Working With Uneven Surfaces On Your Garden
How Sloped is your garden?
You will rarely encounter a garden that is completely flat but if your back garden has a defined slope, you may need to rectify it.
Depending on the look you want to achieve, how much you are willing to spend and how much available time you have, will obviously impact how much work you need to do.
If your garden has a minor slope and simply want a relaxing space, this can easily be worked with.
But, if you want a totally flat garden and your current garden is almost vertical (well not vertical), you will have a large task ahead of you.
Is a flat garden for you?
Ease of access
If you older or have mobility issues, the last thing you need is climbing up a sloped garden every day!
Leveling out the garden will make it easier for you to utilise the space without being too difficult.
Also, if you have young children, a garden with a sloped area presents a clear issue relating to safety.
If you are looking for a way to take your designer personality into your garden, creating a flatter or even leveled garden is one of the best ways to do that and allows opportunities to add a personal touch.
With a multi-leveled garden, you can incorporate different architectural features such as garden ornaments, water features eating areas and relaxing spaces.
If you are interested in entertaining and your budget is wide, you could incorporate a swimming pool or hot tub. Very stylish and memorable. But both will require you to have a flat surface to start with.
Benefits of a leveled garden
If you are happy to have it half and half, or simply don’t have the time, creating a leveled garden may be a better idea.
Leveled gardens are fantastic at making more space by helping create designated areas; you can create a space for a children’s play area or even a hot tub.
An obvious benefit to both flat and leveled gardens is that they stop erosion. If the soil in your garden has higher sand content, it may become loose during high winds.
In the event that your soil is more clay based, it is more likely to absorb water and during periods of high rain, on a slope, may create a minor mudslide!
In this guide, we will discuss the most common way to create a leveled garden yourself; it may be unwise or unfeasible to attempt to flatten a garden completely, so it is worth knowing how to level the land yourself as a midground alternative.
A note- in this guide, we will not discuss how to build retaining walls; we will only discuss how to level your garden.
Before you start
Contact your local authority to avoid building code violations, wires, and pipes
Although your project may seem minor, many councils have laws and codes related to leveled gardens and it is always better to be safe than sorry.
How much work?
If the slope in your garden is only very slight, the garden can be leveled by purchasing a timber retainer and placing it inside the fence and infilling.
It is generally a good idea if your garden is truly sloped to contact experts such as structural engineers and landscape gardeners. This will help you get a clear idea of how strong your retaining walls will need to be to compensate for the slope.
Starting The Process
You need to determine the vertical distance from the top to the bottom of the garden.
The easiest way to do this is to tie some string around a stake at ground level and pulling it tightly, attach it to another stake where the string is completely level.
Use a line level to make sure you are accurately measuring your gardens rise and run.
*TIP* If your garden has varying areas of steepness, this step will need to be repeated several times.
If you hate math, I am truly sorry; in this step, you will need to complete some calculations to determine how many levels (or terraces), you are going to put it to try to flatten the slope as much as possible, while also making it a safe environment.
As an example; if you garden has a vertical distance of 10 feet and a horizontal distance of 20 feet, then you will need to build 5 terraces, with each one being around 2 feet tall and 4 feet long.
Now that the math is out of the way you must mark where you will put your levels and decide which material will be best to use.
To mark the areas, use little stakes and flags; that way you will avoid digging where you don’t want to.
*TIP* 24 hours before you intend to dig, dampen the ground to soften it.
At the horizontal base of the slope, dig a shallow trench. Ensure it is slightly wider than your chosen material that will act as your retaining wall.
Depending on what material you are using as a retaining wall, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine how deep you put it into the trench to secure it. Repeat this step with each level.
*TIP* When inserting your material into the trench, check that it does not stand at a tilt; if it does, remove it and bury it slightly deeper.
Drive spikes into the ground in front of each retaining wall to stabilise them as much as possible.
Make sure both the retaining wall and spikes are secure and not wobbly.
And now, the really manual part; the digging.
Starting at the back of the level, move the soil to the front to create a flat surface.
Distribute it evenly across the entire retaining wall and ensure it is completely level.
Any soil you don’t use put into a wheelbarrow and move to another part of the garden.
Use a spirit level across the newly flattened ground to make sure it is truly flat.
If you own one, use a soil compactor to secure structural integrity.
*SAFETY TIP* Do not work yourself to exhaustion and if you start to feel physical discomfort, stop what you are doing and rest; this is a very manual task and will not be completed in one day.
Remember, if you have a garden on a large slope that you really need to flatten, contact a professional landscape gardener to help you.
It is unlikely you will be able to reverse the issue on your own and you may cause yourself an injury. Better to be safe than sorry!