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Sloped garden design with big challenge

Posted by daysquid 7 Annapolis, MD (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 26, 12 at 15:45

I have this sloped area with four large septic covers. I was thinking about a mix of camellias and hydrangeas-- with other perennials and shrubs. My thought was that I needed to have evergreen plantings around the septic covers to hide them year round. Does that make sense?? I could use any help on placement and selection of plants. Camellias across the top and then hydrangeas going down the stair? I prefer the blue/purples, purples, pinks and whites. The area gets three hours of afternoon sun from 2-5. Tall mature trees block out sun the rest of the day. I'm stumped on how to handle these septic covers. Help, please. And many thanks in advance.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Camellias as shrubs or trees? The idea of tall shrubs along the walk or steps does not appeal to me. Why wouldn't you use a groundcover as the main solution?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I was thinking about Camellias as shrubs. Ground cover as main solution is interesting but I guess I was hoping for mixed border look. Believe me, I'm open to all ideas. I was thinking about pachasyndra for the last 6 feet which drops really sharply to the ground. That stretch of the slope is like a steep bank. Can tell me more about your idea about using ground cover? Would it have anything else?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I was thinking about Camellias as shrubs. Ground cover as main solution is interesting but I guess I was hoping for mixed border look. Believe me, I'm open to all ideas. I was thinking about pachasyndra for the last 6 feet which drops really sharply to the ground. That stretch of the slope is like a steep bank. Can tell me more about your idea about using ground cover? Would it have anything else?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I'd be irresistibly tempted to put nice containers on some of those covers, but I suppose there would have to be a flat spot adjacent so you could get access periodically?

As for clustering evergreen around the covers, this means your design framework is set by the covers. If you wish to disguise them, then using them as the basis for your design will achieve the opposite. Design as if they were not there, and I think you will find they pretty much disappear. If anything, they might be handy to stand on while you garden there, or ? Do you plan a walkway (would have to be a goat trail) or other stepping stones that these could be part of?

I too would be inclined to keep plantings low, but I'm not a ground-cover fan; it's too amorphous for my taste. Sounds like the conditions are ideal for ferns and hostas, hellebores, trilliums, tricyrtis, kirengeshoma, and all the classic shade plants. I'd suggest it would be important to plant in fall once the soil is damp since it will be challenging to get water to the roots of new plants in summer.

Karin L


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

How easy would it be to access the area and care for the plants? Is this an area that many people see - can you get away with just a ground cover, or is it in a visible spot of the yard. Ground cover would require no prunning etc -

Are you able to mulch this area?

What are you allowed to plant around the septic lids - access how often? Will someone need to walk to the lids and gain access for maintenance?. I assume they are access to the tank and not the field - so my guess is that roots should not be an issue. Always the first question when dealing with septic tanks. - roots

I like the container idea for easy color - and you control the quality of the soil.

Good luck ----

Mike

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Design Ideas


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Camellias and Hydrangeas--as shrubs--can each get several feet tall which seems overwhelming adjacent to walks/steps... unless you are just talking about only an example or two.

"I was hoping for mixed border look." ... which would be mainly perennials and maybe a few low shrubs. Then why not do exactly that? Nearly anything you plant along those lines will obscure the covers without your making any extra effort. Add Polygonatum to Karin's list. I would avoid plants that vine or drape near the covers, but at the steep lower portion of the slope they may be just the ticket.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Camellias and Hydrangeas--as shrubs--can each get several feet tall which seems overwhelming adjacent to walks/steps... unless you are just talking about only an example or two.

"I was hoping for mixed border look." ... which would be mainly perennials and maybe a few low shrubs. Then why not do exactly that? Nearly anything you plant along those lines will obscure the covers without your making any extra effort. Add Polygonatum to Karin's list. I would avoid plants that vine or drape near the covers, but at the steep lower portion of the slope they may be just the ticket.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

The top two covers are a bit higher then the lower two. But the area around them is not so steep of a grade. You can easily walk around that area. The slope actually dives more steeply off this area to the area next to stair leading down.

These septic covers are for a modern system that purifies the water and then pumps it up to a drainage field. I don't think roots are going to be an issue.

We do overlook this garden from the deck above and this garden is off to the side our home from a porch. This picture was taken from the porch. I can build up the area around the covers to make it a little more level and mulch over them.

I like the idea of lower plants but with some taller plants along the rails. And some of the plants mentioned seem like the right direction. I don't want it to look to structured so I would like the lower border and middle ground to have some diverstiy of shrubs -- still perserving a more natural hillside.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I failed to thank all of you for your suggestions. And Mike, thanks for the link. Definitely helped with my thinking. I am so new to garden design so a mixed border is so daunting. Not so much for the maintenance (yet), but selecting the plants. When I contemplate the sequence of possible plants from left to right on the lower border -- my head begins to explode. I'm embarrased to admit that I have a fine art degree but finding the right balance between foliage, color, height, shape -- it's really a lot to process.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I found this image and description of winter creeper 'emerald and gold' on Dave's Garden.
"I use this plant for color and texture. It is spectactular unpruned and rambling with other plants in the bed. Euonymus 'Emerald & Gold' is planted here with Rosa 'Shadow Dancer'; Salvia 'May Night'; Dianthus 'Ideal Carmine'; and Agapanthus 'Rancho White'."

This appears to be more sun lovin' plants. Any suggestions or thoughts about me using winter creeper along with another evergreen to get this look? I was also thinking purple lily turf to achieve the purple spikes? I really love this look.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

You've got an interesting challenge here. Perhaps a cross-post to the Shade Gardening Forum and/or Mid Atlantic could get you more suggestions for the plant selections.

What is the diameter of the covers? Pachysandra planted very close to them would grow somewhat over - maybe enough that with a mulch cover the lid thingies would virtually disappear.

HTH a bit,
Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

The covers are 30" in diameter. Because I'm new here -- with regard to your cross-post, would I simply repost my question with the plan and perhaps the image of winter creeper? And I apologize if this is a silly question. And Pachysandra stretching up from the steep bank would cover the front of the bottom two. I guess then I could fill in with other bushy, grassy, fern-like plants as the front border?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I should also mention that the stair that goes across the top of this area is about 5' off the ground. That is why I thought higher shrubs across the back might be nice. So any thoughts on this is much appreciated.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I should also mention that the stair that goes across the top of this area is about 5' off the ground. That is why I thought higher shrubs across the back might be nice. So any thoughts on this is much appreciated.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

If you go to other forums, slightly change the subject wording. That will work.

I can imagine all sorts of shade lovers interplanted in your area. Perhaps ferns, astilbe, helleborus, the wintercreeper, iris cristata - maybe some natives. What a fun project!

Rosie


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Thanks rosiew. I will post this in the other forums aswell. I'm working on a schematic plan that I might also post here. Thanks again for all your help!


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I do not like the idea of tall stuff along the railing. Not sure why, but your functional needs and needs for visibility/not should maybe govern this. It is natural to think to put tall things at tall railings, but in fact tall things can look much better with space around them.

Rather than posting all over the place, it is probably much more efficient to go to your local nursery and either read plant tags or ask for guidance in plant selection. Then, once you have the plants, arrange them pleasingly. How they interact as they grow is something you will get a feel for; there is no substitute for learning by watching.

You could also look at books on shade gardening. The look you are striving for is achievable, but with adjustments. Sun plants will disappoint you in shade, but so many others grow richly and wonderfully, you will find lots to like. All plants look better where they thrive. Try bergenia as well, by the way - and there is a variegated one, but it may be tough to find.

Karin L


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I think your advice to do the selection at the nursery makes sense. As you mention, I can read tags but it will also help with marrying the different shades of greens, leaf form, seasonality, etc. My head has been in so many library books. Selecting the plants in person sounds so obvious but I guess I thought I would be hunting for each individual plant -- it makes sense to purchase a strong collection on one buying trip. As for the railing that is several feet off the ground, what height might you suggest for that area. You've got me thinking about needing space around taller shrubs. Thanks!


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I think your advice to do the selection at the nursery makes sense. As you mention, I can read tags but it will also help with marrying the different shades of greens, leaf form, seasonality, etc. My head has been in so many library books. Selecting the plants in person sounds so obvious but I guess I thought I would be hunting for each individual plant -- it makes sense to purchase a strong collection on one buying trip. As for the railing that is several feet off the ground, what height might you suggest for that area. You've got me thinking about needing space around taller shrubs. Thanks!


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Just a few thoughts. Septic systems are usually set in sand. You probably don't have good soil in this area. Even if you amend the soil, because of the sand below it it will drain faster than other areas, making it necessary to choose plants that can tolerate dry conditions.

Second thought - don't plant pachysandra unless you are 100% committed to that being the only thing in the area. It spreads very quickly and is very difficult to remove.

The gold euonymus is a good plant - but also spreads, as you can see it growing into the rose in your picture. If you plant it with similar perennials as the ones in the picture, it will take maintenance to keep it out of the perennials space.

The hosta you have planted there seem to be working well. One idea would be to do a hosta garden. They can survive difficult conditions, don't need much maintenance and come in lots of lovely colors.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Thanks for your thinking on maitenance of pachysandra and the gold euonymus. That steap lower bank as it drops off needs something so I'd be open to ideas. I would be more incline to prune teh gold euonymus and handle that kind of maintenace. I also appreciate your warning regarding sand. I'm going to do more investigation on this issue.

As for the hostas, they actually got so sun burned in July that they look terrible. The area near the upper stair gets more sun than the lower part of this area. I was thinking I actually need to select plants that were a little more sun tolerant.

For the creeping euonymous, and to achieve that look, do you think a dwarf camellia would be a good pairing?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

This area isn't sand. And I'm calling tomorrow about getting more info from the septic company. This area with the covers is essentially a large squarish area and then the land slopes down toward that lower stair -- and forward, dropping off to a steep bank. What do you think about a large shrub in the center of a covers that would be the focal point and then lower specimens throughout?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I think you need to call up your fine arts training and apply what you know, instead of thinking you don't know anything. Do you stick the focal point of a painting in the middle of it?

Gardening is maybe more like a sculpture than like a painting - it's in three dimensions, it has contours, topography, and it also has subtlety, looks different from different sides, and has an overall shape/impact as well. BUT it's not rocket science.

The other thing is that a garden is never really finished, done. It is a perpetual work in progress, which is why you will not get all your plants in one visit to the nursery, nor will you ever have it just right. Shrubs will be too small for a while, then just right, and then too big, while perennials will be sparse at first, then start to crowd each other. Don't regard any decisions you make as being permanent - plants can and will be moved, divided, repeated, and some will die or be removed.

Regarding the hostas and burning, you can create shade with taller plants and put the hostas behind them. I used to have a bed just like that - afternoon sun but otherwise shade - and had some Dryopteris ferns that did very well there. Some of those are big enough to shade hostas.

I am not a camellia fan which is why I'm not answering any of your questions about them :-) Love rhodos and azaleas, though, especially rhodos with good foliage. Shade gardens are all about the leaves.

Finally the garden will have a peak time of year, likely spring. Summer is something that shade gardens mostly just endure.

Karin L


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Karin L - thank you for reminding me that gardens change and evolve. Perhpas it is some notion of commitment that has me spinning. And I appreciate your honesty about camellias.

All - I drew up a schematic to start to understand the spaces within this garden. Still contemplating about focal point, the heights of plants, etc. I just thought diagraming some of the areas might help in my thinking. Trying to consider different options so any ideas are really appreciated.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Karin L - I thought this picture would also illustrate that the septic covers are really in one area off to one side. And then the lower area is almost the same size as this "upper square area." Again, ideas appreciated.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Your septic system is that close to recreational water???? Wow, is that really regulation in your area? And does it lead to a leach field somewhere or are do the tanks merely store waste water and need to be cleaned out on a regular basis?

Given those considerations, and the fact that this garden area will be difficult to access and maintain, I personally would just create a colourful but muted "tapestry" of varying sun- and shade-tolerant hostas mulched with shredded pine and leaf litter. Easy to appreciate from above, alongside or even below.

Gboro hosta garden


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

These are tanks for processing the water, then it is pumped upland to a drainage field. But they say by the time it hits the field it is almost like drinking water. Who knows. The other point that I failed to make is we have deer who have already munched on the hosta. They will walk right up on that sloped area and have dinner. And I'm able to walk on this area -- just wish I had cleets.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

  • Posted by fori CA (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 30, 12 at 19:09

No special advice except maybe you can resurface those covers. Even the rubber mulch disks that people put around trees could maybe help them blend in better. Feather in some real mulch...or do trompe l'oeil dirt on 'em with outdoor paint.

It's certainly a pretty location, mostly!

(Psst--I like camellias but don't know how deer feel about them.)


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

OK, deer I know little about except that nothing works except fencing! If you have plantings here that they like, maybe you'll have to chicken-wire-box the whole thing :-)

This new picture answers the question of what is at the bottom. Might there be some chance of a bit of a retaining wall at the bottom, or what actually happens down there?

We still don't know which way the sun comes in. It does matter... plants reach for the light, they bloom to the light, and also you will be creating some shade within the area. I have a wall of shrubs on my west property line that blooms profusely toward the neighbour and not at all toward me!

If you reread the responses, all the experienced gardeners are thinking "access?" Hardscaping in a few level spaces to stand can be very worthwhile. It is very hard to garden reaching downhill. Ideally you would start your access at the bottom (is that how you get in here?) and then create consecutive spots to stand and steps to get to them. Because it is so hard to garden reaching down, I would almost be inclined (no pun intended :-)) to put a pathway next to the lower set of stairs. This would also distance any shrubs a bit from the railing.

When you put in shrubs, you do have to think about view blockage. When you stand where you took this picture, do you want to be able to see the dock? Or from the house, see a person on the stairs?

Here is how contour more or less works on a simple slope. You could put tall material at the bottom and progress through medium to short things at the top. Looking from above, you would (eventually) see a relatively level composition of foliage and flowers. But from the bottom, you would see the legs of the camellias and hydrangeas - which you could interplant with a ground cover or primulas or something.

Alternatively, you could put the tall things at the top and short stuff at the bottom. This would visually exaggerate the slope and look nicer from the bottom.

So all this still doesn't answer "what would I do." Once you have your pathways/standing areas mapped out, I think I would put ferns/hostas/hellebores - a low planting of perennials - in between the septic covers, overhaning them so they hardly show. If you like hydrangeas or camellias, put them in where they visually won't bother you and where you can prune them. Believe me, making the work easy will pay off. Then extend the sweep of the low perennials among the shrubs, so that (as I said at the outset) your design is not defined by the covers.

I have a feeling plants may spread down hill following water, but I don't have enough experience gardening on slopes to know for sure. I don't think I would use much groundcover but if you do, I think you can expect it to spread mostly down the hill. Something like a Microbiota, however, might do very well and look good covering some ground.

Ultimately, there is no replacement in an area like this for planting some stuff and seeing what happens, and how it strikes you once it's in. Adjusting the picture over time is half the fun!

Karin L


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Karin L -- This slope faces west. The afternoon sun (1:30ish - 6:00)would mean the growth would face toward the water. There is no retaining wall at the bottom.

Access does seem to be a primary decision. I have attached the following photo to show how you enter this space. These steps are gong to redone. I will definitely think further on path/steps.

Your guidance on plant height couldn't be more helpful. Height toward the back vs. the front is definitely food for thought -- as is your suggestions about plant placement.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Karin L- I keep rereading your prior post. Really, really fabulous advice!


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Deer eating your hosta

daysquid, I had phenomenal success using Milorganite on my hostas. Anytime I saw evidence of munching, knew it was time to toss some more Milorganite around them. Trust me, at least enough to try this, please.

Rosie


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Milorganite is another of those products that works for some and not for others. My little deer herd laughs at Milorganite. They do tend to steer clear of Liquid Fence or a Menard's product, Deer Off. But I've got a big yard with too many things to protect - and I'd rather spend my gardening dollars on plant material that deer traditionally leave alone than caseloads of deterrant products.

Best defense is planting things deer don't NORMALLY favor. I said normally - availability of their natural food seems to be a key as well as is becoming accustomed to coming to your yard for an easy meal. Deer are lazy browsers.


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Deer Munching

rosiew -- I'm definitely going to give it a try. Thanks! Really helpful tip. I'm also going to recommend it to my neighbors who have had some real issues with the dear.


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deer

I'll ask around to see what people have used. We've only been in this home for 18 months so we are still learning local lore. I'm a big fan of ferns and I understand them to be quite deer resistent. Again, thanks for all the suggestions on deer solutions.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

How would I get some coverage for the septic covers year round? Hellebores have evergreen leaves and so does lily turf and phormium. So if I did a mix of perennials with evergreen foliage, what other recommendations do you have for me? Thanks!


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

The euonymus you like might do quite well cascading down the slope, since that is where both sun and water will be. You could put that where it will cover the covers. A lot of ferns are evergreen, though their old foliage should be cut off come spring. I would simply not put that much emphasis on hiding the covers. Once you have other stuff there to look at, you will notice them much less. Distract the eye, rather than drawing it to the covers by planting right AT them. Also, how often will you be out there in winter surveying the scene? Does it snow much?

It is worth noting that eventually, two or three large shrubs could fill the space. For example, two that I like (and that might be deer resistant since they have fuzzy foliage but look this up) are Hydrangea aspera and Viburnum rhytidophyllum. Both grow huge, both tall and wide, and the Viburnum is evergreen. (Which, by the way, means the foliage hangs around 2-3 years, so it always has some leaves although it does discard old ones ie gets leggy in the middle).

Another evergreen plant that might do well (keep in mind I don't know your climate, so check this) is Cryptomeria - the smaller cultivars like 'Little Diamond' or 'Tenzan.' They have light coloured foliage and seem unfazed by shade.

Thanks for reading what I've written, but keep in mind that all of what I write is conjecture based on my experience with a different site; there is nothing that beats putting in some plants and seeing how they behave on this site. How much water you can get to the roots (put some rocks near the plants, perhaps, to help water seep in there), how much sun they get in the context of your arrangements, and above all what the deer can get at, will all influence what ACTUALLY works in the space.

At some point you are better off to quit planning and do something - almost anything - because only then do you really get some definite answers. You know, for example, about hostas burning, so you know that putting a hydrangea where it will shade them would be a good idea. You can also focus on buying sun tolerant hosta varieties.

Karin L


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

I'll definitely check out your shrub suggestions. Your's (and other's) overall comments about lower shrubs is probably the most valuable advice. A row of 6' hydrangea across the rails was not a good idea. I'm imagining lower ground cover, perennials 18' high, with a mix of 3-4'shrubs. Still comteplating placement and looking at more pictures. I don't have to have a full plan but I'd like to have a clearer idea of what I want before putting in plants. Again, many thanks for all your guidance. It has been truly eye opening.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

In my climate, I'd love this spot covered in climbing hydrangea, but if it has to be evergreen... chamaecyparis "filifera nana" maybe?
Ajuga would have no problem covering the lids in a couple seasons.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Timbu: i really like chamaecyparis "filifera nana". Great suggestion. I am new to gardening and this is a very appealing evergreen. Any other suggestions? Even for plants around this?

And would you put it in the center of the covers?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Check if it grows well where you are and if it tolerates the shade! I don't think I'd put it between the lids as it gets quite big eventually and would limit access to them - rather I'd put a group of 3 or so on the slope between lids and stairs (spaced 5ft apart) and I think the euonymus would go well with them (also use more than one plant) other suggestions might be evergreen ground covers and ferns.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

The dwarf version is still pretty big. 8ft by 7ft. I was thinking smaller, Any thoughts? Something about 3'.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

timbu: I just saw a dwarf that seems to be closer to three foot. And tell me more about why you would choose climbing hydrangea on a slope? It could be used on some of this slope.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Designers: Anyone who has design software want to take a crack at a possible design? Many thanks in advance.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Maybe I just have a thing for climbing hydrangea :) Damn pretty in bloom, tolerates shade and cold climate... but it's not evergreen.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Are you suggesting it as a ground cover or climbing the stair rails? Really pretty plant.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

It can do both, and rather vigorously - in this case, I'd think of it mostly as ground cover.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Would you be able to contain it to part of this slope?


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

With good scissors, yes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrangea_petiolaris


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

Thanks for the link. Very intersting. You've definitely got me thinking! Thanks.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

  • Posted by laurell 8 - Washington (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 17, 12 at 20:55

Have you considered getting large pieces of flagstone and setting them on the(so they look like stepping stones) covers and then planting a ground cover that will hang over the edges? Seems like the cheapest and simplest option and you can adjust the plan as necessary to add shrubs and whatever else you want.


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RE: Sloped garden design with big challenge

laurell, that is an interesting idea. I'm going to marinate on this idea and run it by the hubby. We've also graded the land around the covers a bit more so the edges are now covered with dirt. Making this area a bit more flat will certainly benefite from mulch -- and perhaps your suggestion of flagstone. Very nice idea.


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