When we take on new garden projects we often have to level a sloping garden, I don’t think anyone truly wants a garden that slopes. But there is so much more than meets the eye when leveling a garden that can mean changing your original plans. These can include the height of your existing fence panels, whether your garden is sloping upwards or downwards from your property as well as other issues such as drainage, height restrictions and so on. It’s going to be a long article, but I am going to try my best to cover all areas of leveling your sloping garden.
What you need to look out for when leveling your sloping garden
The majority of gardens will have a ‘run off’ to some degree, which means that the rain water will have somewhere to go, preferably away from your property to avoid getting damp and other water damage. If you have a garden that slopes downwards, towards your home then you should have drains in place to collect the water. When leveling your garden, you still need to keep drainage in mind to avoid having a waterlogged lawn!
If it’s grass that you are looking to level, then it would be good practice to install a soak away to help collect the water. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, although it may be worth getting prices from a builder or landscaper if you aren’t a hands on person. This involves digging a hole approximately 1-1.5 meters deep depending on your sized lawn and building a bricked cube inside, leaving gaps for water to drain through. This doesn’t need to be pretty as no one will ever see it. When built, you just need to fill the area with gravel/shingle, followed by earth and then lay new turf. Now you will have somewhere for the rain water to drain and stop your new leveled garden from being water logged.
Although good practice, this isn’t essential depending on your surroundings. Of course you could always try to have your lawn at an ever so slight tilt not noticeable by the eye allowing water water to drain off, but this would still depend on the surroundings. If the water ran off to, lets say the left, and you had a brick wall on that side then you will cause a puddle. If however your lawn is up against a fence, and your ground is higher than the ground on the other side of the fence then this could work, you could also get away with having a level lawn as once the earth is too wet to drain properly then it will rise and fall at the fence. This is the same principle if you have paving surrounding the lawn that has an appropriate ‘run off’.
If you are thinking about laying paving slabs when leveling your sloping garden then the rule of thumb is to never actually have your paving completely level, no matter what make sure you have the paving slope, even if ever so slightly to help drainage.
I am working on a garden at the moment where the ground slopes downwards from the property. The customer was adamant that they wanted the garden as level as possible so I explained that we can make it level, but the last part of the garden will need to step down to the gate which is what we have agreed and are working on now. The other problem how ever is that as the garden slopes down, the original fence panels were sloping down with it, meaning that when the garden is level you will be able to see over the fence and into next door’s garden. Luckily there is enough room in the concrete fence post above that we are going to simply lift the panels, but we have been lucky on this one.
If there were wooden fence panels and posts used then there would be no way to raise them as in most cases the fence posts are at the same level as the panels which would mean that the customer would need to replace all fence panels and posts before the work can begin. If you have concrete posts and gravel boards then in theory you can just slide them up, but this depends on how well the original fence was installed as if done correctly, there wouldn’t be much room on the post to slide them upwards, which again would mean all new fence panels and posts unless you have a customer happy to have gaps in between the fence panels, although you can always cut out some timber and screw between the panels. This however isn’t pretty! Another important note to make is that if you do have concrete posts to work with, and have enough room to slide them up the post to raise the garden fence, then make sure you check what’s on the other side! If the neighbor just has a flower bed, then you can just top this up with top soil after raising the fence panels and gravel boards and no one will be none the wiser, but if they have a decorative flower bed such as shingle then you may need to look at alternative solutions. Although if possible, you could add a 6 inch gravel board to make up the difference.
If you are faced with a situation where the fence panels can’t be raised and the original slope was so excessive that the new level garden will mean seeing over the fence then the only solution may be to level your garden into stages. For example, you could have 3 meters (distance) level, then lower (or raise) by use of a retaining wall or sleepers, and then leveling another 3 meters and so on. Take a look at the picture below where we couldn’t keep the garden level as this would have meant being a foot below the concrete wall at the back of the garden, thus exposing the earth below it and seriously weakening the wall. Originally we didn’t know that we would be faced with this problem when carrying out the sloping garden work so had to change the plans half way through, but you can see that we used a sleeper to create another level to the garden. You will also see that the paving slopes downwards allow the water to run off, but there are drains around the property to collect the water.
In most cases, it would be hard to go over any height restrictions just by leveling the garden. How ever, we did have a situation where we were leveling a sloping garden which meant raising the entire ground. By the time we got to the end of the garden we were about 3 feet higher than it was originally. Around 6 months later we had a call from the customer asking to put in a concrete shed base, but this meant that at the new height of the garden that the shed would have been much too tall and planning permission would have been needed. If you are hoping to have a shed or any other structure built in your garden, then always plan ahead as we could have lowered the end of the garden by way of a retaining wall and had the shed base built at a lower level.
It is always a good idea to check for any height restrictions as although uncommon, raising fence panels can also cause issues, but this can also depend on who your neighbors are!
What if my garden is sloping upwards?
With most of the above, I write about raising your garden to make it level, hence raising fence panels etc.. But if you need to lower your garden, then you may be faced with an even bigger problem when it comes to the height of your fence panels. In most cases, the concrete for the fence posts sit at just below ground level, so the chances of being able to lower your fence panels are slim as the concrete will be in the way so it may be best to leave them where they are unless you have the funds to change them all completely!
If you are happy to lower your sloping garden when leveling it and not mind that your fence panels seem higher, then you just need to make sure than you don’t go lower than the concrete as this will be a horrible addition to the garden having them on show. As well as this, you will be left with a hole/gap below each fence panel. It is much easier to raise a garden when leveling it as opposed to lowering it, but in some cases you will have no choice.
The basics to leveling a sloping garden
Make sure you plan ahead when leveling your sloping garden and if possible do the work in stages. Even if you are a hands on person and want to do the work yourself, why not have a landscape garden come round to offer their advice? They may add some knowledge to the equation that you may have missed.
The reason I say plan ahead and to do it in stages is because I have known people who planned to lay a patio, followed by turf, followed by a shed base and start by ordering 10 tons of top soil to level the garden before starting. You just can’t work like this as you will end up with more problems than you began with! For example, if raising the ground where your patio will be, make sure you use type 1 MOT to raise the ground and not top soil as this will cause your new patio to sink over time. Once your patio is complete, you could then (for example) use the height to build a retaining wall and then add the top soil ready for your new turf.
It’s best to start from your property so start here and work your way back, finding your new level as you finish a phase. It would be near impossible to start from the back of the garden and have it meet the right height when reaching your home especially if installing a patio which will need to have a slight run off to help with drainage.
Remember, having your sloping garden all one level isn’t always possible depending on your surrounds such as the height of neighboring gardens, fence panels and so on. The alternative to having your hole garden level is to have it level in stages which means the installation of retaining walls. You can use sleepers which is the most cost effective solution, and easier to build yourself compared to building brick walls. The only downside is that over time the sleepers will rot where brick built walls won’t. You could always use breeze blocks and render them to have them look more attractive.
Whether your sloping garden is going to be level in stages or all be one level, it’s a good idea to think about replacing your fence panels. Concrete gravel boards and posts are a great idea as they won’t rot but will also keep your earth from spilling into any neighboring gardens and will also act as a retaining wall in itself. If the new earth is up against wooden fence panels then it won’t take long for them to rot, and when they do you will need to undo some of your work to replace them.
How to level a garden with earth / laying new turf
It’s easy to lay a level patio since this is done with a spirit level, and the same goes for decking and most other projects where a spirit level, timber or paving is needed. But how hard is it to get the ground level when leveling your sloping garden with top soil? Actually, it’s not so hard!
All you need to do is hammer some pegs into the ground approximately 1 squared meter apart from each other, or how far your spirit level will reach. Once your first peg is in at a height you are happy with, simply make all other pegs level using the spirit level. Once done, you just need to top up the ground with top soil until just the tops of the pegs (or steaks) can be seen and then remove them! Now your sloping garden is level. If your spirit level isn’t particularly long then you could always use a longer piece of timber and sit the spirit level on top as this will work just as well.
It is always possible to level a garden, although it might mean having different levels instead of having your sloping garden all one level but the necessary steps will need to be taken such as the raising or lowering of fence panels, the use of retaining walls etc.. Oh and don’t forget to always keep drainage in mind as the last thing you will want to do is have an amazing garden only to turn into one big puddle when torrential rain hits. If you get stuck or have any questions then please don’t hesitate to comment below!
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