Sloping Garden Ideas: 10 Genius Ways to Landscape on a Gradient

a modern space with lots of sloping garden ideas
(Image credit: Belderbos Landscapes)

Looking for sloping garden ideas? Fear not, though a sloping garden can be a challenging landscaping project, they can also be some of the most effective gardens. 

The perception is of a windy exposed site that is difficult to work with and expensive to change. So it will come as a pleasant surprise that a sloping garden can be both visually attractive and, with clever design and planning, an amazing space that feels much larger than a flat, open garden.

A well-considered new house on a sloping site can easily take advantage of the terrain and maximise privacy, views out to surrounding countryside, and make the most of the natural light available, especially the way that light moves across the site. 

If you've got a sloping garden, try out these 10 ideas to get you started on your landscaping project. 

1. Creating Terraces for Sloping Gardens 

a sloping garden idea with retaining walls

This house by on the banks of the River Avon uses a huge volume of retaining walls to create the level for the two storey rear of the property.  (Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

"The most cost effective way to manage a sloping garden is with gabion cages or railway sleepers to act as retaining walls."

Claire Belderbos, Belderbos Landscapes

One of the best ideas for making a sloping garden into a more useable outdoor space is to create terraces by building retaining walls. Flattening a garden on a slope is an unlikely prospect, just from the sheer amount of earth that you'd be required to move. 

Building terraces instead creates a tiered design with multiple flat spaces throughout your garden. 

However, there's no escaping that good quality work in this area is expensive. It's crucial to use an experienced contractor, and get a warranty on any structural retaining materials. 

If you're undertaking a major renovation or a self build, plan creating terraces into your project, as you'll be able to save time and money by building these while the mini digger and dumper are on site. 

"If the garden has a severe slope, a structural engineer may be advisable," says Claire Belderbos of Belderbos Landscapes. "Costs can mount if foundations and concrete walls are required."

2. Garden Steps are a Great Idea for Sloping Gardens  

large garden steps idea in a sloping garden

Wide garden steps make an impressive impact in this garden design created by Belderbos Landscapes (Image credit: Beldebos Landscapes)

Whether you're creating retaining walls, or sticking a little more with the natural gradient of the garden, creating steps is a great transition between spaces in a sloping garden.

With any high traffic area that is to be used year round, textured hard-wearing paving is a better solution over wood and other materials that move or prove slippery in wet or cold weather. 

Steps and level changes should always have good lighting built in, even at a low level, to avoid the risk of slipping or missing a step. On very steep rises it’s also always worth considering a hand rail for when the weather is particularly icy or wet.

(MORE: How to Build Garden Steps)

3. Lighting Ideas for Sloping Gardens

a sloping garden with lots of lighting ideas

John Cullen Lighting's design adds the perfect finishing touch to this entertaining garden.  (Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

The journey through a garden design is even more important in a sloping garden, and this extends to your lighting scheme too. Always adding lighting to steps for a safety conscious approach, and then use lighting to guide you through the garden. Accent lighting for key trees and shrubs or landscaped elements will help your eye travel up a sloping design. Finish your design with an accent at the end of the garden which is a real focal point. This could be a sculpture, water feature or even your garden office

(MORE: Garden Lighting Ideas)

4. Use Water in Your Sloping Garden Scheme  

a sloping garden idea with a waterfall water feature

(Image credit: getty images)

Sloping gardens open up a world of opportunities for using water, from simple and elegant rills which travel the site with short waterfalls to the replication of natural streams. Such features can make the space feel either more relaxed or much more wild and rugged.

One of the special qualities of water and slopes is the speed at which water can travel across the site. This means that if you have found the house of your dreams but it is slightly nearer a road than you may first wish for, careful planning with water can create background noise which deadens outside sounds, creating a haven of tranquillity.

5. Create Zones Across a Sloping Garden  

a sloping garden separated into zones

(Image credit: Belderbos Landscapes)

When building terraces or generally moving up or down a sloping garden, there's a great opportunity to create clear cut zones for its use. A comfortable seating area is always great to have near the patio doors to enhance indoor/outdoor living, while a dining space might be well-located on a second tier — away from the hubbub of the kitchen, but not too far to carry plates in and out. 

Anything recreational, from children's playsets to hot tubs, is best located at the end of the garden, keeping noise further away from both your own home, and your neighbours. 

An outdoor kitchen will likely be nearer the house because of the requirement of services, but if you're planning to move these, it could be even more effective on a different terrace further away from the house. 

(MORE: Outdoor Kitchen Ideas)

6. Planting Tips for Sloping Gardens  

mulching in a garden

(Image credit: getty images)

Sloping gardens, especially those at a steep gradient, have some issues when it comes to plant selection. Soil conditions can be sandy and poor as it's prone to soil drying out quickly. 

Choosing plants that thrive in quick-draining soil is the best idea, but there are ways to help retain more moisture in the soil. Planting through coconut matting is one way to help retain moisture on a slope better, while mulching the area will not only help keep the soil wetter, but also prevent weeds from growing in these tricky to manage spots.  

7. Is Grass a Good Idea for a Sloping Garden?

a large house with a sloped lawn garden

AR Design Studio's Folding House has a steep 18m garden.  (Image credit: Martin Gardner)

Close-mown grass lawn isn't a practical choice for sloping gardens, as it's difficult and potentially dangerous to maintain. However, larger ornamental grasses left to grow wild can be a great choice for sloping banks.

A wildflower turf is also a great choice for a sloping garden. Not only is it a quick way to establish flowers on a slope, but it's quick to establish with deeper roots than grass turf, which can help anchor the soil and prevent soil erosion in your garden. 

8. Play With Planting Height in a Sloping Garden  

a sloping garden with a balcony overlooking trees

This self build by Paul Testas in the sloping garden of the owners' existing home allowed for a balcony right in the tree canopy.  (Image credit: Dug Wilders)

A sloping garden plot has some interesting scope to play around with height of planting. On one tier of the garden, you might find yourself under the shade of a tree, while on the next, you'll see over the canopy.

This play on levels allows you to use climbing plants and structures in a way that is far more dynamic and design-led way than that which can be achieved in a garden resting on purely one level.

9. Low Maintenance Planting is the Perfect Idea for Sloping Gardens  

wild flowers in a sloping garden scheme

(Image credit: Acres Wild)

Maintaining plants on a slope is a difficult task for obvious reasons, so look for plants that suit the soil conditions that don't require a lot of tidying up, such as pruning and dead-heading, or drop leaves or petals. 

Try the follow flowering plant, to name a few, to add colour and interest to a steeper sloping garden:

  • Primrose
  • Cowslip
  • Clover
  • Winter jasmine 
  • Creeping honeysuckle

10. Using Screening Tactically for Privacy in Sloping Gardens 

a sloping garden idea with screening

(Image credit: Belderbos Landscapes)

If your sloping garden is overlooked, it can feel particularly intrusive; however, upward sloping gardens lend themselves particular well to easy screening. The gradient means that you can use taller trees and shrubs on lower terraces to effectively screen the upper areas, where you may locate a seating or dining area, from view of the lower property. 

Choosing established trees and shrubs to plant is a good idea for a garden that's ready to use, and they can be located cleverly to ensure that the view from the neighbours' upstairs windows are blocked, while retaining beautiful sightlines and not casting unwanted shade on areas of the garden. 

Paul is an award-winning landscape designer. An experienced designer, his diverse range of work has included everything from small courtyards to large country gardens, as well as public spaces, both in the UK and internationally.

He studied at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, giving him the opportunity to learn about plants and plant habitats from some of the most knowledgeable and inspiring plantsmen in the world. He created his first show garden at Malvern Autumn Show in 2008, and has since created show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court, alongside being invited to exhibit internationally in United States, France, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. (In 2022, he designed The Brewin Dolphin Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.) 

Since 2015, he has been a RHS Gardens Judge and chaired judging at all of the RHS Flower Shows including RHS Chelsea Flower Show. He has also worked with Marks & Spencer and Bradstone to create garden products, and has written for The Telegraph and Homebuilding & Renovating magazine.