Steep backyard landscaping

surrealgarden(z7b NC Asheville)October 11, 2005

Two years ago I relocated to Charlotte, NC where not many yards are flat. I have advance osteoarthritis from breaking all of my joints in a car accident in '78 as well as a pretty painful case of Fibro. Who knows what else, I just hurt. Those of you who experience pain, KNOW- it doesn't matter what it is called, it just hurts. Now for the topic.
I finally found a home with a relatively flat front yard and driveway. A fence separates the back yard into two sections. The forward "backyard" section is relatively flat and I hope to put in a garden pond, flower beds, & patio, eliminating grass. There is already a deck. The "back area" back yard is a steep 35 degree downward angle. The ground is mostly clay but about 13 years developed, so it has earthworms, etc. When I moved in I strategically placed a few crepe myrtles and Mimosas (I know- most of you hate them- but heck- I grew up in the south and love them :-P) which are of good size now. The back fence is COVERED in 13 years of honeysuckle and virginia creeper. The 14 yr old next door cuts the grass but I always have a hodge-podge of nasty 4-6' weeds along the edges or popping up in the middle.
Next year he will not be available for yard work, and I am planning ahead. What to do?
I have considered covering everything in the back area in landscape fabric after a final short buzz and piling on pine needles... maybe planting flowers in clusters and adding a raised vegetable garden up close to the highest area. I'm not sure what is practical. Honestly, I use the "forward" section of the back yard exclusively, so eliminating growth from the backyard would end the need for paying lawn maintanence and also allow me freedom to plant flowers. With severe ankle and joint pain I dread the idea of sliding on pine needles on an angle. I also don't want to lose all the grass roots if my yard will erode. After living at the beach, I think of things like that- is it a possible disaster?
I considered adding landscape timbers for stairways but I think I may eventually regret it (plus- who can LIFT those darned things?). Instead, I'd probably go with a softer look of patio blocks spaced for safe walking, to match those used in another area, set in pine needles. I have been planting soft Butterfly gardens in the front and need to reflect that look.
The bottom line is, I have two small dogs who will use the back section but I will rarely go back there except to carefully hobble down the yard to cut back some noxious weed which pops up. I want LOW to NO Maintanence in the Back section.
My deck extends out in the middle, overlooking the back area, so it would be fine to have something plain and uniform other than grass/crabgrass/weeds/ all mixed together and fighting to unevenly grow. The weeds here are amazingly fast-growing and I personally think grass is overrated, so does anybody have any advice? Thanks!

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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

I think I'd skip the landscape fabric. I've seen it placed on a slope. The rain gets in behind and gently ripples it down hill to join the mulch that's already slipped away.

If you've got enough width to your property think about ramps and landings instead of steps. And handhold places for grabbing, on the way to becoming vertical again. I think I'd put in concrete main paths with a few water capture kerbs. It makes a much safer surface and it's not too uncomfortable for crawling on, at a pinch. (Been there, done that.)

Could you densely plant the lower slope with shrubs of different textures, shapes and spreads? Seasonal scenteds such as Chimonanthus, Philadelphus, Choisya ternata, Syringa, hardy Rhododendrons and azaleas, Pieris and Andromeda, Magnolia stellata, crab apples, japanese and other small maples, dwarf conifers. Some slow to grow and others that are quick, give cover, hold the soil, and can be removed later. Perhaps even Clematis as groundcover for swathes of colour. Then mulch well over all exposed soil. If there's room beside the path for pocket plantings of bulbs and annuals then you can add seasonal colour there - or pop in a shrub if it's work you no longer want to do.

The broad idea is creating a 'mini mixed forest' for you to look over from your deck, enjoy the scents and colours and the various textures.

I'd avoid the grasses, though, however useful, because some of them have rule the world tendencies.

I'd also avoid roses, even interesting antiques, because some of them don't know when to stop, either! And they're a lot of work.

I have three dogs, all terriers. They delight in fossicking under the various shrubs in my garden and pretending to be mighty hunters. They also appreciate the shade in summer and the opportunity for making scrapes for lounging in where the garden is a little wilder.

If you do put in a concrete main path to access the bottom area - think about using a heavy-duty tarpauline as a drag sheet for moving debris up or down. Heaps easier than trying to jockey a wheelbarrow or cart. Just give yourself hand grips on it that won't cause you finger cramp and be mean about loading it.

Hope that's given some ideas to fuel the creative juices!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 1:18AM
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surrealgarden(z7b NC Asheville)

Thanks for the feedback. If you have a Yahoo account, check out the "before pics" in this Yahoo group I made in 2003 to share pics. The pics were taken a week or so before the old owners moved out, so try to ignore the ugly furnishings and mess in the yard!
Although I love the traditional southern bushes you suggested, I'm a little afraid to plant a lot of shrubs at the lower end of the yard because of all the developed honeysuckle and virginia creeper. Before long they'd be covered. The vines have been growing for MANY years and are probably the only thing holding up the fence by now! I do want to incorporate some shrubs into certain areas.

My first Priority though- I need to think of preventing grass seeds from taking root when they blow from the neighbors' yards and also about killing the grass I have now. I COULD just mulch heavily- but I'm not sure that would do it. The areas I have mulched and planted in the front parts of the yard have helped reduce my weed issues, and I want to fix the back yard to be just as low-maintanance. Sometimes I can turn around twice and find a Weed as tall as I am staring back from the back yard! I say prevent them from starting in the first place! I hear you - when you mention the slide of mulch and landscape fabric- I was concerned about the same thing. However, I know that I personally cannot create flat areas in the back yard or make concrete paths. The concrete also seems to present a "planned" look. I want it to look at natural as possible, since I have cut down all the "typical shrubbery" in the front of the house and gone softer with Butterfly Garden plants. I think it better combines with all the english ivy in the front yard. I heavily pruned the shrubs around the deck and they have grown back nicely. I planted 6 inch Mimosa trees in the back yard 1/2 yrs. ago which have grown into 18 foot tall trees in three corners of the back yard. There is a new 18X6 Red Block Patio between the deck and the house which reaches to the AC unit. The patio blocks will be extended out in the "forward" backyard to border a new garden pond to allow for entertaining. A new large flower bed begins at the other side of the AC unit and continues beyond several feet of the fence. My thought was to use some of the same blocks in a more scattered pattern, to access the back section of yard. Nobody will be walking back there except during emergencies. I mentioned I have lots of ankle pain- I won't be dragging stuff up the hill- I can barely walk it.

There is a huge shaded area for the dogs underneath the deck and either side, depending on sun direction- but they don't stay out long enough to suffer- I'm a woose who spoils them to AC since they both get overheated in our summers. The rest of the backyard bakes in direct sun until the trees develop more branches. After seeing the pics- would you possibly have any other suggestions? I don't mean to be obstinate- I am just trying to work with limited mobility and hoping for the most natural looking and low-maintainance yard possible. Priority one: I want to get rid of the grass and weeds without making the yard slick or dangerous to walk on. Oh- and I have clay soil which has developed nice earthworms and a darker color than most of my neighbors here in Charlotte. Thanks!

Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard prior to any changes

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 2:57AM
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