Niche Gardens: The Best Way to Landscape Steep Slopes

See how two families transformed their challenging landscapes into beautiful gardens.

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Switchbacks To and Fro

Niche gardens can be good solutions for difficult and underutilized spaces. For the Aucoin and Tomas households, creating gardens on steep slopes took some imagination and ingenuity. Both gardens involving concrete — in one garden, it was added, and in the other, it was minimized. The resulting havens allow for daily retreats and up-close views of nature.

The Aucoin family's steeply sloped backyard is shored up and turned into a tiered garden with recycled concrete. Every part of the backyard is usable space. Switchbacks to and fro, it is a place to wander and wonder as the path descends to the creek.

Switchbacks To and Fro

Stacked recycled concrete underpins a wondrous garden with undulating walls, gravel pathways, landings and ledges and built-in planters. “There are no straight lines and no dead ends,” owner Judi Aucoin says. During the process, the company, Concrete Repeat started at the lower corner of the yard, completed a tier, and Judi was right behind them to fill it up with plants. She continued to work as the layering progressed.

Switchbacks To and Fro

A gravel path leads to a nook for two. A birdbath, feeder, and native wildflowers attract birds, while daylilies provide grassy texture and colorful blooms along the rock-lined beds.

Switchbacks To and Fro

Plantings are refined in some areas and wild and tangled in others. Garden art and solar lighting flank the paths and accompany bright blooms.

Switchbacks To and Fro

At the bottom of the slope, bridges and platforms span the tree-lined creek to lead to secluded nooks and outdoor rooms. The plantings, trees, and the babbling brook running through it bring birds and wildlife to the suburban yard.

Switchbacks To and Fro

Steps are arranged to offer accessible gardening. Nooks and crannies are filled with creeping herbs and succulents. The recycled-concrete walls lend hefty support for garden art and water jars.

Switchbacks To and Fro

Hard work is evidenced in this garden. Judi’s husband, Paul, spends a lot of time in the garden as well, growing and planting hybrid daylilies. He photographs butterflies, birds, insects and spiders, identifying, studying and teaching others as he goes.

Curve Appeal

Like a spiral galaxy, Mary K. Tomas’ garden began at the top of her driveway, growing outward from the center eye. Building each radial line out from the retaining wall axis as she went, she increased the ratio, creating the next segment larger than the last, until the garden spiraled around and down the hill to end at the garage. Intuitive geometry was her guide, well, and her husband, Nelson, who suggested she continue to add bit by bit to cover the awkward and expansive concrete driveway.

Curve Appeal

After ripping out roses and invasive heavenly bamboo, Mary K. left the Japanese maple to anchor the garden to the house, and she replaced the bushes with low-growing herbs and creeping plants. She likes being able to see over the plants to the eye of the spiral.

Curve Appeal

A gravel path leads to the center allowing for ease in tending to the plants along the retaining wall. Hen and chicks, creeping thyme, sedums and garden pinks will eventually form a carpet.

Curve Appeal

Finding rocks in the yard, Mary K. veneered the brick wall to create the flowerbed. Gardenia and trellised coral honeysuckle help obscure the wall and transition the elevation of the turn. River oats, bluestar and tickseeds cascade around garden art.

Curve Appeal

Clusters of planters and garden art stand above the wall, and sedums, ice plant, thyme and basil are tucked into crevices.

Curve Appeal

Glass orb lanterns suspend from the crepe myrtle in the center of the driveway. This small median helps break the expanse of the driveway while the leafy canopy lends shade.

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