proceed in the manner I outlined in my last post.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 5:41PM
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No more rain today so I could measure. Think I finally get it, sorry. I took my 11 yr old dd out to help. I was putting A at the property line, which was my mistake.

B to A 11.8 ft
A to C 19.6ft

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 6:59PM
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Sorry that I have been so tardy in getting back to your thread. The new measurements you made are within what I had anticipated. I have used them to complete the contouring of the back area and the optional link is to that updated graphic.

The benefit of a landscape plan is to avoid doing something early on that is incompatible with what will be later desired. If you go to paint the floor of a room, it is so very obvious the mistake of painting oneself into a corner. The same type mistake is often made in landscaping because there is nothing obvious about what is happening.

In consideration of planning for your site, the 800lb gorilla in the room is that 3:1 slope. How you choose to deal with it dictates all that can be done. Thus it should be your first issue to focus on.

In my following posts, I will talk on the attributes of 3:1 slopes in a residential property and hope that other forum members will join in the discussion.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 10:15AM
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Thanks pls8xx!

I'll be buying 5 pencil hollies as suggested for the area to the right side of the deck. I think I am in love with them.

Due to a tight budget, I don't forsee being able to put a retaining wall in in the next few years. I would like to plant it. I love the look of lavender and read on gardenweb that they grow well on hills. I also like shorter flowering trees, bonus of no leaves in the gutter. I would like to put in stone steps up the hill. I've also saw a backyard with a beautiful dark brown arbor that I don't know how it would fit in but would love to fit it somewhere.

I think I've found 2 issues to help clear up the water issue- duh moment. I have gutters that empty behind my house that I need to rerout or rain barrel. Also at the top of my slope a gulley in my woods I thought dh filled up last year didn't get filled and it's just flowing down the hill. Once I get those fixed soon, I think some of the standing water after a rain will go away.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 7:33PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

It's possible that, if PLS and others can suggest now where a retaining wall or walls might eventually go, that you could factor that into where and how you decide to build your stairs, and also where you plant trees. That way if you do ever build a wall (and I would!), you won't have to replant everything.

It is indeed amazing how often rain gutters are routed to exactly where they should not go!

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 8:36PM
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