Design ideas for sloped front yard

elizabeth_24April 16, 2011

Hello all,

I'm wondering if I can get some advice about what the heck to do with my front yard. Specifically, the sloped part of my front yard. Ideally I'd like something that's low maintenance and will choke out weeds on the slopes. Is it possible to plant some type of quick growing flowering ground cover on those slopes or will I need to be doing retaining walls etc? I'd like to avoid just planting shrubs (something like a juniper shrub)as I like the idea of having some colourful flowers on the slopes but if shrubs are going to be the best idea in terms of cost, weed choking etc. then I definitely won't rule them out. The slopes get full sun for at least half a day plus they tend to be baked a bit by the exposure to the driveway.

Also, feel free to go crazy with your ideas; meaning - if it was your sloped yard and money wasn't an option what would YOU do? I've been lurking for weeks and have loved your ideas!

As well, I will be digging up a front flower bed this year in front of the trailer for some shade plants and maybe a nice clementis climbing on a trellis up the wall so it won't be as horrid looking as it currently is! :)

Thanks in advance for your help; I really appreciate your ideas and thoughts on the sloped monstronsity I call my front yard!

This first picture is taken from the street. Our driveway is to the left. The slope is the steep one, the one I consider most problematic and currently covered in weeds and old lava rock. Sexy right?

The angle of the slope from the end of our driveway, you can also see the second slope that I have to deal with:

From the top of our driveway (next to our fence), this shows the beginning of the side slope leading down our driveway

The end of our driveway, this picture shows the other side of the driveway with the third (and least daunting) slope to deal with.

And here, are just a couple examples of what our neighbours have done with their god awful slopes. Shrubs. Definitely effective but boring as all get out and not pretty right?

There you have it - my sloping issue! As I mentioned before, feel free to go crazy and tell me what you would do if you were given free reign. :)

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Flower aren't is better to mix stone(with moss,root),shrub,art Perlite products

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 9:01PM
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    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 9:12PM
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Does anyone besides designshare have any ideas? Any at all? I realize I sound a tad desperate but truth be told - I am. I've contacted all the landscaping design companies in our area for a consultation and was rejected by all of them but one. One company told me they wouldn't come out for any landscaping that cost less than $30,000, another said it would damage their reputation to landscape in a trailer park and the others just said "Yeah, no...". And the one who took pity on me and my desperation said he might consider a consultation, but only later in the fall when the demand was lower for his services.

So yeah, I'm kind of hooped. That's what I get for living in a trailer park in a city full of snobs. Hee!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2011 at 8:34PM
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Beyond color, is there anything else you might want? It looks difficult to mow that slope. I would suggest getting some sedums to plant there. They come in many different colors and vary in their heat/cold/shade/etc tolerance so be sure to read the label and ask which would work. They'll take a while to get going but can be a nice colorful groundcover. As for choking out the weeds, you'll still get a couple but you will in any case.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 3:58PM
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Hi tanowicki - not really; I like the idea of colour but if it's not going to work then I could give it up. I mostly want something that's going to choke out enough of the weeds that I don't have to weed eat (you're right it is impossible to mow so I have to weed eat it and that in itself is quite awkward to do) and could get away with some occasional weeding by hand. I'll check into the sedum - thanks for your response!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 4:15PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

It is a tough problem, I can see. I didn't respond because no answer immediately sprung to mind, so good that you've persisted. I hope someone has something.

To me your choice boils down to a basic 'keep slope' or 'cut slope away' choice. If you choose to cut the slope, you need hardscape to hold it. Can you do that in a trailer park setting? If you can, that would be my choice. Of course you could also build your wall right at the road edge and fill behind it to level the whole yard, but I'm betting that might be a problem for snow clearing and navigating the driveway.

If you keep the slope and go plants only, I think the idea of one carpeting plant is not bad - I actually like the carpeting juniper option you showed from a neighbour. The problem is that any plant or plants will take some time to grow in, and unless you conscientiously week and mulch until it's grown in, it could look worse. One of the best, I suspect, would be lambs' ears, Stachys byzantina or whatever variety you can get.

Showcasing a single plant is kind of cool, and one of the best in that regard might be a cotoneaster. This to me is an underappreciated plant, very cool foliage and look when able to grow unfettered.

Now to really think creatively you could try to completely leapfrog the problem. Maybe for instance you could excavate quite a lot of the front yard so that rather than flat plus steep slope you have a whole sloping yard on which you can do a rock garden or some terracing. With a flat grass apron perhaps. Just to say that when you can't solve the problem, try redefining or reformatting the problem.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 4:46PM
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hlechat(5 (the colder edge of 5 :-))

I have the same problem in my front yard. All yards in this Mid West nieghborhood have the same design, as if it were truly fashionable at one time!! LOL .

I am considering lily turf, or bronze ajuga. At the top of the slope, am contemplating a fence/border of some sort. perhaps a real picket fence, perhaps a 'hedge' of shrub roses (perhaps knockout roses) or blue hollies.

Some folks around here have planted daylilies, which can be pretty. (get a repeating one is my advice, like Stella D'Oro or one of the new hybrids) I would think red or coral would look better with that pretty blue you have -- here is one to consider.

here is a collection of different reblooming daylilies to consider:

I am anxiously awaiting other's advice, to see what will work best with my sloped front yard, too.

Thanks for the question, and many thanks to the suggestions so far. :-)

Oh -- p.s. some garden centers will send a designer to your place, so you don't need a landscape designer per se.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 7:27PM
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Karin - thank you for taking the time to share your ideas, I really appreciate it. While I know the "trailer park management" really wants us to at least maintain the slope better, I'm not sure how happy they would be with any radical changes. I'll have to speak with them about this if I decide to cut away the slope although my gut feeling is that they would not be happy.

One of my main ideas was to construct the wall at the edge of the roadway and just build up the yard but I never even thought about difficulties in snow removal or driveway navigation - thank you for that!!

I too, love the look of the cotoneaster but I can already hear the complaints from the neighbours - while I appreciate the "cascading wild" look of it, I know the neighbours with their neat rows of shrubbery will think it's "messy and unkempt". Gah, I keep going back to the shrubs being the easiest and least time consuming idea but I really want something different looking. I've considered lamb's ear and actually have a friend who's willing to provide me with quite a bit of it for free but I'm concerned about how long it will take to grow in and fill the slope. Two years? Three? I'll admit to being rather impatient and if it's longer than that I might get tired of the weeding and mulching. Of course, if I want a change to the slope I need to be willing to work at it! Hee!

hlechat - I love your idea of a border of some type at the top of the slope; I just might have to steal it! :) I'll check out your plant suggestions (I like the idea of day lilies) and see where that leads me.

I also considered the possibility of planting vinca minor vine, it grows and spreads quickly, great at stamping out the weeds and I love the periwinkle blue flowers but I'm seriously concerned about the invasive factor.

Plus, I have to consider what something like the vinca minor or the lamb's ear would look like in the winter? We get snow but there are periods of time where it's cold and the snow is all melted, will I have a sea of dead plants on the slope looking like crap until spring?

While I'd love to do some type of retaining wall, I think I need to accept the idea that I'll be keeping the slope the way it is (due to park rules, budget constraints and my own laziness) and work with what I have.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 1:41PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Perhaps what we did with the steep slope along the south side of the driveway might work for you. It was so hot and dry there that grass wouldn't even grow. We started out by turning it into an herb bed and then gradually added more plants as we experimented with what would grow there. Some of the things we grow and their pros and cons are:

- ordinary culinary sage. These turned out to be fabulous plants for the space! They have nice silvery-gray foliage that stays almost evergreen (they fade/dry to gray in the winter but it's still possible to harvest leaves for cooking during the winter!) Each spring they get cut back to just above the woody base. Eventually they will need replacing when they get too woody to sprout new growth. The flowers are a beautiful deep blue spike. So they give you all year interest, flowers and edible leaves. And they are cheap to buy so you can get lots of them to fill the space quickly without costing too much!

- thyme - either ordinary culinary thyme or vigorous spreading thyme like mother-of-tyme. Either will quickly produce a dense groundcover, with nice pink flowers and edible leaves. The bees love the flowers - something to be aware of if you are allergic to bees (the bees like the sage flowers too...)

- daylilies - we use shorter types in reds and rusty oranges to go nicely with the sage leaves.

- 'Pink Beauty' potentilla shrubs - these form nice 24-30" mounds that flower from June into October. Their main drawback is that they lose their leaves in winter and are slow to leaf out in spring. But, when combined with thing like the sage, their winter bareness is not such a drawback. A third of the stems should be cut back to ground level each year to keep the shrub renewed and a nice tidy mound.

- roses - thae ones we uses are 'angel roses' a minature China rose grown from seed. They form a hedge that blooms all summer - although most heavily in June - and then produce vivid red hips in the fall. The roses are very disease resistant. They are also VERY thorny and need cutting back to 12-18" in spring. So they are a bit of work in spring and would make the slopes off-limits because of the thorns. That may or may not be an issue, depending on whether anyone walks on the slopes as a route to/from places.

There are other things planted on the slope but a simple combination of the sage, thyme, some daylilies and a couple of potentilla shrubs would probably work nicely to give you a colorful slope with not too much work or cost.

This picture shows the sage and potentilla with other things in the background:

The right side of this picture shows the sage in bloom in June:

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 2:46PM
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Woodyoak - I really like that idea and look as well. Especially the "cost effective and not too much work" part. Heh! My only concern is how tall the plants will grow. I'm in the process of digging up a large bed directly in front of the trailer and would like the plants in that bed to be seen as well; not hidden behind the plants on the slope. I suppose I could trim down the plants on the slope however; as you said the sage will need to be pruned every year anyway.

Obviously my first step will be to rake out the old lava rock and dig up the weeds. I was considering putting down a light layer of a mixture of garden soil and compost (because the soil on the slope will be rocky and very clay like), laying down a large piece of landscape fabric, cutting x's in the fabric for planting the various plants on the slope, and then covering the fabric with a healthy layer of mulch to cut down on weeding etc. Any thoughts on this? Is it a stupid idea? Should I just dig up the weeds, plant my plants (whatever they may be) in what is sure to be rocky, clay soil and be diligent about weeding for the next couple of years until my plants grow in?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 5:54PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

The soil in the bed where those pictures are from is heavy clay - glue this time of year and rock hard in the summer! The slobe keeps it well enough drained when wet that the plants that otherwise would not appreciate those soil conditions do just fine. And the herbs cope with summer drought much better than other plants would. We did no soil ammendment - just removed dead grass -- when we started that bed.

The sage only gets to be about 2' tall - we just cut it back on Saturday by about 1'. I'm not sure how tall it might get if you never cut it back. Cutting it back is easy and not a refined operation - wait until you can see signs of the new growth starting, then just grab handfuls of it and lop it off with scissors an inch or so above where the new growth starts! I'm not a 'no maintenance' gardener but I AM and 'easy maintenace' gardener...!

I forgot to mention another group of plants to add... For a couple of weeks after you cut the sage back, things look a bit bare since there are just the woody bases of the sage. But, if you plant early spring bulbs (I like Cream Beauty and dark purple crocuses and white and blue Anemone Bladas) under the sage, they will be blooming just as you need to cut back the sage. As the bulbs begin to fade, the sage is regrowing so will hide the dying bulb foriage.

I would NEVER use landscape fabric! It blocks movement of things like earthworms to and from the soil surface so you end up with compacted, 'dead' soil because oxygen and organic matter are restricted from moving into the soil. Not to mention it's pretty useless at stopping weeds since they will grow on accumualted leaf litter etc. on top of the fabric. Plus it also stops the groundcovers from spreading. You want the grouncover (the thymes) to fill in around and under the sage. Between the thyme and the sage, they will shade and densely cover the soil pretty quickly and that is your best weed supression. I rarely have any weeds appear in this bed. 'No bare ground' is my motto and the best anti-weed policy. Clean existing weeds out - particularly deep rooted prennial ones - thoroughly and then plant densely from the begining.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Hi -
the house I once stayed in in Minneapolis had just the same slope, as did all its neighbors - I wonder if the houses were put higher than the street because of storm water or surface water? The basement was very humid and had a de-humidifier running all the time.
One neighbor had turned her slope into a rather nice rock garden that also included, but was not limited to, creeping junipers. I must say I rather like the last one of your neighbors pictures - the junipers would not look so boring if there where other plants added (to where there is brown lawn now).
Oh, and cotoneasters can look tidy too, depending on the variety and maintenance.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 4:00AM
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maybe you could put in some kind of water feature, that could be a focal point then work off of that, adding bulbs and lilies, irises, then go on a treasure hunt for miniature shrubs.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 11:33AM
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Woodyoak - that's exactly what the dirt on my slope is like! With the added attraction of quite a few rocks. So, no landscape fabric, just remove the lava rock and grass and plant away... I like it!

I'm rather new to gardening so could you explain what you mean by planting bulbs "under the sage". Do you mean beside them or actually directly under the sage plants? I'm a little confused... :)

timbu - I agree, the neighbour's juniper in the last picture does look rather nice doesn't it? But the one directly beside us (the picture right above the last one) doesn't look nearly as nice, it's kind of hard to see in the picture, and I don't know... I just like the idea of something other than shrubs. I thought about just doing a few here and there with other plants on the slope but what if they creeped too far?!? Then I'd have to be ripping them out and that seems like it would be difficult to do. Heh.

Tinaddl - I think a water feature may be too much maintenance for me, I definitely am a low maintenance gardener. :) Plus, we spend all of our time in the side yard so the beauty and time and effort of the water feature would be wasted on us. Not that the neighbours wouldn't enjoy it but I would rather be the one to enjoy it. :)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 2:55PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

By 'under the sage' I mean between and around the bases of the sage plants.. When the bulbs start blooming they will be under where the top growth of the sage is (or was, before you cut it back...) The early crocuses may be mostly finished blooming by the time you cut the sage back, but the anemones bloom a bit later so they are visible after the sage is cut back. When you buy the bulbs in the fall, look for crocuses that say 'mid season' or 'late' if you can find them, so they will still be in bloom after the sage is cut back. Crocuses and Anemone Blanda are easy to find in bulk bags in 'big box' stores in the fall so they are relatively inexpensive. You could buy a wide variety of small bulbs. Check the recommended planting depth and buy ones with the same planting depth required. Then you can mix them all together in a bucket and choose a bulb at random when you plant them. That way you get a nice natural mix of colors and shapes. The small bulbs only need to go a couple of inches deep so are easier to plant than tulips and daffodils that need to go at least 6" deep! Plant lots of the little bulbs for a good display.

You could use any (bigger) rocks you dig up as a low ornamental wall at the base of the slope. Thyme looks good spilling over rocks. When you plant, I'd be inclined to place things like daylilies and other perennials, and potentilla shrubs (if you're planting them) first. Then plant thyme on the lower 1/3-1/4 of the slope. Then fill in at the top and around the shrubs and perennials with the sage. Thyme looks good spilling out from under the sage. If it is planted in between the sage plants, the sage might shade it a bit too much. If the thyme is happy, it will move into vacant spaces on its own.

Garlic and/or onion chives are nice ornamental and edible additions that can be tucked into a few places. Beware though of more aggressive spreading herbs like mints and oregano (a mint relative) because they will spread from the roots as well as seed a round. Beware of Lemon Balm for the same reason. Do you have kids? Kids tend to like the herb scents. You might want to add a plant or two of lemon thyme and orange-scented thyme. They are less vigorous than ordinary thyme so it's best to limit them to just a couple of fun specimens and let the ordinary thyme be the groundcover.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:23PM
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Thank you woodyoak - that type of detail about planting is exactly what I need!

I like the idea of having a low rock wall at the base of the slope but I'm not sure that any of the rocks I dig out will be big enough. But I like it so much I may go scouring around for some rocks. The trailer park management has used the perfect size rocks throughout various areas of the park for design... I wonder if they'd notice if I casually picked some up every time I walked the dogs. If I did it little by little would they really notice any missing rocks?!? ;)

I will definitely be planting some potentilla shrubs, I googled them after you suggested them and really like them.

I think I've come up with a plan for the slope. This year I'll probably tackle only the steepest slope and leave the side slopes for next year (which, at this point, I'm thinking I'll dig out the grass and just plant the common thyme and maybe some black eyed susans and daylilies).

Once I've cleared out the lava rock, grass and weeds, I'm I'll plant one to three potentilla shrubs, a few daylilies here and there and some black eyed susans (because I've heard they're hardy and tolerate all kinds of soil and I really love them). I'll plant the common sage along the top of the slope and around/between the shrubs and perennials and keep the thyme to the lower 1/4 of the slope. If I can find/steal enough rocks for a low wall at the front, I'll do that too! In the fall I'll plant some bulbs around the sage. Hopefully within a year or two this will create a pretty, low maintenance, mostly weed-free slope.

Thank you to everyone for your suggestions and ideas, it was very much appreciated! I'll try and post pictures of the work in progress.



    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 12:52PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

You can probably go to craigslist (usually the free listings) for rocks, or any landscape supply yard will stock them for sale. No need to resort to theft! Have fun,


    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 1:44PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Tackling the steepest slope first and doing the rest later sounds like a sensible idea. It will keep it from being too overwhelming a project and give you a chance to decide whether you like it before going 'whole hog' and finish the rest of it.

Black-eyed Susans look best I think in a mass, rather than as singles dotted around. The color would clash a bit with the Pink Beauty potentillas - but the potentillas do their most prolific blooming earlier in the season. So, if you keep the BESs and the potentilla shrubs a bit apart from each other, there shouldn't be a problem. Remember that the BES will need to be cut down in the fall and that will leave a bare spot in the winter where they were. Ditto re daylilies... On a steep slope that could result in some erosion in that area with fall/winter/spring rains/snow melt. To help prevent erosion, you might want to leave 6-8" of the BES stems standing over the winter to hold snow and break the force of rain.

Have fun.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 5:27PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

A final thought... When the word gets around that you are thinking of adding some daylilies, someone is bound to offer you some free ones - they are likely to be those dastardly 'ditch' orange daylilies! DO NOT plant those! They are VERY aggressive speaders and would soon take over the whole area. Aside from a week or so of flowers, they do not have much to offer and look very messy from mid summer on as leaves start to die back. So, if someone offers you dayliles, ask if they are orange ones. If the answer is 'yes', 'Thanks, but no thanks' is the best response. There are 'civilized' orange daylilies but the odds are that those would not be what is on offer....

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 11:53AM
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