How to Landscape a Sloping Backyard

See how the owners of a large townhome have a landscape designer solve the problem of a sloped backyard and a dull front yard.
By: June Mays

A Birmingham, Ala., couple couldn’t believe their luck when a larger townhome down the street came up for sale. Before moving, they wanted to have both the new front yard and new backyard redesigned and landscape plans drawn. The busy professional couple were not gardeners, so low maintenance was a priority. They wanted year-round good looks, so evergreens were sure to be part of the solution.

Original_Townhouse-front-yard-before_s4x3

Original_Townhouse-front-yard-before_s4x3

Front Yard Before

In the front yard, previous owners had taken the shrubs with them, leaving only a dogwood tree, small pane of grass, sidewalk, driveway and mailbox — practically an empty slate.

Design Solution

Alongside the driveway, a line of evergreen holly, Ilex crenata ‘Soft Touch’ (zones 5-9), was chosen. Growing only 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, it will not interfere with passengers getting out of cars, will need no pruning, yet separate their front yard from the neighbor’s. At the beginning of this low hedge, behind the mailbox, a specimen of Calamagrostis x acutilfora ‘Karl Foerster’is planned for interest.

CI-June-Mays_front-walkway-with-tall-shrubs_h

CI-June-Mays_front-walkway-with-tall-shrubs_h

Front Yard After

After having been presented with a plan for retaining an existing dogwood, adding camellias as foundation plants under the front window, and soft touch holly to border the driveway , the owners decided they wanted more privacy and something different from the rest of the townhomes on their street. They retained the services of an interior designer and had a patio of precast pavers built across the front of the townhome with a low wall on two sides. This created a place for the owners to relax sheltered by the house from the hot afternoon sun. They insured their privacy with a row of closely planted arborvitae across the front and along one side the patio. They kept the camellias as foundation plants. Along the driveway bordering the neighbor, the owners chose to plant taller oakleaf and Mary Nell hollies rather than lower soft touch holly and the ornamental grass.

CI-June-Mays_stone-deck-with-tall-shrubs_h

CI-June-Mays_stone-deck-with-tall-shrubs_h

Original_Townhouse-backyard-slope-before_s4x3

Original_Townhouse-backyard-slope-before_s4x3

The Backyard Before

The backyard would be more of a challenge because the developer had used a bulldozer to scrape the building site out of a steep hill of chert. There were no surviving plants and only thin soil on that hillside. At the top of the hill along the property line was a chainlink fence. An existing 25’x 25’ wooden deck extended from the house. The only hardscape was an existing deck. The owners’ intention was to replace the existing deck flooring and try to make the steep, scarred chert slope look presentable.

CI-June-Mays_backyard-deck-in-sloping-yard_h

CI-June-Mays_backyard-deck-in-sloping-yard_h

Backyard After

The owners decided to increase the deck space by eliminating the lower planting bed that bordered one half of the house. Now the multi-level deck stretches across the entire back of the townhome.

CI-June-Mays_backyard-patio-slope_h

CI-June-Mays_backyard-patio-slope_h

Tea olives were planted along the side and large hollies along the back property. Until the tea olives grow tall enough to insure privacy, the owners had a 6’ tall trellis of winter jasmine installed between the tea olives and the deck.

The owners originally specified they wanted the steep hillside next to the deck to have year round good looks from evergreens. However, they chose to replace the plan of three evergreen shrubs - gardenias, false cypress, and prostrate rosemary with two deciduous shrubs - Little Lime hydrangeas and snowball viburnum, and one evergreen – sasanqua camellias, covering the steep hillside.

CI-June-Mays_Backyard-deck-with-steps_h

CI-June-Mays_Backyard-deck-with-steps_h

The focal point, the Japanese maple, was shifted up the hill to make room for the deck extension. A dramatic weeping Japanese maple has been recommended for the area below the retaining wall to the right of the deck. This is a beautiful year-round tree, showing off its lovely bones in winter and delicate foliage during the other three seasons.

CI-June-Mays_backyard-slope-after_h

CI-June-Mays_backyard-slope-after_h

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