There are endless possibilities when it comes to sloped backyard ideas – and rather than a challenge, sloping gardens can open up lots of design and planting possibilities to create unique spaces.
With a little creativity, strategic planning and the right backyard ideas, a sloped backyard can have a lot to offer.
You can create a terraced garden of distinct areas, with spaces for entertaining, relaxing, playing and dining, offering different views for an ever changing perspective of your backyard.
Sloped backyard ideas
Understanding the site of a sloped backyard is key, and ‘terracing can create a usable garden where before only a slope existed,’ explains landscape designer Lorenzo Soprani Volpini of LSV Gardens (opens in new tab).
A terraced garden can offer creative layout and planting options and there are a number of elements to consider in how to design a sloping garden.
‘Sloped gardens can often be viewed as “problem sites” but, in fact, can be ideal for formal terraced garden design. Formal Roman or Mediterranean garden characteristics can be reflected and recreated within a formal terraced garden setting – emulating geometric symmetry reproduced within the contemporary gardens of today,’ explains garden designer Karen McClure (opens in new tab).
Whether you are looking for inspiration for the ultimate entertaining space or need backyard ideas on a budget, these sloping backyard ideas will take your space to new heights.
1. Consider the view
When deciding on sloped backyard ideas, start by considering the main view of the garden from the house.
‘If your garden falls away from the house or patio, try to avoid large drops by opting for several shallower terraces or stepped beds, so you don’t need to install railings that can interrupt the view,’ explains designer Marlene Lento (opens in new tab).
‘For very steep gardens, mix sloping, more naturalistic planting design, with level portions to minimize tall retaining walls or too many steps. This is especially important if your garden slopes up from the house and you will be looking onto the face of those retaining features,’ she adds.
But do also 'consider views into neighboring gardens and privacy for all involved,’ adds Karen McClure.
In the above design by Sara Jane Rothwell (opens in new tab) the backyard that slopes up from the house was designed for a gentle meandering journey up via wide steps and discreet terracing, to avoid too many traditional steps and handrails.
2. Use natural materials for terrace walls
To create a terraced garden, there are many choices of materials for retaining walls. Walls can be retained with natural stone or brick; timbers or sleeper walls create a rustic style, and for a country garden aesthetic, use natural, local materials wherever possible. The walls should tie in with the design of your other sloped backyard ideas.
‘Look to match or tie in with the house and existing structures in and around the garden. Using materials that are sympathetic to the local vernacular will sit much more comfortably in the wider landscape,’ says designer Ed Oddy (opens in new tab).
The above terraced garden design by Michelle Brandon (opens in new tab) uses Knapp flint and sandstone walls, which feature regularly in the village where this garden resides.
3. Opt for a contemporary finish
For a more tailored, contemporary look, cladding materials for walls, such as Corten steel and crisp render, provide a sleek finish and easy curves.
'Do, however, consider the upkeep and how these materials will weather and age in the climate. I like to work with materials that enhance over time, and embrace the beauty of the ageing process,’ says Ed Oddy.
‘In all cases include drainage behind the retaining wall in the form of a land drain that either discharges into existing drains or into a soakaway,’ advises Marlene Lento.
4. Recycle materials
Retaining walls can be an expensive option, so investigate ways to mitigate costs of high level changes, as well as the environmental impact.
Reclaimed timber and sleepers are more cost effective for creating a terraced garden. Landscape designer Sean Butler of Cube 1994 (opens in new tab) also explains how they have used Gabion cages for terrace walls, recycling existing hardcore on site from the old patios and steps as a backfill within the gabions. These are then front filled with more attractive stone for an aesthetic appearance.
5. Soften steps with planting
You can soften the impact of the hard landscaping materials of steps and inevitable tall walls of terraced gardens, with planting and living wall ideas.
There are many options for vertical gardening ideas, either climbing up or trailing down the terraced levels.
‘Walls can create a great backdrop for small trees and architectural shrubs, and can be lit at night,’ says Samantha Brown.
6. Layer planting
Consider the maintenance of planting in raised garden bed ideas as part of your sloped backyard ideas.
‘You want your plants, a mix of perennials and shrubs, to knit together quickly to block out homes for weeds and give the soil level an incline, that way your plants will grow facing forward and give you a better display,’ explains designer Michelle Brandon.
Garden designer Nigel Phillips (opens in new tab) suggests to add a layer of topsoil to terraced gardens to give plants a head start, and offers the following planting advice:
- Choose a limited plant palette with varying height, color and form and repeat down the slope.
- Select key year-round evergreen shrubs and ornamental grasses as anchor plants that also provide winter interest, such as Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Cornus alba sibirica.
- Use soil-hugging groundcover plants, like the geranium family, adept at threading through plantings and tying them in to sloping sites.
- Place floriferous, ornamental plants along the garden path ideas, allowing them to tumble and flow, blurring the edges.
- Create a strong architectural backbone by weaving rivers or stands of taller ornamental grasses through long-flowering and clump forming perennials.
7. Ascend to greatness
As this option from multi-disciplinary firm RIOS (opens in new tab) proves, the simplest sloped backyard ideas and solutions can often be the most impactful.
Here, a minimalist pathway traverses a large bamboo forest, complete with 85 different plants. The garden is designed to be experienced during the dramatic sunset light, while the landscape bathes the hillside below the house in warmth and an energizing glow.
8. Level your land
San Francisco is known for its hilly landscape, so it’s no surprise that Bay Area-based designer Kendall Wilkinson (opens in new tab) has experience putting sloped backyard landscaping ideas into practice. Although Wilkinson wanted to have a leveled yard for her clients, the stone wall and fireplace seen here accentuates the angled terrain.
'You can see how significantly the yard is sloping behind the wall that provided the perfect foundation to add the fireplace and seating,' Wilkinson explains. 'Being placed on this side of the property makes this patio very quiet, serene, and relaxing.
'Paired with a metal pergola style roof, strategic lighting, and really comfortable matching sofas, wasted space becomes valued square footage.'
9. Go for a versatile vantage point
Garden designer Georgia Lindsay (opens in new tab) used a combination of hard landscaping and clever small back yard ideas to transform a dangerously crumbling slope into a multi-purpose garden with various terraces.
The first terrace allows for a generous garden storage area for bikes and garden equipment beneath, while the lower part of the garden flows seamlessly from the house with hardwood decking to echo the internal flooring. A cozy seating zone and stylishly integrated outdoor lighting ideas complete the garden.
'Sloping gardens can be great when it comes to lighting,' she shares. 'It's like an amphitheatre; you are able to enjoy your whole garden with one view.'
10. Fire up your sloping backyard
If you want to turn your sloped backyard into a liveable oasis, Camille Styles (opens in new tab) deftly bridged the gap between form and function. Here, the blogger built a handful of terraces, complete with seating areas and a fire pit.
'When we bought the property, there was crumbling stone terracing that had been built by the original owner of the property back in the 1950’s,' she wrote. 'It was covered by overgrown vines, but it always reminded us of old European estates and we imagined restoring it to its glory.'
11. Play away in a sloping space
If you want to find sloped backyard ideas that are appealing to the entire family, consider adding a play area to your space as backyard ideas for kids. Fortunately, it’s possible to infuse some childish wonder without compromising your home’s style.
'Designed for a young family, the house features a sheltered lower courtyard space which provides greater privacy, and a triangular stepped landscape was proposed to manage the level change,' explains Mike Gibson of Eldridge London (opens in new tab).
'The repetitive triangular planning allows for a variety of activities while maintaining a clear consistent identity. The triangular modules form planting beds, steps, trellises, sitting areas, and include a slide and sand pit play area.'
The result: A playful yet sophisticated environment.
12. Plan for a water wonderland
Another way to bring some fun to your sloped backyard ideas is by adding a garden pool ideas.
Cuckoo 4 Design (opens in new tab) blogger Julia Konya refers to her sloped backyard as 'essentially a hill'.
By adding an above-ground pool, she is able to make the slope appear less severe, plus serve up some fun for the entire family. The wooden exterior takes inspiration from rock garden ideas and adds leafy greens to round out the look, turning this sloped backyard into a tropical oasis.
13. Plant fruit and vegetables on a slope
For a sloped backyard that’s both practical and aesthetically pleasing, add a vegetable garden. Leslie Bennett of Pine House Edible Gardens (opens in new tab) decked out this space with wooden raised garden beds and pyramid-shaped trellises.
The raised garden beds follow the slope’s natural path, creating designated areas to grow everything from herbs and tomatoes to spicy chili peppers. Not only does this tip make the most of occupied space, but it will also resemble a lush, nutritious salad when in full bloom. Small vegetable garden ideas really can be incorporated anywhere, even on a slope, or if you'e more limited in planting space in raised beds, try vegetable garden container ideas.
14. Blur the boundaries with a stairway on a sloped space
An outdoor staircase might be an easy way to optimize a sloped backyard, but it can often feel jarring when juxtaposed with the lush greenery.
Los Angeles-based firm Elysian Landscapes (opens in new tab) blurred the lines of the hardscape by flanking each side of the stairs with a wild array of plants and grasses. This setup has an ethereal edge, thanks to its layers of textures and muted color palette.
15. Make your mark with a visually-pleasing design
'It looks over an estuary in Wales, which is tidal,' he explains. 'So twice a day, the water disappears and you get amazing patterns in the sand river bed: This is one of the clues the garden design takes.' The raised garden beds and curvy pathways highlight the sloped land, blurring the line between earth and water.
What to do with a backyard that is on a slope?
There are so many sloped backyard ideas and possibilities. Hard landscaping is key and requires careful planning in order to make effective use of the available space.
Slopes offer fantastic design opportunities and exciting new ways to experience and view a garden, whether it’s from up high, or down below. But steep slopes can also be both costly and awkward to manage, so they do require a bit more thought than usual.
When it comes to the wholesale redesign of a sloping garden, terracing is the obvious option. Unfortunately, creating a terraced garden is not a cheap one. Earth moving equipment is often necessary. So too are lengthy retaining walls, which are always expensive – particularly if they’re made from bricks and mortar.
If you need sloped backyard ideas on a budget, instead consider strategies that minimize major ground works. First and foremost, do you actually need to terrace the whole garden? It’s likely that one or two level plateaus built into the slope – for a bench or two perhaps – will create enough useable space and cost much less.
How do you make a sloped garden look good?
There are many ways to make a sloped garden look good, and far from having limited options, a sloping garden can offer a wealth of layout and planting possibilities – many of which you couldn't successfully achieve with a level plot.
There are options to create different terraces and routes through the garden, creating garden rooms with different purposes and atmospheres.
‘Consider creating 'destinations’ and ‘rooms’ within a sloped backyard to provide a journey within the space – adding a purposeful place to make the most of sun-downers in that last hour of sunshine,’ says Karen McClure.
'Depending on whether you consider the terracing a feature of your terraced garden or a necessity, you can either enhance the outlines by neatly clipped planting to showcase them as a feature, or you can plant in front of them to hide or soften the level change,' advises Marlene Lento.
The use of cascading terraces and planting can provide a gentle transition from a house to the lower or upper garden levels.
Kelsey Mulvey is a New York-born, San Francisco-based freelance journalist who covers lifestyle and design content. She started her writing career while studying magazine journalism at Boston University, where her work was syndicated by top digital publications like USA Today and MSN. Upon graduation, Kelsey covered lifestyle content The Wall Street Journal, Off Duty and Business Insider. In 2017, Kelsey started her freelance journalism career, where she contributes to design publications like AD PRO, Elle Decor, Wallpaper*, and more. W
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