Hillside Gardening

by Blogger Leslie Davis of Paper Daisy Design

Last fall, we embarked on a quite a big landscaping project, we created our Hillside Garden with a large feature rock. A considerable amount of digging and dirt moving were involved to lay the foundational groundwork. We also felt the area could benefit from a dry creek bed for drainage.

Our focus for the initial plantings was mainly on evergreens or blooming shrubs. This spring, with the foundation laid, the focus was on adding in color with perennials, a few more shrubs and a small planting area of annuals.  Expanding the mulched area of the bed to cover more of the steep and hard to mow section at the top of the hill near the fence, was also a goal.

Below is the original before shot of the backyard right after we moved late last May. To say we’ve come a long way from here is understatement.

For this season’s makeover, we began by filling in spots that could support additional plantings, moving down the front of the lower portion of the hill.  Because we had previously laid high quality landscape fabric, we just pulled back the pine straw and used scissors to cut openings for new plants.

Landscaping can be and often is a very evolutionary process. Over the last 6 months, we could see another area where grass was struggling to grow.  This slightly shaded spot opened the possibilities to more part-shade plants. Because there was not much topsoil on this side, we had to amend the area with bagged, high quality topsoil in addition to relocating soil from another backyard project.

We got an opportunity to hone our rock climbing,  or “billy goat” skills as I like to call it, working on the area above the original plantings next to the fence.  It is quite steep. There was no need to bring in additional soil around the established bushes. So, our focus was to remove as much of the “grass” or weeds, as it was mostly, and cover it with pine straw mulch.  Like we did for the rest of the garden, we staked down landscape fabric. Because we weren’t working with a “clean” dirt surface and didn’t want to bring in chemicals to kill the weeds, we took the old school approach of laying down newspaper before covering the area with fabric.

Now for the actual the fun part, the new plants.  Again this year, I chose plants from the Southern Living Plant Collection, a leader in plant development for southern gardens since 2008.

As I looked through their catalog this spring and could now explore the part-shade variety of plants and was immediately drawn to the texture and slightly tropical look of the 'Soft Caress' Mahonia.

And of course, if I was going for blooms and color this time, adding in these Dear Dolores™ Hydrangeas were a must.

The play on texture between these two plants is striking.

Filling in the area with large leaf hostas, working in sets of three, continued to create a harmonious display.

Achieving a more lush border, while keeping in mind that even the original plantings are still not to their full size, I added in some color contrast with the Purple Diamond® Compact Loropetalum and the smaller, weeping variety the Purple Pixie® at the top of the rock. My hope is eventually it will drape with vibrant color over the edge.

To the side of the lower portion of the rock garden, we had placed a few stepping stones for climbing up onto the surface of the rock.  Marking the entrance now are the 'Lemon Lime' Nandinas.

Last fall, we planted the companion plants, the Blush Pink™ Nandinas.  Here’s what they looked like then.

You can see how much they’ve grown just over the winter and early spring.

The other perennials added were the 'Ember’s Wish' Salvia.

These coral flowers bloom all summer and a portion of the proceeds goes to the Make-A-Wish foundation. A definite, win-win.

In a previously empty area near the creek bed, annuals have been added for additional color. This area is nearly flat and is easy to access making it the perfect spot for seasonal plants.

I think we are well on our way to the creating a beautiful, lush hillside garden.

Interestingly enough, the new plantings look smaller in these photos than they seem in real life. I think it’s because I look at them full of expectation of what they will look like in the future.

Hopeful expectation is one of the joys of gardening and an investment in future. I love that.  

I also love the view of the hydrangeas from the screen porch. The soft blues are continuation of subtle color palette inside. See the recent porch makeover details here.

If you want to read how we got to this point working with a steep and rocky hillside you can click here to see the complete story.