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Pathway or garden?

Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
Fri, Dec 16, 11 at 23:52

Have you ever had to deal with a narrow left over area in a tight garden spot where you agonized over the resolution? This garden design was trying to wrestle with fitting in a 10 foot wide terrace as well as provide decorative lush plantings and also provide access to a vegetable garden and private secluded bench for reading beyond. This left only 6 feet of space beyond the foot of the stairs up to the raised terrace. I raised the terrace up 3 steps to capture a view of the bay while seated, and also to use the steps for sculptural container plantings to frame the terrace.

The pathway itself switches from squares of colored concrete interspersed with plantings to a more rustic flagstone pathway as one passes the terrace. Plantings are encouraged(within reason, there is some continual thinning and editing involved), to encroach upon the path and make it a garden as well. To the right of the path is a 6 to 9 foot tall retaining wall that predates the fire. Dense plantings were squeezed into a 3 foot width to frame the bay view without blocking all light to the patio off the kitchen below.

Just another example of how smaller gardens generally require more careful planning to fit everything in. Working on a steep sloped site isn't necessarily a negative, but there will also be those constant trips going up and down stairs. It forces one to think twice about what you need to bring with you before climbing up into the backyard for that morning coffee with the newspaper and your view of the bay below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pathway or garden?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Pathway or garden?

I'm very glad I don't live in such a hilly place :-) ! As someone with a significant balance problem, I'd never be able to go outside in that sort of garden. And the patio(?) in the second picture is downright scary! How far would you fall if you fell off the edge? It's all very beautiful but not for me I'm afraid...


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RE: Pathway or garden?

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 17, 11 at 14:40

That patio in the second picture is the reverse view of the linked photo, and "floats" exactly 18 inches above the surrounding plantings at the stairs, but is only 12 inches above grade at the uphill side. The surrounding plantings actually close off the drop-off and make it feel more settled than it appears in the photo. This upper part of the garden is about 7 to 10 feet higher than the finish floor elevation at the house, but the stairs were broken up into sets of 4 with intermediate landings to make it seem less arduous to get to the upper most part of the garden. I was working with an existing 5 to 6 foot tall retaining wall that split the back garden into two levels, and this uppermost level was barely used previously because it was so awkward to get to, and overgrown plantings that were doing poorly.

The walkways up to the new garden area are actually quite generously wide with lots of adjacent walls to serve as "hand-holds" for less balance stable people, and in no way feels dangerous if you actually experience the garden. Admittedly if one has problems with any steps at all, they wouldn't be looking at houses in the hills here. Foreshortening of views because of the camera lens only makes it appear to be threatening.

The majority of my clients live in the hills, and stairs and retaining walls are a fact of life here. Some of my clients have up to 50 steps to descend or climb just to get to their front door, and perhaps another 50 or so to get all the way to the back of their property. Not surprisingly, these clients tend to be very fit and active, and some are even in their 70's, or have infants just starting to walk. Also, with the slopes come the potential views, as well as opportunities to lift plants up for better viewing because they are at eye-level or above/below to look down upon, which flat or level gardens don't permit without creating raised mounds.

You'd probably feel more at home living closer to the bay here in Californa then, where the typical lots and gardens are dead level. Even in these sorts of garden designs, I typically try to manipulate the grading to create more interest with changes in grade and berms, and allow the use of plantings that require excellent drainage to thrive, such as Proteas and some succulents.

An interesting perspective on your part remarking on how this garden appears dangerous. You're actually the only person who's ever mentioned this, and I do have friends who manage with faulty hips and knees needing replacements, or who need a cane...

In my opinion, the only real downside of a steep hillside garden is the extra exertion to haul materials up and down when installing them, and also during garden maintenance, but it does keep the extra pounds off. I also have a few gardens that are so steep that it really requires careful climbing to maintain, and made a point of using plantings that could fend for themselves and wouldn't require much weeding or pruning.

I'm linking another photo of a flat bay side garden where I regraded the garden to mound up about 2.5 feet around the perimeter of the lawn, and there are no steps in the garden at all.

Here is a link that might be useful: A level garden with mounds


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RE: Pathway or garden?

That one is definitely more in tune with me :-) I don't require a totally flat site, but slopes need to be gentle and manageable without stairs. The lot here slopes from front to back but sufficiently gently that it's not a problem for walking. I did make a raised bed of sorts (just soil mounded along the base of a chainlink fence...) across part of the back fence. The house itself is about 30-36" above grade so there are stairs for both the front and back porch. But we also had lifts built into both porches for me (and friends...:-) Probably not a very viable - or attractive - option in your neighbourhood!
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I'm sure those hills and stairs help a lot with fitness for young and old!


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RE: Pathway or garden?

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 17, 11 at 16:53

Lifts at stairs are something that a lot of us will need to consider in the coming years. I'm hoping its at least 30 years or so away in my case, and should be if my parents at 81 are any indication. I know I try and turn on lights first upon waking up in the middle of the night before going up/down stairs inside my house anymore; more so because I'm so nearsighted rather than frail. I also try to minimize my time spent pruning 20 feet up in trees anymore, I realized that I prefer to have my help do most of it these days, under my direction from the ground.

Access and mobility is what it is, and we need to plan for it. I continue to be fascinated by local projects that manage to incorporate easy ramp access and stairs at the same time, without it looking obtrusive or imposed. Not always easy to accomplish, and usually adds a lot more expense to do it also. I'd imagine that black ice and snow add additional worries to easy access in winter, and am SOOO glad we don't have those concerns here in the bay area, as I hate driving with ice or snow, shoveling it isn't much fun all winter long either. All we get here is wind and rain, and very rarely some thunder, lightening and maybe once a year, some hail. But, nearly every fall we get some hot offshore winds similar to the Santa Ana devil winds in southern California which can make all our hillside neighborhoods potential fire calamities. Not a worry in the flat bayside neighborhoods, instead more likely to see a tsunami or face liquefaction from a big earthquake. It keeps life interesting...


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RE: Pathway or garden?

I prefer snow to risk of fire! Black ice only happens a few times during the winter and I just stay off the roads until it melts. I'd love to see pictures of attractive ramp access that deals with the kind of slopes in your area! I had originally wanted ramps here and the architect designed some attractive ones that incorporated circular planters where the ramps turned at the halfway point. Because of the need for footers, they turned out to be too expensive to build on the budget we wanted to stick to, so we opted for the lifts instead.


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