Go With the Slope

Bring your hillside landscape alive with the sound of birdsong and other wildlife — plant a profusion of perennials and grasses that’ll entice birds, butterflies and the occasional envious neighbor to your yard.

Creating a gorgeous hillside garden can be a challenge, but ultimately you’ll appreciate the view. Climbing hills may be sweaty and exhausting work, especially on a weekend hike in Texas, but the challenge usually leaves me feeling exhilarated and accomplished. Gardening on a slope can often inspire similar emotions.

Whether you mimic the sweeping curves of a hillside, create your own undulating lines or fill in the slope with a profusion of grasses and perennials, your garden can help keep the soil and rainwater in place. Choose plants wisely and you can minimize your water use AND delight your neighbors with butterflies floating about the hilltops.

As you visualize your ideal landscape, carefully consider the slope of your yard. Building steps can help prevent soil erosion and allow you to move more easily through your landscape. A structural engineer might be required when adding retaining walls or terraces for steep slopes. Terraced beds can smooth the transition from a porch or deck to the lower yard and plants spilling over a bed are always look appealing.

Trailing rosemary and woolly stemodia are lovely draped off beds in sunny areas. Or let perennial winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) drift over the edge for a delightful spring show. Fill in your beds following the spikes-and-mounds method for instant impact. Try grey shrub sage and damianita in areas with lots of sun or use firecracker plant or rock rose if you have sun/part shade.

Do you have a large unirrigated area? Sotol or agave make eye-catching anchor plants in mid-level terraced beds or dotting a sweeping landscape. Surround them with gayfeather or blackfoot daisy to entice butterflies and other pollinators to your yard.

If you’d like to make your hills come alive with the sound of birdsong, tuck in some plants with bird-pleasing berries, such as agarita or chili pequin.

A hillside garden may take some extra effort, but those tiered beds or natural curves offer unique visual perspectives. When it comes down to it, the view makes it all worthwhile.

Sasha Kodet is a conservation planner whose large garden attracts a myriad of wildlife and curious neighbors with minimal water. At SAWS, Kodet develops outdoor programs to help people create their own beautiful, water-saving landscapes. She draws on her two decades of experience as a naturalist, botanical garden educator and event planner. Kodet enjoys (really) long walks in the woods and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
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