How can I tackle a steep slope in my garden?
That must be the second most asked question of all time after problems with drainage.
The question is a recurring one because architects, designers and planners of modern estates work from a flat piece of paper – the plan.
Eventually they might add in a few contour lines to indicate the lie of the land but by that time the number of houses per acre have been agreed, the developer is already rubbing his hands with glee as he thinks of the profits and the councillors are thinking how they are going to hoard or spend the ‘planning gain’ on their favourite projects, instead of using it in the wider surrounding areas affected by the developments.
The lie of the land? That doesn’t matter too much we can shove a few thousand tonnes of soil this way or that, so long as we get the numbers right.
Oops, did that sound like a wee rant? Sorry!
Lets get back to the homeowner, with little enough ground around the house as it is, without some of it being an impossible-to-garden slope. The worst scenario is when that slope is away from the house, you can’t even enjoy the effects of your labours from the house windows.
There is no doubt that to stabilise the slope, the simplest solution is to grass it down but that will give you a real headache – how do you cut the grass safely?
Quite obviously this solution will work if the slope is fairly gentle but since I am fully qualified to say so, it is not the best solution for older people.
Some slopes can be planted up with ground cover that is low in maintenance. The best example in my book is ‘a heather garden’ with one or two dwarf conifers added. Heather gardens have gone out of fashion these days, I wonder why – subject of a future rant perhaps.
For me, the attraction of planting a heather garden is that you can guarantee ground cover and colour variations for 12 months every year and all you need to do is a little pruning to keep the straggly cultivars more compact and in the early years apply a spring dressing of slow release organic fertiliser.
We moved in to our previous dwelling in the mid 1980s and by 1990, I had planted up several heather beds. The other day, I re-visited and the new owner has only now decided to replace the heathers – that’s getting on for 25years these heathers have given pleasure, a fair, trouble-free investment I would say.
The most difficult solution, but in the end maybe the most attractive one, is to terrace the slope, including a winding path, that makes the whole area accessible safely. Then you might choose to create a rock garden. Be warned, if you do, you’ll be hooked for life.
It is one of the most challenging forms of gardening – growing a range of plants that have very specific requirements when it comes to soil type, drainage, aspect and weather. It involves creating a landscape in miniature and amongst its devotees are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable gardeners I have ever had the pleasure to meet and/or work with.
The popularity of this form of gardening is evidenced by the number of rock garden exhibits to be admired at Gardening Scotland which, I should remind you, will be held again this year at The Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston from June 1 to 3.
If you want to savour some rock garden delights nearer home, may I remind you that the Aberdeen branch of the Scottish Rock Garden Club will hold their spring show next Saturday, May 19 in the Ruthrieston West Church Halls in the city’s Broomhill Road. The show opens at 11.30am and closes at 3.30pm.
Not only will you be able to enjoy seeing some plant gems from around the world, there will be an opportunity to purchase what takes your fancy, from specialist nurseries. Take the opportunity to talk to the experts at the show, there is no better way to start your own collection.