Sloping garden ideas – design solutions to make the most of a sloped outdoor space

The best design ideas from gardening experts to make more of an unconventional plot
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  • Don’t let a sloped garden limited your design expectations, slopes can in fact offer an element of interest that flat perspectives can’t. With thoughtful landscaping even the steepest and most fractured of gardens can be picturesque and practical. Our expert sloping garden ideas will inspire you to use an incline to your advantage, making the most of a sloping garden by creating different levels, each with a different purpose.

    ‘Far from being a problem, a sloping site presents some of the best opportunities in garden design,’ enthuses John Wyer, CEO and lead garden designer at Bowles & Wyer.

    ‘Tackled carefully, it allows plants to be arrayed in layers so that successive sweeps of foliage and flower build onto one another. Finding the route through the slope also offers potential for drama or subtlety in garden design.’

    ‘Think of the grand staircases and terraces in Italian renaissance gardens. Well, we might not all have that much space (or money!) but it is possible to make statements with sweeping sets of steps leading up to a piece of sculpture or a bench.’

    Sloping garden ideas

    1. Soften a steep slope with grass steps

    grass steps landscaped garden idea

    Image credit: Helen Elks-Smith MSGD/ Elks Smith Landscape & Garden Design

    If your garden is on different levels and you’re not keen on hard landscaping take inspiration from this garden by Helen Elks-Smith MSGD, of Elks Smith Landscape & Garden Design. Instead of incorporating stone steps, Helen has used grass treads – integrating them into the existing lawn to connect the lower patio to the small sun terrace above. Creating a softer approach to the flow of the garden, seamlessly journeying from one space to the other.

    The thoughtful addition of grass steps in this garden helps to make the sloped transition feel less structured, because too much paving can feel overwhelming for some settings. This idea is ideal if you want to join two paved areas without having to jeopardise any further lawn coverage.

    2. Raise a seating area

    sloping garden idea with corner seating area

    Image credit: Simon Orchard Garden Design

    This new build property comprises of a garden that gently slopes up in two directions into the far corner. Garden designer Simon Orchard explains how he made the slope a design feature rather than a design feat. ‘Levelling the whole garden would have been very expensive in terms of creating the retaining walls along the boundaries – and the walls would have been very high. So instead we only levelled the main terrace and lawn area then worked with the natural slope, incorporating the three chunky overlapping concrete steps leading up to a slightly elevated seating area.’

    The staged seating area gives an elevated view over the rest of the garden.

    3. Work with an incline to create a water feature

    sloping garden water feature

    Image credit: Simon Orchard Garden Design

    In the landscaped garden above, you’ll see how Simon Orchard Garden Design used the uneven ground to naturally create a drop water feature. Simon Orchard explains, ‘The grade of the slope was perfect for creating the bespoke two-level water feature.’ The different levelled groundwork lent itself perfectly to make a cascading water feature, a tranquil addition meaning the garden benefits from the sound of trickling water.

    4. Take a different perspective on planting

    sloped garden with meadow planting

    Image credit: Helen Elks-Smith MSGD/ Elks Smith Landscape & Garden Design

    ‘Sloping planting beds can be great to look at – rather than simply view a planting bed from the side an angled view creates a different perspective’ says Helen Elks-Smith. Explaining how the planting differs, with flat beds,’you have to create planting schemes using plants that grow to different heights – but the same height plants will appear taller when looking up a slope.’

    ‘And for some plants this different view has real impact’ Says Helen. ‘For example looking into the top of a fern is very different to the view of the fronds from the side, roses and many flowering plants look equally good from the top.’

    5. Enjoy a multi-level garden

    5m sloped garden with zones for dining seating and trampoline

    Image credit: Simon Orchard Garden Design

    There’s incline, and then there’s ski slop-style that is hard to imagine where to start?! All you need is an expert, as this garden proves. This long sloped garden comprises a height difference of over 5 metres from the upper terrace to the bottom of the garden. This made the space, ‘pretty much unusable’ explains garden designer Simon Orchard.

    ‘The solution was to create a series of flat terraces, each serving a different purpose. With steps linking the different areas. A generous dining terrace was created at the upper level by the house, leading down to a lawn with flower borders and a secondary deck. This leads down to a sunken trampoline area from which you can walk onto the roof of the new studio/sauna – which was decked’ Simon explains.

    6. Zone with different levels

    garden zones in a sloped garden design

    Image credit: Simon Orchard Garden Design

    A steep sloping garden naturally invites the creation of clearly defined zones, each providing a different purpose. The result of creating a cascade of turfed terraces helps to shape an otherwise unusable garden into a multifunctional family space. Simon Orchard says, ‘It’s a much more usable garden with different areas to sit and relax in, enabling you to enjoy the garden at different times of the day and take in the various views.’

    Related: Garden landscaping costs – how much to pay for garden landscaping

    7. Use railway sleepers to add structure

    Sloping garden with railway sleepers

    Image credit: Future Publishing Plc/ Polly Eltes

    This New England style garden makes a feature of the different height levels, embracing it rather than try to soften the look. Low railway sleeper walls are used to contain flowerbeds between the descending levels. If you choose raised borders planted with hardy perennials, such as hosta and astilbe, they won’t need much care or constant maintenance. Add splashes of colour with drought-resistant osteospermum and gazania.

    8. Install a pond to split different levels

    Sloped garden with stones around a pond area

    Image credit: Helen Elks-Smith MSGD/ Elks Smith Landscape & Garden Design

    This thoughtful example shows how a hardscape stone wall on the side of a pond was used to deal with a slope across a garden. The wall helps to disguise the slope by making the stone framing look intentional to elevate the lawn beyond.

    9. Make a statement with lighting

    garden lighting in multi level garden

    Image credit: Simon Orchard Garden Design

    The different levels of a sloping garden provides the ideal layout to use garden lighting ideas to full effect. On a practical note it accentuates the different heights between levels, providing a safer way to navigate the journey through. In terms of design the lights add a more dramatic look, as they highlight key planting and bring the many zones to life with illumination.

    Try setting each zone to a different light level to ensure you can provide the right light for each setting – brighter in the kids’ area, more ambient on a terrace made for entertaining.

    10. Give steps character with gabion walls

    gabion steps in a sloping garden

    Image credit: Bowles & Wyer

    ‘We designed the expansive landscape surrounding this modern architectural property, including this terraced garden leading away from the house and its adjoining terrace’ explains John Wyer, CEO and lead garden designer at Bowles & Wyer.

    ‘We’ve paired sleek paving with gabion-structure walls to create the terraces, finished with naturalistic and textural planting with splashes of Verbena. Not only does it provide an interesting journey as you travel up the steps to the main garden, but it creates a beautiful vista from the house too.

    11. Structure a terraced garden

    Sloping garden idea with structured terraces

    Image credit: Bowles & Wyer

    ‘This was a large country garden we designed and built in Berkshire’ explains John Wyer. ‘We used the sloping land leading to the property to create a modern terraced garden, which provides an outlook of greenery from every facing window in the house. The lighting scheme also ensures this terraced space is the perfect spot for evening entertaining.’

    This design could be scaled down to suit a small garden idea to give the space more purpose and a clearly defined structure. Work with a landscape gardener to tailor the space to suit your own garden needs.

    12. Gently transition between levels

    slopping garden idea for steps

    Image credit: Marcus Foster

    ‘Combine retaining walls with slowly rising steps, which encircle the sloping ground to subtly transition the levels’ suggests landscape designer Marcus Foster, ‘providing a design feature in the process. His idea to do so is, ‘Using natural materials such as breedon gravel and gabion cages.’

    ‘With over-sized aggregates the level changes can be further softened to slow down the pace and thought of moving through the space.’

    What can I do with a sloping garden?

    A sloping garden naturally provides different levels to create different zones – one for dining; one for kids; a level for a garden room or a vegetable plot. Zoning the garden allows the space to provide  a multifunctional purpose.

    ‘Water run off from any sloping ground will need to be considered,’ warns Helen Elks-Smith. ‘Especially where the ground slopes back to the property and out from a driveway. In both cases drainage needs to be considered to capture the water and deal with on site.’

    ‘Sometimes you need or want to cut into a slope, to form terraces. This does tend to push up budgets as the soil then needs to be retained. Drainage is always needed behind garden walls and the walls themselves need to be specially constructed to retain the soil or structures, structural engineers can help. And moving between the different heights often needs steps. But sloping paths can work just as well and will make the space accessible for all.’

    Put down a weed-suppressing membrane (from garden centres) to cut down on the amount of weeding. Then plant the border with ground cover plants, such as geraniums or catmint. Geraniums, in particular, provide good ground cover and colour through the summer. Use tall pots planted with grasses for a statement display.

    Can you flatten a sloped garden?

    Depending on the height of the slope it may be possible to flatten, but it involve a lot of work and a hefty budget. Levelling a garden can be expensive and might not give you the garden you desire. So working with a garden landscaper to design a garden that embraces the unconventional layout might be a better option.

    How do you landscape a slope on a budget?

    Embracing it as much as you can, will save costs because your budget isn’t eaten up by levelling the ground. Landscaping a slop on a budget is possible by decking over the top of the old surface and swapping raised planters for pots.

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