How to Build a Level Garden Surface

Multi-level garden spaces can be beautiful but challenging to create. Learn the best method for achieving a level garden surface.
Multi Levels Provides Variety of Linked Spaces

Multi Levels Provides Variety of Linked Spaces

A multi leveled terrace provides a variety of linked spaces with plenty of places to sit and enjoy the garden.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

A multi leveled terrace provides a variety of linked spaces with plenty of places to sit and enjoy the garden.

Achieving level surfaces and easy access within a garden space may require substantial digging, soil retention, and drainage. But adequate planning and a bit of creativity can help make all the difference when working with your site. Here's how to get started. 

Creating Levels

Gently sloping sites provide a wealth of opportunities to create interesting paths, steps, and spaces. Individual areas can be easily leveled, either by cutting in and building retaining walls or by building upward to form decks and terraces. On larger plots, or on those that slope in more than one direction, different levels can be interconnected to create a multi-level space. Where gradients are gentle, this is something you can probably achieve yourself, or at least with minimal help and advice. 

Major earth-moving is very expensive and difficult, however, and on steeply sloping sites it may be better to design with the gradient rather than try to level it. Instead, try to work with the natural contours. Seek expert advice to see what is achievable and what it may cost. 

Retaining the Soil

When cutting into a slope to make a level area, you may need to retain surrounding soil to hold it in place. On gentle slopes a low wall or a row of railroad ties may be adequate, which you could install yourself. Steeper sites, with more soil to hold back, require substantial retaining structures, capable of supporting the weight of soil as well as the water it contains. Speak to a professional landscaper, or for walls more than 3-feet (1-meter) high, contact an engineer.

Changing Levels 

An essential aspect of any sloping site is being able to move between levels safely and easily. Ramps and steps are the obvious solution, and whichever you choose, plan them carefully. They should be wide and deep enough to climb safely, but shallow enough so you don’t struggle to reach the top. The materials used should not become slippery in wet weather, and you may need to plan in surface drainage and handrails. You may be able to achieve this yourself on simple slopes, but seek advice on steep, challenging sites. Learn more about these four options for creating steps in your garden:

  • Steep steps are useful where space is limited but can be dangerous or difficult to climb without a secure handrail.
  • Shallow steps are safer and easier to climb but take up more space. Ideal for larger plots, wider steps can be decorated with planters. retaining wall.
  • Continuous ramps are ideal for wheelchairs and bikes but must be long enough to be sufficiently shallow. This takes up a lot of space.
  • Stepped ramps take less space than full ramps and are easier than steps for cycles and wheelchairs. The surface must not be slippery.

Providing Proper Drainage

Drainage is important on sloping sites to control the direction in which ground- and rainwater travels. Unchecked, water flows downhill, either below or over the surface, and can collect anywhere, even indoors. Drainage is especially important in areas with heavy soils and in urban locations, where there is run-off from roofs, paths, and roads. Angle your hard surfaces to direct water away from buildings, and dig gravel-filled sumps, or interceptor drains, to control water movement. Again, seek professional advice if unsure. 

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