Lifestyle & Seasonal

Slopes and steps: Landscaping your hill

In the breathtaking catalog spreads on home and garden sites, page after page display perfectly level yards with expertly installed plantings. If you’re lucky enough to have a magazine-ready, flat area as our outdoor space, you have a great start. But if you are facing the seemingly Sisyphean task of beautifying a hill, it can feel like there aren’t many options. Fear not. The climb to a magnificent landscape isn’t as steep as you may think.

Get Over The Hill

It’s true: Landscaping a hill can be tricky. Many owners opt out and use grass and other ground-covers they plant once and (mostly) forget about. A slope can be so much more, though. Many designs for interesting steps, intriguing pathways, European-inspired tiered gardens and more are available to the hill owner. Turn your imagination onto your hill’s possibilities and it will likely end up being the best feature of your yard.

The first few ideas for your hill can come from a deeper catalog or web search. Use “slope,” “hill,” and “landscaping ideas” in your search terms. Gathering a few visuals when starting out can jumpstart your imagination. You may find some examples of different uses for a sloped yard that you hadn’t entertained before. Settle on one or two main functions of the outdoor space and build up an ideas board from there.



Just as in any flat Hardscape or patio design, arcs and lines are the keys to adding interest and curb appeal to the hill. Reflecting nature’s shapes is a good way to do this. For example, semi-circle paving stone steps up the slope, each decreasing in size, brings to mind a fan-shaped waterfall tumbling down the yard. Beds can be inserted around the stone paver steps so flowers can line the pathway, or potted plants can grace the edges of the arcs, giving you more flexibility in seasonal decor changes. Lines that mimic the home’s structure may be a good choice for a front yard. A tiered staircase up to the home’s entrance adds drama. A backyard has even more possibilities. Tiered, raised vegetable or garden beds are great ideas for backyards with slopes. A decorative footpath made of stepping stones or individual slate pavers can be a creative way to add whimsy to an already-fun space (what kid doesn’t love playing on a hill?). A raised patio waiting at the top of a tiered staircase is show-stopping, like a scene out of old Hollywood films. Your hill’s potential is sky-high.

Different slopes for different folks

Mapping the “topography” (the structural elements) of your yard is essential to implementing any outdoor natural or Hardscape design. A topographical profile of your outdoor space will measure the “rise” (height) and the “run” (total length) of your hill. The slope’s properties will determine what type of drainage it has and whether it is a solid and economical area to build on.You can certainly try to make a topographical map yourself. Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota has a good guide for students interested in learning topographical mapping.

If you have varying surface levels and are in a suburban or urban area, hiring a professional to map the yard may be a better choice than doing it yourself. A landscape architect is the more expensive route but their expertise will help you build a customized, long-lasting solution. Be sure to look for a licensed landscape architect in your area and ask neighbors and friends for recommendations.

Professional landscapers will assess the topography of your outdoor space. They are required to be familiar with any local and state municipal guidelines on yard-improvement projects. Some townships ban tall grass plants like bamboo, for example, or require permeable surfaces for mitigating rainwater runoff (see EP Henry’s solutions for impervious surface percentages for ideas). Landscape architects typically have to renew their licensure yearly, so it is likely they will be up on not only the current trends in outdoor design but also which recent laws will impact your plans. The landscaping company you hire may have an architect as part of the package. Don’t shy away from this part before you get informed about your options.

Take another look at your hill with creative eyes. With so many amazing options to enhance your home’s curb appeal, your hill is worth more than you may think.

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