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Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Posted by just_me_6 WV - 6 (My Page) on
Fri, Mar 30, 07 at 21:11

I live in zone 6 (Huntington, West Virginia) and I'm building a new home. I'd love to hear your design ideas for my sloping back yard.

I haven't had a chance to test the soil yet but I suspect there is some clay. The area looks like it might get partial sun but it'll be hard to tell until the leaves on the trees fill in more later this spring.

The pictures shown are the back of my house. There will be a full length deck back there after the home is complete. I'm at a loss as to what to put on that back slope but I know I don't want to mow it. My tastes run to informal cottage gardens or things that smell nice or attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I'm also considering a small pond-less waterfall if budget permits.

I don't care much for hosta or ferns or ivy. I'm not big on red, orange, or white flowering plants either although a little splash of one of those colors might be okay. I much prefer yellows, blues, pinks, or purples.

So . . . what would you suggest?

Here is a link that might be useful: First Picture


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Second Picture

See second picture for different angle.

Here is a link that might be useful: Second Picture


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Third Picture

Here is a shot of the front of the house so you can get a sense of what style the house is.

Here is a link that might be useful: Third Picture


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Not a designer, but the first thing that struck me is the grade on your slope is pretty steep. And how is the water runoff and ponding at the base of the slope going to be dealt with? If terracing is out of the question, planting would probably have to be looked at from the standpoint of stabilization in order to avoid a really "full" basement in your lovely new home.

That being said, I can see plantings of azaleas, rhododendrons, kalmia (Mountain Laurel), a dogwood or two, spreading junipers, and an understory of drifts of daffodils, crocus, scilla, muscari, etc. All do well in shade or filtered sunlight and the spring bulbs would bloom out before the trees were in full leaf. Not sure the slope would be an ideal spot for a cottage type garden, but once you determine what the sun/shade conditions are it looks like you've got room to carve out a cottage bed - and you'd have no end of annuals and perennials to choose from in the color range you prefer.


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My Drainage

Thanks very much for your suggestions. In answer to your question about drainage, there is a ravine on one side of my yard and a drainage ditch on the other side. My builder is going to dig a trench parallel to the slope and each end of the trench will empty into a ditch or ravine. We are debating the cost of using French drain in the trench or possibly lining the trench with large rocks that are on the site to give it a stream bed appearance. Any advice on which of those scenarios might be best?

I like your idea of azaleas, dogwoods, and bulbs as part of the plan. That might be a possibility. Do they all have the same soil and drainage needs? Can you suggest additional things I might add that will bloom in summer and maybe smell nice or attract hummingbirds? I will be spending a lot of time out on the deck during the summer so that would be really nice.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

  • Posted by jkom51 Z9 CA/Sunset 17 (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 31, 07 at 13:08

For drainage issues you need to consult with an engineer. I agree, that slope is pretty steep. Don't depend on your developer, who is going bye-bye on you as fast as possible, to come up with a necessarily permanent solution. You need advice from a pro who is on your side.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

You are so lucky to have this slope, you will have a wonderful opportunity to see it all from your deck.
I do like the Dogwood, Azalea, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel suggestions. All those plants do well with good drainage (you'll naturally have that on a slope)and like the same filtered sunlight. Check out what native Azaleas you have in your zone - they can be wonderfully fragrant
The hill looks quite stable with the trees established there so I wouldn't worry to much about erosion.
It would be really wonderful to weave a nice path in there. Is there any type of animal trail existing now? If not you can zig-zag a little one in there and maybe end it at a bench.
for the birds and butterflies make sure you provide plants with berries like, Beautyberry or Viburnum. And really any kind of flowering perennials you like will attract butterflies. Oh and provide both a water source.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Excellent idea on the path up the slope with a bench at the top! I hadn't even thought of that. I'm hoping to put in a pondless waterfall at the bottom of the slope (if budget permits) as this would draw birds and it would sound and look wonderful from the patio.

Any ideas on what I could use as material for an informal woodland path or steps to go up the slope? It would be great if I could use some of the stones or cut trees that are lying around the site (see link below).

I am a 46-year old woman and would probably need to get help if I start moving stones up a slope or cutting up pieces of trees. I'm willing to give it a try though. I might also be able to enlist the help of my new neighbor who is always out in his yard cutting up firewood with a chainsaw. All I need now is a plan . . . .

Here is a link that might be useful: Cut Trees In Front Yard


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

The path is more for intrigue than anything else, although it's always nice to be able to sit out in nature and enjoys the quiet.
The material I'd go for would be wood mulch and stone. I see some larger rocks in your first photo, they look too large to move, but some other local flagstone would look right at home.
You'd most likely be using something similar to edge the pond if you make one.
You can "carve" out the path with just a flat shovel, just try to follow areas that are more level, Large flagstones can make steps in a few spots, and maybe a place to set a bench.
I was luck with my back slope, The family who lived here before us had some little boys who had worn a path right across the middle (horizontally) of the big slope. That made a logical place to make the flagstone path. My hillside garden is in full sun so I have to have a path or there would be NO way to tend that garden! Plus at 47 It is really a workout!
One day I'll have to figure out how to post photos.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

It seems a bit early to be picking out flower colors. How deep will your deck be? Where is your property line? Having a hillside of pretty plants to look at from the deck would be nice, but I strongly suggest that you think about how you can create usable space. What "usable space" means depends a bit on your desires and lifestyle (putting green -vs- archery range -vs- child playset). I would think about fitting in some paths and a patio/seating area.

It looks like you would need a couple retaining walls if you wanted to create some level areas. I also suspect that you will be working with shade plants and that you will have to live with or address the issue of wildlife. Maybe it is good that you don't care much for hostas, because I here that deer love them.

It would also not hurt to think about resale value. I would guess that 90% of shoppers would be turned off by a property that does not have a level area that could be used for a lawn. If you have or will have kids (grandkids), think about where they can run and play.

- Brent


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My Sloping Backyard

As my house is still 3 months from completion, I need to keep myself busy with something so planning my landscaping actually seemed like a good use of this downtime.

Also, I am almost 47 years old and single with no children. So I don't really have to plan anything around child play areas. And I will have a fairly large front yard that is level so I'm not so worried about usable flat space in the back. I don't plan on moving again if I can help it so the resale value isn't a major concern for me either; I'd much rather tailor the house and property to my needs.

My property line ends where the trees start anyway so there isn't a whole lot of space in the back yard. The deck will run the length of the house and be about as deep as a regular porch would be. A pretty view without having to mow a hillside seemed the best way to go.

Someone at work suggested several redbud trees on the slope as the seem to do well here in my area. They are growing wild all over the hillsides here so I wouldn't think they'd be too difficult. I wonder if they'd do better than dogwood trees?

I'm still open to any other sloping garden plans if anyone else has more suggestions. Thanks to everyone for all the good ideas you've already given me!



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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Don't know what your budget is, but I would build a retaining wall at the base of the slope (located by the center tree in your first picture). This wall could double as extra seating. I would forgo the deck and build a patio that connects the house to the retaining wall. You could have some perrenial beds next to the house. An option for the retaining wall would be to build an outdoor fireplace in it. Or go with your idea of a waterfall/fountain. These not only give you atmosphere but also draws people out of the house. I like the trees and shrubs that you are considering but you might also want some hydrangeas for summer color. I think that the woodland paths would be great. You could carve of some "room" with benches, statues, etc. Again, giving people a reason to "wander." Good luck. I think that you have great potential. Much more interesting than the typical suburban flat yards!


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My Sloping Backyard

I love the idea of a retaining wall with extra seating and a fireplace but I'm sure that would be out of my price range to do since I have a shoestring budget. I'm really not even sure if I'm going to be able to swing the pondless waterfall which is the number one item on my wish list. However, that is a great thought! If only I could win that lottery that I never play.

I'm guessing if I forego a deck and go with a patio that I would HAVE to have a retaining wall. Is that correct? Otherwise it seems like the patio area might sometimes be damp from runoff from the slope? I wonder what the cost difference would be between a deck and a patio?

Hydrangeas are actually one of my favorite plants so I'd love to somehow incorporate them into the plan for the slope. Anyone know how they would do on a slope? Do they have the same growing requirements as things like azalea, dogwood, daffodils, muscari, or redbud?


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

I tend to agree that consulting with a civil engineer would be advisable. In order to have any sort of usable deck back there, you will be going at least as far as where that big ditch of water is shown in the picture. Which means, unless you want the water *under* the deck, you'll have to make that slope steeper. Which means dealing with erosion, angle of repose, etc.

Can I just say, I am not a big fan of building at the bottom of a hill like that!!!

I can't tell from the pictures, but one idea that springs to mind is ditching the deck off the rear, and building a patio to the side. That would allow a more natural slope in the backyard, and the opportunity to make the drainage swale into a landscape feature that ties into your woodland edge. (I did like the other ideas of what to do with the hillside, btw.) Then, a seating area on the patio, for admiring the woodland edge plantings. :)


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My Sloping Backyard

In my area of West Virginia there are very few level house seats so a huge number of new homes are built on hillsides. It's just one of those things we have to deal with. On the upside, the hills are very pretty, especially in the Fall.

Anyway, that is an interesting idea about building a patio on the side. Definitely never considered that. It would be more private than the deck because there isn't another house on that side of me.

Along the back of my house I will have two large sliding glass doors although they aren't cut out yet so you can't tell exactly where they are yet. How would that work? Would the soil need to be leveled up to the doors so I could just step out of the door onto a sidewalk or path in the back? Wouldn't that put me in danger of water coming off the hill and right up to my door if there was a prolonged, hard rain? BTW, what is a drainage swale?

I've attached another pic of my yard from a different angle.

Here is a link that might be useful: Another View of My Yard


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

One thing you might consider is putting a large french drain where the water is standing now, this would dreain off into one of the side drainage ditches you mentioned. I think you could build your deck out over the french drain area. I imagine your hillside to be a "bowl" of color, especially in the spring and fall. I would plant redbuds, dogwwods, viburnum (several varieties for both spring and fall color), japanese maple, oakleaf or annabelle hydrangea, azealeas, maybe a birch alongside the deck. The hill would be very naturalistic with "groves" of 3-5 of the above mentioned trees planted throughout. The underplanting would be various spring bulbs as mentioned above, ground cover such as vinca or pachysandra, perhaps a few beds of native woodland flowers like trilliums or woodland phlox. I would focus on the bigger plantings right now and give yourself time to develop the flowers and path in the future. I imagine small beds of color at turns in the path, but for the most part the hill would be like a woodland. This will make maintaing the landscape easier. The redbuds and viburnums grow pretty fast, so you can get smaller specimens of those. You might even look at ordering some very small bare root plants in the fall. you will need 2000-3000 bulbs to really make an impact and remember to plant them in groups of 10-15.

Think about using your deck space for the really bold colored plants. You can do some great things in large pots, even trees and large shrubs.

Hope this helps.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Well, since I'm in Illinois, hillsides are pretty rare, so I'm not really used to dealing with them on a regular basis! ;) But, anyhow, a drainage swale is sort of like a ditch, to channel water around a building. Presumably, when your builder got a permit, there should have been a grading plan showing how the drainage would be dealt with, btw, so if you want to change anything, you may need to deal with the local engineering department. (So my prior advice to consult with a civil engineer was actually a little late in the process, tho it still might be advisable.)

Earlier, you mentioned that the builder was going to build a trench parallel to the slope. Do you know if that is planned to be in the same place as the water is collecting right now? If not, is it further or closer to the house? (Well, I'd assume further - closer would be a baaad idea!) I'm also a little confused about the intended final grading - is there going to be any exposed foundation in the back or not? Because, right now, you've got a pile of dirt that also slopes back towards the house, and I'm not sure if that is meant to be staying that way. (This is also going back to the question of the sliding doors on that side, btw - until you know what the grading will be, that question can't really be answered. And again, I don't know how open the local building department or your builder is to changes during construction - that also affects what you can do. You probably need at least one door by building code for exiting purposes, and you may need them for light and vent, btw.) (Can you tell I'm a building-type architect, not a landscape architect, lol?)

Not sure how much that helped, but maybe opening up to some of the right questions...


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My Sloping Backyard

I spoke to my builder yesterday and he told me my drainage ditch will be approximately where the water is collecting now. My back deck plan was to go out about 7 or 8 feet and to run the length of the back of the house unless I decide to change that. The builder also said he had planned to use a swale between my house and the ditch.

I've discovered that putting in a retaining wall at the bottom of the hill will be out of the question because I don't have the budget for it. And, on further discussion with my builder, he said a french drain would be more expensive that just leaving an open ditch and swale and lining the ditch with rock.

It seems to me that having an open ditch/swale and designing it to look like a small creek lined with rock could be a very pretty thing. But I'm sure there are drawbacks that I don't know about and maybe someone on this thread could comment on the pros and cons of doing that. The only one that comes to my mind is that using larger, decorative rocks to line the ditch might attract snakes too close to the house. I wouldn't like the look of gravel and, if I use small river rock then I'd have to have that brought in which would probably shoot the cost right back up. I have a lot of clay soil on my property so that will add an additonal challenge to the whole drainage issue.


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My Sloping Backyard - Continued

Oops! Didn't mean to hit 'submit' just yet. . . . I wanted to ask if anyone had any ideas how to make a the rock-lined ditch (with swale) a workable thing.

Would I just make the problem worse if I tried to channel the water down the slope in one spot as opposed to letting it dribble down the hill on its own all along the length of the slope? Could I line that small channel with rock and make it into a dry streambed that only comes into use when it rains? There are a lot of natural areas in my neighborhood where there are rock strewn indentations that are usually dry but little streams and waterfalls run through there after a lot of wet weather.

The channel that's coming down the hill could then empty into the ditch with the swale that runs the length of my backyard. From there it would run off to both sides of the property where there are already deep ravines where water runs off the big hills from further up.

Or would a covered french drain be the best drainage method for my particular situation? BTW, do french drains even work in an area with clay soil?


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

I have been watching answers to your question and studying your posted pictures. A question before making suggestions. In the third picture (of house front) I note wet concrete foundation block. The pattern of this dampness does not seem to relate to a recent rain storm. Could you perhaps explain what I am seeing? Also, it appears the house has a simple crawl space beneath. Is there an entrance to this space? Will any utilities be placed in the crawl space such as a heat exchanger?


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My Sloping Backyard

Hi there nandina. The foundation blocks are wet because the dirt hasn't been filled in around them yet and there is water sitting there in that space. There is still a gap between the blocks and the soil. My builder has not been at the site much in the last few weeks as he is finishing up a very large home in another location. So no drainage issues have been addressed yet at my site.

We have had a quite a bit of wet weather recntly and there is a lot of clay in the soil here. So there is basically a little 'moat' around the house right now and I guess it's because the water isn't soaking into the clay in the bottom of the ditches. You can see in the picture below that there is a space around the blocks and the water is just sitting in that space.

Here is a link that might be useful: New April Picture 1


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Here's another picture that shows the water touching the blocks. There is a crawl space under the house but the opening is on the far side of the house so you can't see it in most of the pictures. I'd have to ask my builder what kind of things (if any) are planned to go under the house in that crawlspace.

Here is a link that might be useful: New April Picture 2


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My Sloping Backyard

I think I've finally figured out how to post a picture right in the message. You can see my neighbor's 'hillside house' in the background. It's still under construction and he actually has a lot more recently-disturbed hillside soil around his place than I do.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

Planning the flower bed plantings etc. is definitely the fun part. Most people skip to that step because it is the part of the landscape you see- and the most enjoyable part to think about. It's a classic mistake to do so because you will pay a long term price for all the seemingly little details you skip in the beginning.

I take it that the advice of a good engineer feels out of the budget for you? Drainage issues are the boring stuff but it's already obvious you're going to have a significant drainage concern. Trenching and piping are okay but eventually trenches can fill with sediment and no longer work. You really, really need to have an engineering consult to determine if what the builder proposes will be adequate. It shouldn't cost more than a couple hundred bucks at most. Perhaps some other neighbors will pitch in since you'll all need the same thing?

I used to be a City Planner. I've seen developers pull a lot of crap. Sometimes, they are well-intended but the data they based their information on was faulty. Other times- they're just out to make a buck as quickly and cheaply as possible. At an absolute minimum, call your City offices and see if someone from the City engineering Dept. can advise you on appropriate methods to handle the drainage. In theory, they've already required the developer to deal with this but sometimes really different to say it will work on paper and to see it once everything is going in. Building codes are the 'minium acceptable standard', they are intended to set the bottom threshold. Something can be up to 'code' but not necessarily be a great solution. Also, ask them what level of storm they design for. Sometimes they require them to design the drainage to handle the runoff from a 10, 50, or 100 year storm. You'll want to know which they planned for in your case as it will give you a better idea of what it will handle.

As for your other issues- a patio will be much lower maintenance over time than a deck and will certainly last longer. I would also make sure to have a 2' high by at least 3' deep berm for flowers and shrubs against the house as sort of a 'back up' in case your drainage system clogs or is overwhelmed.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 8, 07 at 7:38

Bindersbee is telling you that taking care of the drainage is an investment rather than an expense. Absolutely, the time to do this is now. It has a lot less to do with trust or distrust of your builder and more to do with knowledge and area of expertise on the drainage issue.

If there is in fact an area to drain the water to on each side of the house, I'm curious why the builder took the time to build a big long ditch to hold water behind the house rather than just cut them in and get rid of the water. That mud hole is in his way and he has to work around it. That is a red flag to me that he is holding off on draining the water to those areas because he is concerned about something. Let's hope it is not the case. But, if he waits to cut those in after the spring rains, you won't know that there is a problem until the next rainy season - after your grass and landscaping is in and he is long gone.

I expect that there will be some waterproofing treatment done to the foundation before it is backfilled. You do have a lot of height on that foundation that you can raise fill to. That is good in that you have a lot of ability to pitch away from the house. If it were me, I'd pitch that swale to drain around the house quickly, rather than to be so level across the back. That level swale is likely to remain wet for long periods of time. A faster swale could be just grassed lined if it is not holding water.

Your first responsibility to yourself is to stabilize the site and its drainage.


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My Sloping Backyard

I don't think the builder cut that little section of ditch in there. As shown in the picture below, I think it may be more of a puddle that was unintentionally created by the pile of soil they took out when the foundation was being poured in January. Next time I'm at the site, I'm going to check and see how deep that puddle of standing water is (just out of curiousity). I suspect it's not nearly as deep as it appears in some of my earlier pictures.

I'll probably make a couple phone calls on Monday morning to see exactly what it would cost to get someone out there to look at the site and give me their opinion on drainage. I have included a second picture that shows how the water will drain on the near side of the house. On the far side of the first picture is a deep natural ravine where the water has been draining off the hill for years and years. That's where the water will run off on that side of the house. You can't see it in this picture but the ground drops off and those tree are on the other side of the ravine.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

This is exactly like the area where I used to live with exactly the same problems. The water should be encouraged to move on down the hill, the course of which may run across your property, but is unlikely to turn naturally at right angles. A trip up into the woods may show you where the water comes from and may also show how to divert it away from your plot. The drainage of the whole development should be done as one because fixing each plot separately will just move the problem on to the next one. It is difficult to make any real judgment calls without being on site and like other above I encourage you to invest in a consultation with a soil engineer.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

I posted my questions to you hoping that some others would view your situation as I do. We are not on site and cannot shoot the necessary lines to give you a definitive drainage answer. You did mention that the builder has not worked on the project in some time. It is time to get after him and get the house sealed in to protect the wood. Not good to have it stand open like this to the elements.

You need some expert help. As Laag points out, your drainage situation must be corrected properly...NOW...or you face expensive repairs in the future. There is the additional concern of mold and mildew building up in that crawl space which can cause health and structural problems in the future. And, it is hard to tell you just where to turn for this help because in rural areas such as WV. the builders and town inspectors are often 'in bed' with each other. Hopefully a civil engineer is available in your area. If so, spend the dollars for a consultation. It is my guess from just viewing pictures that the rear and sides of the house should be tiled along the foundation, draining out to the swale areas and then proper grading will solve the drainage problem. In the meantime suggest you demand that your builder send in a strong back to dig some trenching that will drain the water away from the foundation and get the water pressure off the foundation walls, allowing them to dry out.

Trust you plan to work those large rocks into the final hill landscape design. The backhoe operator who does the final grading can place them for you. They should be the central idea to your native hillside planting and dry waterfall thoughts.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

  • Posted by tibs 5/6 OH (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 8, 07 at 11:00

The poster might be in an area that has no building codes, or inspction, or subdivision regulations. Many rural areas have no rules. I agree, get an engineer to check the drainage issue.


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My Sloping Backyard

I am definitely in a rural neighborhood; this building site is located in Wayne County, West Virginia. There are only two finished houses in this little 'subdivision'. They've been there for a couple of years. Then there's mine and the other neighbor whose house appears in the background of one of my pics above. The construction on his place started just shortly before mine. I kind of doubt there will be any other houses built in there but I guess you never can tell.

I plan to call a friend of mine who is a secretary over at the office of the Army Corp of Engineers in Huntington. I'll ask her if her boss can recommend someone in town that I can call to come out to the property and give me some advice.

I will also be calling my builder to ask him more detailed information about several of the things you all have mentioned above.

Hmmmm . . . notes to self . . . (1) Call Corp first thing Monday morning, (2) Call builder right afterwards, (3) Have nervous breakdown from worrying about floods, water damage, mold, mildew, and unforeseen budget-busting engineer's fees. Oh my. I need an adult beverage right about now.


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RE: Any Design Ideas for My Sloping Backyard ? (Pictures)

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 8, 07 at 18:53

The last two pictures put me more at ease, but I'd still look for professional guidance.


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