What to do with this hill (Pictures included)

tom8olvr(Z5 MA)April 16, 2008

I have done a lot with our yard in the year that we have

lived at our place. And although I decided that I would

not do anything with the hill in the back (and focus on the

front) this hill is now driving me insane - and I wondered

if anyone had any ideas to tackle the hill. I was thinking

may be stone walls - I do like the natural look - no

concrete block, etc. I know that a hill is interesting to

look at and I am very motivated - although I lack the

strength to move those rocks... Anyway, here's my dilemma:

This is a picture at the bottom of the hill my house is on the left. Behind me takeing the pic is the lake.

Another from the bottom of the hill

I'm on the patio behind the house this is the hill:

Again I'm on the patio behind the house and these are the stairs.

At some point someone TRIED to do something - by putting those big rocks there - and whatever that ground cover is - and there's some mulching of some sort and hostas and shrubs, but it's really bad...

Summer picture of the hill:

This is the reason we bought the house:

This is the front - quite nice - we've done some work...

Summer pics:

We're happy with the front at this point - it's workable

but any thoughts for that hill?

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The rocks are fine, but they need to be arranged a bit more natural or with some artistic design.

Don't forget in the current pic is out of season.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 10:20AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I agree you are lucky to have the rocks to work with, but the current arrangement looks unnatural. Select strategic locations for the rocks and create small groups, or drifts with the rocks. Rocks look more natural 1/3 buried in the soil. Also if they have a grain, set them so the grain all runs the same way, as you might see in a natural outcropping. If possible, arrange at least one to stand up vertically, as an accent. Then plant simple, low-mounding flowering perennials among them. I have no suggestions for your zone, but here I would use things like Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus), lavender, penstemon, and salvia. I would be tempted to plant some kind of jasmine or other fragrant plant to tease the nose on the way down to the rowboat.

Ditch the two concrete blocks, remove the plant hanger post, or move it to the top of the steps, and replace the rotten stair treads.

Picture number 4, looking down on the bed and stones, isn't terrible; the hostas are pretty. It's just the rocks are a little random, the bare spaces need filling in, and clutter should be eliminated.

You have a beautiful setting, and I would keep things casual. A rock wall doesn't appear to be necessary.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 11:36AM
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smithule(San Antonio zn8)

Hills are very difficult to design. In most cases my company prefers to use retaining walls to break up the hill. In you case however I can't say that I would use a retaining wall, but that is always an option. One thing you need to do is add some evergreen color so it doesn't look so dead in the winter. There are many evergreen ground covers, you would just need to check your local nurseries for what is available and does well in your area. I think it mostly just needs some clean up, get rid of some of the boulders and other stuff. I would redo the steps also if possible. We love to use flagstone steps. You could move some of the boulders to act as a border for some new steps.

I'm not sure of much plants in MA but maybe you can find some nice small growing evergreen trees or shrubs to fill in a little bit too.

I love all the color of your yard. Hope I was helpful.


Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape Designs

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 11:42AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Great rocks, but clump them together and bury them halfway into the ground, as everybody has suggested. Rocks are not meant to look as though they were scattered around like sowing plantseeds!

A few dwarf conifers to anchor the spot in the winter, and you can plant a beautiful woodland garden bed there to brighten it up during the spring/summer/fall seasons. Maybe a specimen Japanese maple or some other small tree to add a spark of autumn color, yet not block your lake view, would be ideal.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 3:12PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

It looks like whatever gets planted there is going to have to compete with mature trees - not an easy task. If the groundcover is pachysandra, I can't really tell, it's a decent plant for the job. Hostas are another good choice. So what exactly is the problem? It looks too bare during the winter? Too sparse during the summer? Not enough flowers? Those are all fixable, but the fixes aren't the same. And whatever gets done, has to be done within the general framework of a 'woodland' garden.

BTW, it's not generally considered good practice to rake wooded beds to within an inch of their lives. The fallen leaves will help the soil, and most shade plants are fairly accepting of them.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 4:01PM
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I'm curious to know where you are located, as your setting looks amazingly similar to ours, which is in Hampshire county. At this point, our primary landscaping focus is on keeping the Canada Geese from viewing our gently sloping lawn as a great big sign that says, "Welcome to the Bathroom!" Do you have a goose problem? If not--do you have any suggestions?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 8:24PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I would love a property like that. Woodland garden is written all over it! Leaving the fallen leaves, as mad gallica says, is good for healthy woodland garden soil.

I'm wondering if part of your problem is that perhaps you are not a fan of wroodland gardens? You say you are happy with the front, which has a lot of colorful flowers, particularly the annual impatiens. If that is the 'look' you prefer, the generally subtler, more subdued flowers and the emphasis on foliage of a woodland garden maybe has less apeal for you...? Given the treed site though, a woodland garden is probably going to be the most successful approach. It can be very colorful in spring. Have you done some resarch on woodland gardens to see if one would appeal to you?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 8:36PM
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If you are out in Western MA, then you're in Mt. Laurel country. Try those, they will have some of the characteristics you're looking for evergreen for winter interest and flowers for the summer. They also are natives, so they will adapt to the woodland and shade quite nicely.

If you must have as much color in back, as you have in front, then try Heucheras. The nurseries recently have gone into over-drive developing them in a virtual rainbow of color - lime, purple, reds, black, and orange.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 9:08PM
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Could you do a moss garden? Grow it on those rocks so they have a bit more interest. What about a few more Hostas or some Ferns? It could be a lovely green garden with lots of variation and texture~

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 12:31AM
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tom8olvr(Z5 MA)

Alright, lots of comments... I guess I should start with
what I want - I want a more useful area. I'd like it to
LOOK better from the lake (it looks ok now, but eh.. it is
NOT functional). I'd like may be a natural stone retaining
wall with may be a slate 'patio' area for a table and some
chairs (we entertain a lot). I want some functionality - I
have no doubt we can make it look better with plants and
what not (less on my mind). I'm thinking more in general
terms - I guess hardscape?? Right now it's a hill that we
scootch down but we don't use... It's like wasted space??

Right now the area is a nursery where I put things that I
haven't decided where to put yet... and the previous owners
look like they used it as a dumping ground for rocks and
those ugly pavers. I fully intend for that to change - but
what?? you know?? anyone? ideas?

As for raking the leaves - yes we rake - there are literally
24 mature oaks dropping leaves on our .33 acre. I understand
your concern - but if we let it go we'd have no yard whatsoever.
It would be a pile of leaves. Sorry... I'm not letting the
leaves 'go'... And I'm not exaggerating - 24 MATURE Oaks -
and I don't want that to change either (I LOVE the shade the
mature oaks provide). So, suggestions of evergreens - I'm
not sure if they could/would survive that kinda shade?? You
know? I don't know... but again, less on my mind right now.

As for keeping the geese at bay...? We have a dog... thats
been the only thing that keeps the geese away. But unfortunately
she also chases the swans, blue heron, wood ducks, etc. so
it's a tough call... you know?

I live on Lake Boon - Lakeboon.com. (also Lakeboon.org).
It's a beautiful lake
I am SOOO happy to be here... it took us many many years to
find this spot - and it was SOOO worth the wait.

Ok promised more pictures so you can see...

from the water... we do let SOME leaves go (off to the left)
SEE? I'm not satan! :)

This is the hill again and those rocks protrude all the way
to the water... We own about 10-12' beyond the rocks.

that ground cover. The ground cover does not bother me at
all, but the way it's been thrown in there willy-nilly does
bother me.

I don't want the back to be like the front - all color -
and I'm not even sure I want the front to be like that either
my thinking was to eventually get into perennials (and I have
put in ferns - maiden's hair is my FAVE right now - and bleeding
hearts, hostas) but I'd like to have a ultimate goal in mind
so I'm not moving them again and again (which I have already
done!) I actually love woodland plants - jack in the pulpits,
ferns, hosta, bleeding hearts, etc. but I'd really like to
get some kinda order to the area before I start putting in
plants... you know???? I hope I'm communicating this

Anyway, PLEASE HELP!! and any and all critiques and comments
are much apprciated!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 10:08AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Oh, I didn't understand what you wanted in your first post.
I'll add a link to a very nicely done patio done by "Spazzycat" with some low walls which might inspire you.

You could cut and fill the hill all the way to the steps (removing them altogether), put in the stone wall at the cut, and the patio on the fill, being sure to extend the level area so it is large enough for your entertaining needs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Patio installation

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 11:23AM
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Blue rug junipers and some home made wooden structures on the hill. Maybe a wishing well made of rocks for the base and branches for the top?

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 1:38PM
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Oh... you want a terrace with a railed balcony view a view of the lake.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 1:45PM
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There's already a lot going on in that back yard - and I hope the suggestion for more wooden structures and a rock bottomed wishing well was tongue in cheek. If not, well sorry.

The only real immediate stumbling block I see - and if I were in a boat looking up - is all the stuff stockpiled under your deck. Terracing, planting, etc. won't change that vista.

You know about plants and planting so the "rock garden" area isn't much of an issue. And there are any number of things you could add - dwarf conifers, deciduous shrubs with interesting barks - for some winter interest if the barrenness is bothersome for half the year. A pry bar and piece of sturdy cardboard would be a big help in moving some of the smaller rocks in closer proximity to the big ones for a more natural look. Where along the slope would you want a terrace; series of terraces, patio with retaining wall? Closer to the lake would be lovely, but at such a distance from the house, it wouldn't make entertaining an easy quick step to the kitchen, etc. Lots to consider whether you're a DIYer or willing to call in the professionals. Could be a real budget buster, in either case.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 2:41AM
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Okay, so instead of curb appeal we are looking for dock-appeal or would that be shore appeal? A landscape design forum first?

From the lake looking at the house, other side-garden (to the left) needs to be tied into the area of this discussion. Don't design one area in a vacuum, as this will lead to a lack of balance. Move some of those extra rock over to the left, and plant similar plants on both the left and the right. This will make your house framed by two garden area, and give dock appeal. I would see hellebores growing quite nicely in those two garden areas.

Achieving a balanced design will also probably diminish your angst with the promitory in questions, as it will look like it belongs now.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 1:20PM
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I do not see the stuff under the deck as a big deal, but the OP could put up lattice pannels and use them as doors to hide them if they feel necessary.

Hostas or ferns around those trees would be beautiful!

And I was not being tongue in cheek about the wishing well. I think it would add a nice bit of visual interest by drawing the eye to it and away from the other spots on the property.

But, that is just my $0.02.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2008 at 1:07PM
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Jane_the_Renovator(z6 NJ)

Had a thought for you: why not go with something edible? What about some blueberry or huckleberry bushes to give you some yummy pies in summer?

Or some rhododendrons/azaleas? That could really provide you some dramatic shape and pretty flowers.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 2:55PM
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If it was my hill, I would mass the whole thing with Azaleas kind of a tall ground cover effect. If it will work, I would add some understory trees, Kousa Dogwoods are great to look down upon and are 4 seasons of interest. I would definetly not do one of these and one of those type plantings. It will look way to busy and not in harmony with the awesome, relaxing, peaceful lake. Personally, I am not fond of large rocks that were added and not always there. I feel it is hard to make them look like they belong thus loosing some of the natural theme you are trying to achieve. It has the same feeling IMO to large man made berm. If not done right it can look like a buried elephant.
You have an incredible property and work hard to preserve what nature intended. I remember seeing some of these pics before, i think lighting was the topic. Good luck and keep posting pics of your progress.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 3:52AM
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just so you know, I am not a professional, but have a love of gardening! My first thought to giving appeal to the house is to beef up the pillars under the deck! They seem kind of scrawney for such a big deck! Another thought that maybe you could do yourself, is to add a retaining wall at the top of the dirt hill near the steps(this would not involve the whole hill, and be something you may be able to do yourselves). This would level out that area so that you could do a paver patio, or a nice flat lawn area for the kids to play on! Also this area would be near the top of the deck and give you more usable space. Add stone steps, and then plant the area with a woodland setting in mind!Use those rocks! I love them! Plant around them, settle them in! I think that I would throw out the blocks. I would imagine it will be great fun for the children to roll and play on that grassy slope! I would love to see your finished project, please keep us updated! Mary

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 9:32AM
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