The Ins And Outs – And Ups And Downs – Of Landscaping An Uneven Yard

Most homeowners long for an even, flat yard on which they can easily plant and build. But the truth is that many people end up with a yard that has natural inclines, slopes, depressions and uneven spots. If you're in this group, you can still have the yard of your dreams. Here are a few suggestions for creating beautiful landscaping in the 3 types of uneven yards. 

Going Up

A slope is probably the hardest part to landscape in an uneven yard. If the slope is steep, it can seem impossible to work with. But you can do it, with some creativity and a little heavy lifting. A steep slope can be cut into to form terraces with stone retaining walls. A terrace is a part of the hill that has been carved out into a flat section, on which you can plant a garden, build a patio lounge area or create a useful play area for the kids. Large slopes should be terraced with the help of a professional landscape architect because it can be complicated. You will need to work to prevent erosion, guide water in the correct ways and make your terraces stable. 

Connect terraces or just make the slope usable by adding staircases. Carve out small terraces to form your steps, then line them with pavers, natural stone or treated wood. Make sure you use permeable materials and include small retaining walls on the sides of the stairs to allow for proper drainage and prevent erosion. If you have a fairly narrow space, a wide staircase can be planted with colorful flowers and bushes along the sides to form a beautiful planted effect. 'Stella de Oro' daylilies and Spiraea japonica are examples of such colorful plants that help keep a slope in place. 

Going Down

Natural valleys or depressions can be turned into dry river beds or ponds that look like you planned the whole thing. Follow the natural angle and random flow of your ground and use it to create a small river bed. Dig down about 8 to 10 inches, then line the bottom and sides with landscape fabric. Use pea gravel, pebbles and smooth river rock to create a natural-looking river bed. You can decorate it with driftwood, ornamental grasses and larger stones as you please.

If your space is large enough, you could add or replace this idea with a pond. Ponds are especially useful if you have a clear depression in your yard. Instructions for building a pond yourself are available on the internet or you could work with a qualified landscaper to create it. 

And the Bumpy Bits

If you're dealing with relatively small ups and downs in your yard, you don't need to do anything too drastic. You can smooth out some rough parts with something as simple as a piece of 2x4 wood and a contractor's level. Place the wood across sections of the yard, then dig out the high spots (and fill in the low ones) until the level shows that it's even. Or create the illusion of even ground by adding mulch to cover an entire section, then blend it in with a rake until it appears even. 

You could also embrace the uneven parts by adding to some to create berms in your yard. A berm is a natural "bump" in the yard that can be used to create a focal point. Plant it with lush flowers or use it as the centerpiece of a romantic cottage garden

No matter what kind of yard you have, you can be successful in managing and improving it. An uneven yard may seem like a curse, but by embracing its unique challenges, you can turn them into ways to add fun personality to your space.