How To Landscape A Steep Slope

Oct 31, 2017

In mid 2016 we bought the neighbouring patch of weedy/bush land we’d been drooling over for 4 years; and at the beginning of 2017, we started shaping it to include a driveway and more garden/animal space. We’d been drooling over this steep landscape as up until early 2017 the only way into our property was by walking up a very steep, 100m rocky staircase from the road. We had always wanted to buy the neighbouring land to improve access – it just took 4 years to get it done.

When we started earthworks, the view from our house overlooking the new land looked like this.

As our land is very steep, we knew straight away that we wanted to terrace it, inline with what we had already done in our existing garden. So the whole site was cleared, with the green waste taken to the local tip site where the Hobart Council composts it in large hot piles and sells it back to the community.

While we would have LOVED more flat ground, we couldn’t afford to build retaining walls everywhere. Instead, we designed large earth banks with an angle of approximately 30 degrees. Like our current garden, we planned on using these as edible forest gardens and the flat terraces for annuals crops and animals.

After the machine had shaped these terraces, we used hardwood timber from a local sawmill sight to help define and stabilise the edges…

…And a hell-of-a-lot of heat treated pallets to stabilise the earth banks. This techniques has been a real game changer for us in steep slope gardening, as the pallets provide lots of ledges to plant into, making it easier for plants to get established. It’s also easier to irrigate and passively harvest rain, as water is slowed down (a little bit), instead of quickly rushing down each bank.

Around this time, Anton’s day (Gote) sailed his boat down from NSW, parked in the local bay and would come up every day to build a rock wall, dig holes and just be his marvellous, eccentric Swedish self. All the rock came from onsite and was simply rearranged to build our one and only retaining wall :-).

Gote on the far right reclining on his rock wall. 

We then very quickly broadcast a mix of green manure seeds directly on the banks in late Autumn to get things growing. This included red clover, mustard, lupins and rye grass.

Early winter with green manure crops thriving

A couple of times throughout Winter, we’d slash the green manures down – delaying them going to flower/seed so we could get more root growth and more benefits for the soil.

In early Spring, we let the banks go to flower for which the bees thanked us (they loooooved it in there) and covered the future annual beds in non-toxic, UV stablised black plastic to break down the green manure crops without having to dig *at all*.

The black plastic was left on there for around 6 weeks in which time all the green growth died back and the soil biology ate it up.

Today (Oct 31 2017), the view from our window onto our new patch of land looks like the photo below…..

There are thousands of annual veggie plants on the flat terrace you can see and another above this (out of shot).

We have two toggenburg goats, Gerty and Jilly Love Face who moved in just over 2 weeks ago. Gerty provides 1.5L – 2L of milk every morning and Jilly Love Face (who’s 3 weeks old) provides enormous entertainment.

The chook house has been moved to be with the goat run and we’ve planted 20 hazelnuts and 10 mixed trees into the earth banks. Currently the earth banks still have remnants of Winter’s green manure crops. We’ve started cutting and dropping them in place as mulch and will be planting floral and edible shrubs, plus perennial herbaceous layers into the bank over the next year to form an edible forest garden.

Baby hazelnut trees popping up amongst the green manures. 

In between each nut and fruit tree, we transplanted tagasaste (tree lucerne) seedlings that self-seed in the local bush/weedy land behind our property. These nitrogen-fixing small trees are quick growers and will provide benefits to the soil and fodder for our chooks and goats. Eventually they’ll be chopped down once the nut and fruit trees mature and need more space.

Baby tagasaste seedling

And the goats are truly glorious. You can see them below on one of their daily walks and amongst the many daily cuddles we have. Obviously there’s still a long way to go with our property, and more time required before we see mature trees, but today (or this morning at least) I’m just pausing and reflecting on the past 10 months and *really* enjoying the change of view from our window.

 

your thoughts:

28 Comments

  1. Leah Galvin

    What a journey Hannah. Great pics

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Big journey Leah! And it’s still going 🙂

      Reply
    • Madhuri

      Beautifully done.

      Reply
  2. Peter Heffernan

    Hi Team,
    Love your work
    BW
    Peter H

    Reply
  3. Sam Cuff

    Yep very inspiring Han!!

    Reply
  4. Philip Jackson

    Hi Hannah,
    It already looks like it has always been like that!
    I love the idea of the pallets to stabilise the slope. I’ve got a steep slope area which I have been pondering about how to treat it. Although it was going to be expensive I had decided on landscape hession with individual cells, like honeycomb, but the pallets are much more my cup of tea.
    Where do you get your UV stabilised plastic from. I got a roll of barrier plastic from Bunnings that was meant to be UV stabilised but I suspect they were fibbing.

    Philip

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      We tried hessian and planting into it with our current garden, but it wasn’t enough and broke down quicker than what we needed. The timber pallets are SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE :-). The black plastic is builders plastic and I think we got it from a place called GeoTas – but there are many places you can get it. Just research the available brands to find out the details. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Jo Bellotti

    Hannah, I have two minutes in amongst the kid wrangling to write and tell you that I read every post and gain so much from your blog. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Jo :-). Thanks for using your *highly valuable* 2 minutes without kids to tell me that! So happy it’s of use to you. All the best 🙂

      Reply
  6. Daithi

    Amazing blog. Informative and graceful.

    Found you as I start my own journey, developing some land to live on in WA. Looking forward to watching and learning from you experiences.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Thanks Daithi! All the best with your journey 🙂

      Reply
  7. Squishy Hippie

    Thanks for the blog !

    I’m working with Wyndham City Council to transform a floodway into a community garden and this is exactly what I needed 🙂

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Fantastic! All the best wiyh your project 🙂

      Reply
  8. Nick T.

    Great writeup on how to landscape a steep slope. I have a large fairly steep sloped area on my property and I need a good design; I’m probably going to do some terracing but I don’t want the budget to get out of control. This really helps me. I’ve done research elsewhere, and while articles like this here have some okay ideas, your piece offers a great perspective. A mix of terracing, waterfall structures and indigenous gardening is my current approach. Hopefully it will go well. Thanks, Nick

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Glad we could help Nick. We’ve definitely had to get creative to fit within our budget and time capacity! So far it’s working pretty well :-). Good luck with your slope!

      Reply
  9. Deborah

    I’ve been following on IG, but had no idea beneath your beautiful, flourishing garden was such a steep slope!

    I am in Washington state USA and live on a severe slope. I’ve been incorporating permaculture principles as i clean up decades of slash and fallen timber. Between that and the slope i cannot get equipment in to do any earth moving. I consider all this manual labor to be my health plan for my retirement!

    Slow and steady…growing soil in this granite dust is my first goal, while keeping our limited rainfall here at the top of the mountain is my second focus.

    Love what you’re doing there. I am inspired. Thank you!

    @wildernest.weaver
    Deborah

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      FRom one steep slope gardener to another – I feel you Deborah! All the very best in growing soil and storing water in your landscape!

      Reply
  10. Shan

    Hi Hannah,

    I, too, have been following you on Insta and only this morning decided to do a search for permie gardening on a steep slope. Imagine my delight when your article popped up on Google!

    My site is varied and already has a few raised beds which I’m planning on incorporating into the overall design, but to read about how you’ve done it is invaluable. Thanks so much for the info.

    Shan

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Pleasure Shan! We steep slope gardeners gotta stick together :-).

      Reply
  11. Sophia

    Hi Hannah! This article is so helpful and has filled my mind with ideas already. I wonder if you could share the approx cost of the earthmoving required in your instance? Trying to budget the cost of terracing in a similar way to see how much we can do now and how much to leave for later on our block. I do worry that the soil is very rocky and quite dusty/sandy where we are, so I think we will need to put a lot of love into building the soil.. baby steps!

    Thankyou for your wonderful blog.

    Reply
  12. Terje

    Beautifully

    Reply
  13. Sarah

    Thanks so much for sharing this! We’re attempting to create a food forest on a steep sandy slope, and your tips are very helpful. Question: do you leave the pallets in place for…ever? I see their benefit with soil stabilization and eventually they decompose, but in the meantime it makes for challenging travel through the area, yes?

    Reply
  14. Martin and Linda

    Thanks for the pallet idea. I think if management approves it will work like a charm.
    We are in the mountains of north eastern New Mexico so water is always an issue. I’m going to use drip irrigation which should work fine and help keep our well clear.
    We just finished building our house so I will be turning my hand to the landscaping/gardens next.

    Reply
  15. rose

    What a journey.We just purchased land in MO and it’s steep and was wondering where to start.Your insight is amazing.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Glad it’s helpful – good luck on your journey! 🙂

      Reply

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