Langley Gardening: Hillsides and cliffs opportunities for imagination

Imaginative gardeners don’t see tough terrain quite the way other people do.

Where others see a swamp, they see future fish ponds, boardwalks, and bog gardens. And almost-vertical sites, they visualize viewpoints, flower-filled alpine cliffs, and excellent drainage.

To a husband-and-wife gardening team in Chilliwack, the raw subdivision moonscape around them was a source of rough soil they could use to terrace the steep drop-off behind their newly constructed home.

Contractors who had been paying to truck soil miles away were glad to dump a few loads in a nearby lot.

The gardeners rigged a wooden chute from the soil piled in their front yard down into the rear. She shoveled soil into the chute, and far below, he distributed it around.

Today, the upper terrace is a green lawn bordered with compact shrubs where people can sit under a patio roof and view the distant mountains. The lower terrace is a mini-woodland, where a pea gravel floor meanders around rock-ringed beds.

Water in the nearby fish pool has high levels of oxygen after its swift journey downhill via a little stream.

The bottom of a slope is a natural spot for fish ponds.

Where the slope is very steep and faces the house, a rock wall plus water can be quite spectacular.

That is what two Surrey gardeners did with their rugged, weedy front yard. Most of it is now a large fishpond backed by a rock wall where water seeps and trickles and is punctuated by two waterfalls.

They don’t have to be large. Most gardeners with streams running down to a pond manage to add a large rock or two, or a couple of steps over which water cascades.

Rocky cliff-sides have other uses, too. A Kamloops gardener couldn’t plant the bare rock cliff which stretched across the far end of his back garden.

But he enjoyed the way it prolonged his garden season by storing the sun’s heat and then releasing it during cold nights.

Where slopes are formed by clay or sand, stability can be a huge issue. Steps can be one solution.

A North Vancouver gardener with a big, sloping yard built a long line of steps which she broke into sections by adding landings at intervals. They were emphasized by pergolas supporting climbing vines.

In the early stages of planning their North Surrey garden, two gardeners plotted out routes for electrical lines along steps. That made it possible to install lights under the risers, so people could navigate the garden at night.

Deep-rooted trees can also add stability to slopes. But how deep the roots plunge depends on the soil. Even deep-rooted trees have problems unless the soil is also deep.

Some of the most effective stabilizing trees are oaks, lirodendrons, and walnuts. But they need care in placement, because they ultimately grow so large that they dominate and shade small gardens.

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