Landscaping ideas for sloped front yard

Kelli Tucker CampbellSeptember 26, 2005

Hello all,

As you can see from the attached picture, my front yard is a huge slope and is, as you can imagine, a real treat to mow. We are wanting to plant some sort of ground cover on about the top 1/3 and accent with other plants, but we have no idea how to shape the bed or what plants to use. It gets morning to mid-afternoon sun. Those are burning bushes that are planted in front of the house. At the time we didn't know that they lost their leaves, so you can imagine how great our house looked last winter. Those do not have to stay.

Any ideas or pictures of similar projects that you've undertaken would be VERY much appreciated! (We're going to aerate and seed our lawn, so please overlook how spotty it looks!)

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Nushka_IA(4b IA)

My initial thought is a quarter-circle shaped bed (imagine that the center of the circle is the point where the stairs meet the house). A smallish tree, like a Halesia, dogwood, redbud, or narrow evergreen, could be nice to anchor the planting and also link the house to the ground...

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 3:46PM
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Big trees in the foreground, a flat area in the middleground (preferably with a patio - even if you do not ever sit there), a 4' retaining wall just past that with medium shrubs and small ornamental tres on top, then the slope up to the house.

Reasoning: you need to make someones eye go somewhere instead of the house and then stop the eye from looking past it. Draw their attention into the outdoor room and then keep it there.

That is one deep basement!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 5:52PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

That's nice, Laag! Very clearly described too. Only one point of uncertainty left - do you envision a rise from the first row of trees to the first flat area?

Seems to me that you could terrace all the way to the top and eliminate lawn altogether, couldn't you? It appears that grass doesn't much want to grow here anyway, and the original poster did mention mowing as being a problem. If grass was truly wanted, it could grow on any one or more of the level areas created by the walls.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 6:27PM
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I'm inclined to take a page from one of Jack Chandlers landscape installations.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 10:21PM
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Wow, That would look great! Paint the stairs the same Golden Banana color as the rings and a coat of paint on the siding and rails to match the basketball, but I would choose a dark Plumbago Blue.


    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 2:11AM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Thanks everyone! If I put one of those sculptures in my front yard, I'd be afraid it would come loose and roll right into my neighbor's house!

All the options are so confusing, so I really appreciate everyone's input.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 3:51PM
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ah kel,
what's life without liv'en on the edge ?

; ~ O

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 10:17PM
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Wow, I thought MY new house had a sloping yard! This one really takes the prize. I haven't decided what to do yet. We have two dogs who need room to run so I can't terrace all of it.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 2:39PM
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plantfiend(z7 VanBC)

Laag, I like your idea of the patio and a stopping area. Kellilou, is there any way of someday changing the staircase to do the same thing? I'm not good with describing it but I was thinking if the stairwell made more of a curve away from the house, with some landings. Two right angle turns if you know what I mean, with a stopping area at each turn.

Right now, I just envision someone falling on those stairs in winter - and just keeping on going! That is one scary staircase.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 3:18PM
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Birdsong72(7/Northshore NJ)

Wow is all that I can say when I look at this house (the materials, the windows, the entrance way).

Now. Some have touched on what you REALLY need to do here (I.E. TERRACING). There are no other sound options to your dilemna.

While Laag points to a patio, I don't know if you even envision spending anytime out in the front yard. Is that something you would envision? It could be done and it would address the top 1/2 of that slope beautifully. Then again, I don't know if that's something that you would be comfortable with.

I also like the idea of redirecting that "straight line" of the steps. That design is simply horrendous.

There's nothing inherently wrong with burning bush. While I don't use them nor have them on my property, the only thing wrong here is their use as a singular foundation planting. You cite they're not being evergreen. I'd have similar problems with a mono planting of arbrovitae, etc. THEY PROVIDE NO COMPOSITION OR DYNAMIC. You could just as easily do a trom de oleil (sp????) and get the same effect.

I tend to agree with the one poster who suggested terracing all of the front yard. Not contiguous walls spanning the width of that lawn area, but more convex in shape individual walls (though in a natural way and staggered in order to minimize run off). Walkways can be structured in and around these terraces in order to allow you to enjoy the gardens. WHAT YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO DO, IS CUT OUT 100% OF THE GRASS. That slope is unsafe for anyone to cut.

Your whole front yard will need to be naturalized tastefully. It's the only way of salvaging what is now a horrendous curbside view (sorry about my candidness). I'd anchor each terrace with a tree (most ornamental (That's the ticket. I once did something similar on a a beautiful contemporary here (only the slope was at the opposite >>directly down against the house). Grass had to go. While we terraced in and around maples (she wouldn't allow us to cut them down and replace with more suitable oaks....the maples are now distending the wall facia (we used limestone boulders from a nearby housing site in Princeton). The place looks terrific now some 15 years down the road.

Please note: You have a lot of work ahead of you. While no one (nor yourself) have asked about a budget, in order to do this right, you're looking at $20K give or take (depending upon pricing variables between your area and mine). It'll truly worth it (if you intend on staying). Expect to spend $5-10K more if you redirect the steps.

Help me out though. Why are the windows SO SMALL in the pic? If that's the front of the house, what are those rooms? BR's? Kitchen? Is this a single family home? Or a condo?

Good luck. This is doable. Question is: do you want to go $20-$30K?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 2:53PM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

My guess is that since the original post talked about "wanting to plant some sort of ground cover on about the top 1/3 and accent with other plants" that $20,000 is a little over budget.

- Brent

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 3:25PM
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creatrix(z7 VA)

I just knew someone would recommend ripping out those stairs!

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 3:53PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Uh, yeah....$20K is a whole lot more than we're willing to pay. There's no way we would recoup that in the sale of the house (a few years down the road).

I would like to keep some of the grass, as terracing the whole front yard might be viewed as "horrendous" compared to the other, more scaled-down front lawns in the neighborhood. If we lived out to ourselves, that might be an option, but we're in a neighborhood where houses are basically right on top of each other. So terracing the whole thing is pretty much out of the question.

I wouldn't want a patio in front. We would never use it. And it really isn't that bad to mow the bottom third of the yard. But you're right that it IS unsafe to mow higher than that, and my husband only does it while wearing soccer cleats.

As far as the windows, they look small because only half are showing. The facade of our house is very tall, so it does make the windows look smaller, but they have arched windows at the top. I think they need shutters but haven't gotten around to doing that. Both are bedrooms, and it's a single family home.

What if we just did a raised bed covering the top third, with a decent foundation design and ivy or some other groundcover over the rest? It would certainly be cheaper than a wall or terraces and would prevent the unsafe mowing aspect.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 4:06PM
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punamytsike(9b FL)

can you post a picture of the complete front of the house?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 4:10PM
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jake(z4b-5 NE)

Reading the pictures and verbiage that has followed your post I must agree w/ Mich, you can accomplish whatever you want if you just jump through a few hoops.

I am somewhat surprised at the long run of stairs. I would have placed a landing somewhere in there which leads me to think, out loud anyway ......

place a landing so that it steps on to a terraced area of the yard. This will break up the ski slope and allow you to have a dividing line for upper and lower areas of the yard.

Again I'm thinking out loud without any sketches or scribble work to benefit my minds eye. The landing area can schmooze into a terrace wall thus completing the dividing line.

All this is very cryptic but I do believe there might be some workable thoughts or design here. As for plants buy ones w/ green leaves and plant them green side up.

Geez all this brainyack work has made me thirsty and confused.

Do the hoops, Grey goose up, one olive pleeze.


    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 5:27PM
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This slope offers a tremendous opportunity without spending a fortune in hardscaping that would never be used.

True, the staircase layout is unfortunate , but the reality is that it is not going to be reconformed into a new layout.

So we are dealt with a challenge that must be dealt with on a horticultural level.

The tact that I would take would involve the use of sweeping long drifts of textural low maintenance ground cover(s) set within some interesting patterns punctuated with some bold strong architectural shrubs and trees.

On the steepest elevation the use of an evergreen groundcover planted in mass would be my choice.
It would then be off set by a contrasting color and texture, .. perhaps a sea of ornamental grasses , or if this was located in California I might go for succulents emass.

This slope has opportunity written all over it, and it can be done purely with plants and on a reasonable budget.

For a visual example I suggest that you google the name Roberto Burle Marx and take a look at how he painted broad colorful strokes with plants across sweeping rolling vistas as well as flat plains.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 5:46PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Guys, here's a picture of the house when we first moved in - one that shows more detail. For clarification, we didn't build the house, and it is our first home. It's awesome on the inside, and we got a great deal (presumably because no one else was stupid enough to want to buy it and deal with the steps).

Jake, I really like your ideas and have some calls into contractors for estimates on reworking the steps. The idea of placing the landing so that it lines up with one terrace appeals to me. The cost may be something that we are willing to work with, also.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 5:52PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well Kelli, the full photo seems to have surprised everyone into silence. There is quite a bit of space to cover under those windows, in addition to that slope!

There have been other threads on this forum lately about properties perched up high that might interest you, even if only to know that your problem is not uncommon! I've referenced one, but there is also "high finished floor" for example. Also the several threads started by janandalan.

I see that you already took out that tree to the right side when you put in the burning bushes. I think you are on the right track there.

I suspect that making the stairs different will make a huge change in the site and may make the landscape design options much more obvious, or rather, you may be able to figure out more clearly what you want.

I will just also mention that from an outside perspective the challenge of breaking up that expanse of brick above the garage could take some thought too. I wonder if a deciduous tree planted in place of that evergreen, or somewhat further out toward the street, could be induced to send a branch or two across the front?

Here is a link that might be useful: Camarodreamer's thread

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 7:17PM
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Birdsong72(7/Northshore NJ)

Sure, slopes most definitely offer a prospectively wonderful palette to plant a landscape. Far more preferable than a flat piece of property.

But in order to do so, you need to tear up all of the grass. Did you happen to notice the erosion near the medium sized tree mid slope on the property line?
This is one hellafied slope that will not take a mass planting as you suggest WITHOUT altering that hill's makeup. And......

Unless you TERRACE, a lot of top soil and earth is going to be washed away in between the time that one tills the soil and the plants finally take hold 3 years later. Terracing redirects, slows WATER on such a grade. Plus, I'm not a big fan of planting most shrubs on such an incline. Trees will work. Shrubs, on the other hand, need to be carefuly selected in terms of using plants that will look natural on such a hillside.

It's all a moot point. The homeowner seems unwilling to make an investment in addressing the real "needs" that scream out from curbside.

The project like any landscaping project can be done over 3-5 years (if done right) and thus minimize the financial impact on their pocketbook.

If the budget is severly limited, I'd go with 3-4 trees (3 ornamental/flowering trees that top out at 20' and an oak). Buy them in the fall when they're apt to be on sale and you're on your way.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2005 at 1:46AM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

I appreciate all your help and, Birdsong72, appreciate your recent comments as well. While terracing would look very lovely, it's important to me to keep our design in the same style as the rest of the neighborhood, and terracing would not do that.

We plan on moving from this home in about 3 years and, therefore, do not want to put more than even a few thousand dollars into this. It would just not be an investment that would pay off for us. At the very least, we'll just leave the lawn as-is (after all, we've been mowing it like that for over 3 years) and just reformat the foundation plantings.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2005 at 11:36AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Kelli, there was yet another thread a few weeks back in which people talked about how being the first on the block to do some serious landscaping or gardening seemed to have a spillover effect and suddenly the whole neighbourhood was doing it (I think the thread was "Well... it depends"). So in your shoes I would tend not to be restricted by what everyone else in the neighbourhood is doing, but rather be willing to jump a little ahead (understanding that you might not want to go right to the sculpture end of the spectrum). It is self-evident that several of your neighbours must have similar yards, and similar mowing nightmares. They might be grateful if you took the plunge to try something new.

Funny, but where I live there are many houses up high like this and in the entire city I have NEVER seen one with a sloping lawn like this, and I've lived here a long, long time. EVERY high house bar none has some sort of terracing or rock garden or big honking concrete or rock wall to level the front yard. I have always taken this for granted, but now I wonder who was the first to build such an installation :-).

You also mention that you got a good deal on your house probably in part due to the stairs and I suspect the landscaping and the slope. If you are going to sell with it in essentially the same condition, then you will likely be dropping the price to sell it too. Maybe that doesn't matter, but on the other hand it may make it more worth your while to at least reconstruct the stairs (and thus set the stage for the next owner to do some further work).

    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 6:00PM
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I would terrace the whole thing but no straight line terraces going all of the way across. Make it look more like a nautural hill side with the whole hillside planted with trees and shrubs planted among the LARGE rocks place on the terraces.
But if you are planning on selling I would leave it alone and let someone else landscape to their tastes.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 6:15PM
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Happy_Go_Lucky_Gayle(z9TX Colorado Cty)

Your front yard is similiar to my old house's backyard. We choose to terrace it. It cost approximately $5,000 for the retaining walls.

I don't understand why a terrace wouldn't fit in with the neighborhood. I agree to use soft curves and layers.

Just my very uneducated opinion.

BTW! The home is lovely.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 7:38PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I would terrace it. It will make the yard USEABLE--and I bet dollars to donuts your neighbors will follow suit. A usable (by humans) yard is worth much more than a mowing nightmare.

Interestingly--until I re-read some of the posts--I assumed this was the BACK of the house. (With an alley.) You might want to think about THAT.

As steep as it is--do your dogs really play out there?

I will own that it looks like an AWESOME sledding hill...but what's at the bottom?


PS--before we moved in, a PO terraced our front yard--and the effect is loveley. Ours got turned into a series of perennial flower beds, with two small sections of grass.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 8:59AM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

Kellilou, like you I live in a modest neighborhood and when it comes to landscaping I have to compromise. I have a steep hill yard too, although it is tiny, tiny compared to yours. I have it in grass because at least that holds the soil in to some degree. Hills erode no matter what, and terracing IS the best option. But I can't afford terracing either right now as I have other expenditures ahead of that on the list. I will not recoup a huge landscaping expense because the houses in my neighborhood are modest. That's not to say people haven't done nice things to their houses, but it has to be in moderation. It has to go in stages.

In my neighborhood people have gone basically with three options. One is the terrace retaining wall option. That's a great option. In a situtation such as yours, it might have to be done in stages, and I'm wondering if someone has experience with a staged terraceing scenario that they could share.

The other is the ground cover option, which stops the mowing misery. This is hard to get started as has been mentioned, and you will get some erosion at the start. Again, a compromise. It might be nice if someone here could give some suggestions on how to get such a thing started and how to manage the transition from lawn to groundcover with minimal problems. Perhaps someone out there has done this successfully.

This is an option I'm not too keen on, the modified terrace/groundcover. Basically they put some type of edging at the bottom of the hill, (our little neighborhood hills are way tiny compared to yours) and then plant flowers on the hillside with mulch. Seems OK for the drought years we've been having, plus whatever soil is lost can easily be replaced by a few trips to the lawn and garden. Not good, IMHO, although they look nice when in flower.

Lastly, folks make a big bed on the flat part by the house and then leave the rest in grass. The three houses in my row including mine have gone with that option. Again, our yards are tiny and a lot of times folks just use a weed whacker to "mow" instead of a mower, or just use a tiny light mower.

I'd really be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on the staged terracing option, or the shift from grass to groundcover, as both of those options fit within my budgeting scenario. If not, I'm going to just have to deal with the horrid grass until I can afford a big 5K redo. I'm guessing about 2012, after the bathroom and backyard are done.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 9:58AM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

When you guys have said "terrace", I was thinking you meant something like this:

Is this what you all had in mind?

This image was borrowed from

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 2:27PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Except not the straight lines of the terrace example--more curvy.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 3:22PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Welll, yes and no.

I don't really see any of what msjee calls usable space in those red terraces. I would have envisioned fewer terraces with wider spaces on top of them, whether for patio or lawn. Also, I would tend towards more unobtrusive walls for your setting. I also think that at least a third of your yard could be a sloped rock-garden type of landscape, which would reduce the amount of wall you have to install/look at. Finally, I don't think there is a law saying that the top of each terrace or the bottom front strip has to be perfectly flat (at least if there is we have a lot of people breaking it). In other words, I think that picture is the extreme application of the terrace idea.

Once people brought up the issue of the stairs, I had to agree that whatever you design in the garden should reflect whatever you do with the stairs, so I would try to design both together. Now, I may be able to dabble in landscape design fairly harmlessly, but my expertise certainly stops at designing steps. Have you had any responses to the contractor calls you put out?

    Bookmark   October 12, 2005 at 11:17AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Come to think of it Mel (msjee), would you consider reposting some of your photos or links to them of your yard for Kelli? It slopes toward the house rather than away, but I think the look, especially that interesting flowerbed you have that slopes quite a bit, would be of interest as an idea one might use around a landing on the stairs.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2005 at 11:30AM
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I see a dry creek bed running roughly diagonally from the trees on the upper right side of the yard down toward the driveway. It would sort of create a soft, diagonal (in a meandering way) terrace by digging into the slope just a bit and securing it with well placed boulders (get some he-men to help!). You can then use some lovely ornamental grasses, a small tree or two, some dwarf evergreens and other perennials generally along the sides of the stream bed to landscape the area. No where near $20K unless you order very expensive rocks. Amd it would look pretty naturalistic, while breaking up the vertical expanse of the yard with the more horizontally orineted diagonal line provided by the stones forming the creek bed. Also, this would provide year-round interest even when the plants are dormant. If you wanted to go expensive, you could actually create a naturalistic water feature of it, but then you do get into some bucks.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 12:53PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I was going to post pics,but felt the pics I had didn't address the issues. I'm on lunch at work--will try to get new pics of yard tomorrow...BEFORE the root canal. :P

Bear with me--I've never HAD a root canal and don't know how much it'll knock me flat. (Perhaps not at all!) Very busy afternoon here at the GC. Sent an Acer palmatum dissectum 'Inaba Shidari' home with a VERY nocew couple. Which is a good thing. Otherwise it was going to come home with me...


    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 2:57PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)


I'm not certain if these will help or not. The Previous owners did some terracing in our yard--and then, when we had to replace a failing retaining wall, we did some additional retaining wall/grading work.

Here is a picture of the yard BEFORE we did the new wall...

You can see some of the terracing that existied, and the wall we needed to replace.

This is a picture AFTER we tore down and replaced the can see we eliminated a bit of the slope to gain some patio area...though the angle of the shots isn't identical. (There's actuall quite a bit of patio there that you can't see.)

And here is a picture of the "lower lawn"--it may give you an idea of how one creates useable space with terracing.

These walls were NOT inexpensive, and may be more than you want to deal with--but it might get you thinking. This is our "final house" (as in--the last house before the nursing home or they carry me out in a pine box) and we didn't worry too much about "return on investment."

If you want to see more shots--you are MORE than welcome to wander through my photobucket account--I'll provide a link to the main page--just peruse the various albums.

My grandfather had a hill like that--he used to tie a rope to the mower and lower it down the steep bits. Of course, this was "back in the day" before all mowers had "deadman" switches...


Here is a link that might be useful: mel's photobucket site

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 12:36PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Mjsee, thanks so much for the photos! Yours looks really beautiful. A contractor friend of ours drove by and said that it would probably cost $3,000 just to tear out the steps, so we're leaving them as-is. However, he said that they could install a 3 foot cinderblock retaining wall fairly cheaply, and then my husband and I could apply the stone veneer ourselves. This is more along the lines of what we can do budgetarily.

That just leaves the issue of landscaping and what kind of stone to use for the veneer. We may possibly meet with a landscape designer that was referred to us by a realtor who lives in our neighborhood.

You guys and gals are just SO great and put so much effort into your suggestions for me. I really appreciate it!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2005 at 4:16PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Seems to me you wouldn't need to tear out the whole steps. What if you were to just change the bottom quarter or fifth to a little deck (with a planter or two on it and perhaps a railing on the street side), which could have a right angle set of stairs going to the driveway, while on the yard side it provides the reference level for the one retaining wall you might do.

On another note, if you're going to face your wall in stone, I suspect you might as well build it out of stone in the first place. Unless of course it would be stronger built out of masonry blocks. It will be worth building a good strong wall as a failing one doesn't look much better than none at all.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 3:09PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

I think there are two different questions here.

1) what would you do with the house to make it look better long term.

2) what would you do to remove the grass cutting problem.

A lot of the ideas presented are great to answer #1, but if you plan to move in 3 years is it really worth it?

Based on the budget and the original question there are other alternatives.

But first ... there was no mention of your desires. Do you want to garden? Can you plan a good designed garden? This is the front yard and so you want something that is fairly good. Since you are a new home owner I would guess that you do not have a lot of gardening experience, and if money is not readily available, hiring someone to design the garden may not be in the budget.

I have a back yard that is even steeper then your front yard. I killed the grass with roundup, made some paths and started planting. Since I did not rototill the garden, I did not have errosion problems. It took some work to make the paths but cost was very low. I did not tarrace the hill except with soil. Now I like to garden and have experience. Oh, I also added a dry waterfall and stream. $1,000 buys a lot of plants.

You could also add the paths, and use simple ground cover. Once established, they take little care and look reasonable.

Based on your question and comments, I would suggest the following. Buy a mature tree and plant it off center to the right in the yard. This will break up the visual image of a steep slope and make the house look better. It will be expensive, but I think you will recoup the cost on selling the house. Take most or all of the hill and cover with ground cover. Even something simple like Ivy works well. Keep some grass near the road, so that you do not look too different from the neighbors. Don't make a straight line parralell to the raod. Use curves. Add a small group of hostas in the middle of the ivy for interest.

The hill will be less visible. The house will be hidden a bit. The tree will be the focal point. Much less mowing. A garden that needs almost no care. When you go to sell the house, there is not much landscape for the new buyer to find objectional.

I am not saying this is the best idea, but it might be the best fit given your needs.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 11:08PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Hi there! We've consulted with a professional landscape designer and have a plan in mind, however, it's outside of our budget for him to implement (big surprise). We are going to have to do the planting ourselves, but I am having a difficult time locating one of the plants that has been incorporated into the design - Hillspire Juniper. A couple of them would be planted: one at the right corner of the house, and one where the brick meets the vinyl siding. This area gets morning sun, about 5 hours of it. Do you think Emerald Green Arborvitae would work there as well as the Juniper? Both plant descriptions on say full sun, and the Arborvitae is easier for me to find. Thanks!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 2:19PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

Kelli, don't worry about doing the plantings yourself. I got a plan from a landscaper and was planning on doing most of the planting myself with some help from her finding hard to get plants. Well, when it came right down to it she couldn't get the japanes maple she recommended, and was charging about three times what I could pay at a local nursery for the same stuff. I'm not saying she was overcharging per se, but I could do the work myself just fine and save a bundle leaving out all the middlemen. So when it comes to planting and plant selection, with some Web sleuthing and help from folks here, I actually think the plants I ended up going with were better than what the landscaper suggested, at least more to my taste. Just keep in mind the general color, shape and leaf texture of the recommended specimens and you can often make substitutions. For example, I substituted blueberries for azaleas because I want the berries! Hillspire and emerald green arborvitae sound very similar to me. I wouldn't worry too much about plant choices, don't you have bigtime hardscaping issues. Heck, if you can get that done and plant a few geraniums you should be quite proud of yourself! :-)

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 4:27PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Well, my husband and I met with a landscape designer for a plan and will eventually install everything ourselves (in stages). Needless to say, we haven't done anything yet but plan to within the next couple of months. Since so many people responded to the original post, I thought I would outline what we're going to do, in case you're interested. I'd also love to post a photo of what he is proposing we do but didn't know if that was impolite.

Here's what we're going to do:
-Plant two Emerald Green Arborvitae where the vinyl siding meets the brick and toward the right side of the house.
-Move the existing Burning Bushes in between the two Arborvitae.
-Plant Otto Luyken Laurels in front of the Arborvitae and Burning Bushes.
-In front of the vinyl siding section, plant some Skip Laurel.
-Put the existing holly bushes in front of the Skip Laurels.
-Down the left side of the yard, plant some Firepower Nandinas.
-Beside the Nandinas, plant some Vinca.
-Beside the existing Azalea, plant a Japanese Maple that is circled by Liriope.
-Finally, plant a big, sweeping bed of English Ivy that extends about 10 feet from the front line of shrubs.

Questions? Comments? Verbal Abuse?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2006 at 9:01PM
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Kellilou3 - thanks for keeping everyone updated. The number of posts probably doesn't reflect the number of readers who are lurking and trying to find solutions to their own hill problems (include me in that bunch). Please keep us posted, pictures would be great.
So if I understand this right - you are planting bushes and plants at the top, down a bit is english ivy and leaving the bottom bottom in grass?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2006 at 3:51PM
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Is there an explaination of why these plants and locations were chosen and how they are going to affect the landscape?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 6:29AM
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GingerBlue(z6 MO)

Laag, I was wondering the same thing. I certainly don't want to discourage Kellilou's enthusiasm, but I don't see how this planting will do anything that the current planting isn't already doing. It's just more and a fuller version of what's there. Going from a necklace to a muffler. I think this will further separate the house from the hill rather than integrate. I could be wrong, though.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 7:59AM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Well, the tall evergreens will help break up the space between the foundation and the windows. Other than that, no real explanation was given for the rest of the plants, other than the ones that are already there that we didn't want to throw away. We just wanted to make it look more professional, and the addition of the ivy would prevent unsafe mowing of the yard (and hopefully better attract buyers when we sell the house in a couple of years). Should I post a the computer generated picture that the designer gave us so that you can have a better visual?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 9:53AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I don't know about the ethics of posting a designer's work so I won't suggest you post the diagram. I think it is important to remember that the main criterion for success here is that YOU are happy, not that the forum members are happy. It sounds like a fairly conservative, rational landscaping plan, which may or may not mitigate the severest aspects of the house design - but it solves some of your problems and will make the house presentable. You don't want to put your heart and soul into this property as you want to sell in a couple of years anyway.

The only caution I would raise is the wretched ivy, and perhaps the vinca. Both are categorized as noxious weeds in some places, and the ivy especially is capable of wiping out the entire Pacific Northwest rainforest. It is spread by birds carrying seeds hither and yon, so you can't control it. I would use maybe some of those really flat Junipers to cover the ground instead - the blue rug types I think they're called. They're quite cool once they spread.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 12:23PM
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vicki_ca(Sunset 14, US9)

Kellilou - I can't say for certain what the ethics of posting the designer's work is either, but I will say this... Others have posted such drawings here in the past, and they have received valuable feedback as a resultcolor>. You paid for the design; so you own it now. The way I see it, there is little difference between posting the drawing and posting a picture of the yard after it is all planted. Chances of anyone stealing the design are slim, as few people would have a yard just like yours, and besides that, it doesn't sound like the designer has included any truly unusual plant combinations. Go for it; post the drawing if you are interested in the feedback.

What Karen said about vinca and ivy is true, but I don't necessarily see that as a problem for you. The previous owner of my home planted vinca minor in most of my front yard 25 years ago. I live in a 365 day per year growing climate, and none of my vinca has spread to my neighbors' yards, nor has it spread to areas of my own yard where I have not encouraged it to go. It is very easy to remove, because it has shallow roots. Ivy, on the other hand, can be very difficult to eradicate, but in a cultivate yard such as yours, I think it's not so problematic. If your property backed up to a woodlands or open space, I would be more concerned. Ivy or similar dense ground cover is an excellent choice for a steep, unterraced yard. It will fill in and look like a green carpet. To confine it, sink edging material into the ground outlining the area where the ivy will be. This will reduce some of it's spreading. With that in place, you will just need to eliminate the strays a couple times per year - sure beats weekly mowing!

I'm curious about why you decided not to terrace the yard or break up the long steps with a landing or two. I'm assuming it's because you do not plan on living there long enough to justify the expense, right?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 2:05PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Thanks, Vickie for your comments and input. We have a patch of ivy already growing in the front for a couple of years, and it hasnÂt been a nuisance at all. I'm going to go ahead and post the picture. I don't see any reasons why it would be unethical, since neither I, nor anyone else can profit from it.

Here's the legend, and below is a link to the picture:

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 2:40PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

And, yes, terraces, retaining walls and/or reconfiguring the steps all cost more than we wanted to put into it.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 2:44PM
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kellilou, thanks for following up with this, I read this thread with interest when it was first posted. It's nice to have someone update everyone after the convesation has simmered down.

My comment is that unless I'm reading the designers plan incorrectly, that looks like a whole lot of mulch under those shrubs that will make its way down the hillside. I have a much less steep grade to my lawn and I'll tell you, the mulch under my shrubs does like to slither around, particularly after a heavy rain. Where someone with foresight (not me) underplanted with vinca and pachysandra however I have no problems and a nice green carpet. I plant some spring bulbs among the greenery and in the April and May particularly those areas look fantastique! (Wandering off now to go buy some more vinca).

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 11:47AM
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I confess, I am not seeing any rhyme or reason to the plan, other than "here are some nice shrubs." The forms don't complement the slope itself. They will be shrubs sticking up on a slope. You will not buy huge specimens and they will not grow at the same rate so ultimate heights and blending doesn't seem a sure thing. The shrubs won't provide enough erosion/weed control; if ivy is to be the basis of groundcover/erosion control, plugs should be set throught the shrub area, too, though it may not go with the shrubs (competes?)and/or the shrubs might be superfluous (dark green laurels sticking up out of dark green ivy). How is the vinca and ivy going to be integrated/compete.

If you aren't terracing, wouldn't it almost be better to acknowledge the slope but have a pretty, green slope or a few contrasting greens("my house is at the top of a hill, by doggies, so use the steps!")? Perhaps use just a whole lot of groundcover--this could be explored further as to type;; I don't recall sun/water conditions--vinca for flowers? Ivy for sun/shade/drought/indestructible? Both good for uniform green color, cheap, fast spread. Carpet junipers? Daffodil idea is great for breakthrough color, no maintenance. Focus a few small trees or largish shrubs somehow related to what needs to be accomplished at stair way or other "focal" or grounding points (someone help me here, I am out of my league, other posters already said this.)

These ideas are already in the above posts but the great thing about your posted plan is that to me it illustrates how those alternatives would be preferable. Don't mean to appear so negative and without precise alternatives. You DO have a plan. Maybe it is providing more important form and color interest than I can see. But it strikes me as very cookie cutter, foundation-ish and not really slope- or function- oriented. If somehow you could photoshop the same image with more of the down-flowing, uniform groundcover, correct color (not brown mulch, though mulch would be needed for the first couple of years) and the focal points I think the difference in "feel" would be more obvious. Youu would put divide your budget into LOTS of groundcover pots and a few specimens. Your existing shrubs could probably be configured in somehow for grounding. Either way you will have mulch/watering/weeding for several years until established.

Can you "work" with the person who did your plan, saying, how 'bout something more like this....?

Anyway, just think how much farther along you are in your thinking, planning, evaluating. Hopefully, it's all heading toward the ultimate goal of a plan that works best for you.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 5:05PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

Frankie hit the nail on the head. This is just a basic foundation planting superimposed onto a slope. You won't have to mow, but you'll have to deal with erosion. Groundcovers might solve both problems--dangerous mowing conditions and erosion. There are lots of options to choose from. Around my neighborhood, with small slopes, folks use vinca, ivy, prostrate juniper, ajuga, bishop's weed, joseph's coat, and a sedum of some type which the name escapes me right now. I think cottoneaster also comes in a prostrate form but I could be wrong. Those are just some examples, there are others. Pachysandra is more for shade. Many of these are invasive, but in a suburban neighborhood such as yours, the damage has been pretty much done to the natural environment already.

Myself, in your situation I'd be partial to the juniper, maybe mixed with vinca for spring color and cottoneaster for fall color. You could start at the top and gradually work your way down, adding a new layer every year.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 6:49PM
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Kelli Tucker Campbell

Thanks for your great comments, accordian, Frankie, and lpinkmountain. And I don't take anything as negative, as long as it's constructive! When we asked for this plan, we had four main objectives:
1) Break up the dead space between the foundation and windows.
2) Design a plan that moves your eye away from the first impression of, "Oh, my gosh! That's a huge slope!"
3) Use groundcover to negate mowing.
4) Use as many existing plants as possible.

Maybe trying to utilize the plants that we have made it difficult to implement a more interesting plan? We thought that maybe using two different kinds of groundcovers would provide more visual interest, so that's why there's vinca and ivy. Frankie, you made a good point about the dark green laurels blending in with the dark green ivy.

Concerning the issue of erosion while the ivy is getting established, couldn't we use some jute netting or other landscape fabric to plugs the plants within?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 10:22AM
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Kelli Campbell

It's been a while since this thread was drudged up, but I wanted to say that we FINALLY fixed the landscaping in the front.

We will attempt planting more ivy on the slope next spring or fall. The two tall evergreens are Bright 'n Tight Carolina Laurel, the three evergreens on the left side are Etna English Laurel, and the three azaleas in front of the Etna are Encore Autumn Twists that bloom in the spring and fall and have pretty white blooms with pink stripes. They should fill in fairly quickly and fulfill our need for evergreens in the front.

It isn't as visually interesting as a lot of you suggested we should make it, but the budget prevented us from doing much more! The cost for all of this was just over $500, and we think it looks a lot better than what was there, at least. Anyway, thanks again for all the help!

    Bookmark   November 29, 2006 at 12:21PM
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