The following three landscape transformations show how functional and appealing a yard on a slope can be. While we know that these outdoor projects are not inexpensive undertakings, they can extend usable living space and enhance how we spend time at home.
Designer and builder: Boyce Design and Contracting
Location: Virginia-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta
Size: 1,475-square-foot (137-square-meter) outdoor space; 550-square-foot (51-square-meter) patio
Before: After years of neglected maintenance and overuse by the family’s pets, this Atlanta backyard was ready for an overhaul. The backyard before the renovation featured a deteriorating deck and a sloping, overgrown lawn.
The homeowners sought a more contemporary outdoor space. They wanted to be able to host intimate family gatherings as well as large backyard parties, so they requested a design made up of multiple outdoor rooms that could accommodate those different uses. The outdoor renovation coincided with an exterior upgrade, as the homeowners also wanted to update the home’s Tudor-style siding.
A covered outdoor lounge underneath the rebuilt deck features a daybed built into the retaining wall system, offering the homeowners a place where they can relax during the day or night.
A custom aluminum underdeck system protects the lounge area from sun and rain, and it conceals wiring for recessed lighting and a ceiling fan.
The new concrete patio also helps to solve the yard’s original drainage issues. “The existing poorly designed drainage pattern resulted in water leaking into the basement,” landscape architect Micah Rogers says. The design team installed the patio on a 12-inch-deep gravel base over a perforated pipe, which collects and directs water into an ornamental grass-filled rain garden behind the seating wall; the water then drains into the soil.
A row of ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae (Thuja ‘Green Giant’) creates a living privacy screen between the patio and the neighbors’ yard.
In the planters surrounding the patio, the design team paired loose, sprawling golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) with more structured boxwood (Buxus sp.) shrubs.
Designer and builder: Outdoor Dreams
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Size: Patio: 283 square feet (26 square meters); deck: 314 square feet (29 square meters)
Before: This home in Richmond offered no meaningful connection to the backyard, with French doors off the breakfast nook opening up to a long drop to the ground. Additionally, the steeply sloped backyard made even growing a lawn challenging.
The homeowners wanted their backyard space to be more attractive and practical for their family, which included their young son and another child on the way. They wanted to create flat, terraced areas where they could add a play set, fire pit and lounge, edible garden and grill station. They also wanted the designed area to smoothly transition into the natural wooded area surrounding their property.
The new patio features an attractive curved retaining wall with integrated bench. River-stone-inspired pavers encircle a wood-burning fire pit. Polymeric sand — a mixture of fine sands and polymers — fills in between the pavers, preventing weeds from growing and holding the pavers in place.
The newly planted area above the patio features a mix of grasses, shrubs and perennials (many of them native to the region) that add beauty to the space and give it more of a feeling of enclosure.
Retaining wall materials: Mini-Creta Architectural blocks and caps in Champlain Grey, Techo-Bloc
The homeowners can also use the space under the deck for storage. “This additional storage has put off the need for a shed,” Koehler says.
From this view you can see how the slope plantings surround the patio, softening the edges and connecting to the woodland area in the distance. Native flowers like ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’) and ‘Magnus’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’) grow near the path.
Landing pavers: Blu 60 slabs in Champlain Grey; outline pavers: Villagio in chestnut brown; steps: Mini-Creta Architectural blocks and caps in Champlain Grey; all by Techo-Bloc
Designer: Abigail Hazell Landscape & Garden Design
Location: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England
Size: 1,240 square feet (115 square meters); 46 by 89 feet, plus balconies and terraces
Before: Not only was the backyard of this home in the middle of Cheddar Gorge, in Somerset, England, an overgrown, unusable slope, it also turned out to be a construction dumping ground. “When we started digging down, there was just rubble from where the previous owners had built an [addition] and dumped stuff,” landscape designer Abigail Hazell says.
The homeowner wanted her garden, which overlooks the gorge’s limestone cliffs, to fit in with the surrounding natural terrain and to be attractive and easy to maintain.
An ornamental Bath stone fireplace sits at the end of the platform, adding the feeling of a garden folly or romantic ruin. ‘Étoile de Hollande’ climbing roses will one day climb up and trail around it. Planted panels and flowering trees help screen the view of neighbors’ homes.
The designer also looked to the natural surroundings to help guide the design. “We took inspiration from the local flora — evergreen ferns, cheddar pinks — and used similar plants,” Hazell says.