Steamboat Springs The Italians knew what to do with slopes. They took advantage of their hilly terrain and used gravity to create huge water fantasies, water steps, elaborate walls, stairways and terraces.
Slopes can be a blessing, or a headache. The contours of a garden space should guide its design, and will have a direct influence on how one should use the principles of art, line, form, texture and color.
A truly well-designed house must be sited properly to the lay of the land. It must flow with the contours and not fight them. So it is with the well-designed garden.
If you have a slope and many of us do in this mountain community you will need to combine both aesthetic and bioengineering principles when creating a design. The orientation of the slope will determine how it is designed and what plants are used. For example, north-facing slopes make good woodland gardens; and a garden that slopes up from the house will be far more dominant than one that slopes away.
Plant slopes in bold blocks of contrasting color. Combine shrubs, trees and groundcovers with half-buried boulders and low walls. You can also spill vines or low-growing plants over rocks for a neat effect. If planted at the right time of year a slope can make a great viewing area for wildflowers. Mix in some ornamental trees that grow well in Routt County, like Gamble Oak or Ginnala Maple.
A slope can be a gift, if you remember that it can offer a new perspective, provide better drainage, conceal or display, offer more or less light exposure, or control air circulation.
Here are a few interesting things you can do with a slope:
n Plant it
Plant roots provide structural strength and draw up excess moisture from the soil. Plant foliage and debris helps to cover soil and reduce runoff.
n Retain it
Several low walls are often better on steep slopes than one high one; anything over 3 feet should be designed by a licensed engineer. Always build a wall on cut or undisturbed soil, not fill.
n Terrace it
It is often beneficial to break a long slope into several shorter slopes, or near-level surfaces to visually reduce the steepness.
n Climb it
Steps, stairways or ramps and the percent of slope can control the rate of movement through the garden space
n View it
It is easier to see a garden on a slope that is tilted toward the viewer. Plant with a mix of material, like small trees (maple and serviceberry), groundcovers, grasses, and perennials.
For ideas on ways that slopes can be planted for aesthetic impact, stop by the Yampa River Botanic Park and check out some of the demonstration gardens built on slopes. The park is located on the Yampa River Core Trail between the Emerald Park soccer fields and Fish Creek Mobile Home Park.
Richard Maxwell is a landscape designer for Windemere Nursery and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.