The Lay of the Land

Before I begin any discussions of my goals for the garden areas of the house I would like to take a moment to show everyone the lay of the land.

Our house is named Overhill – with good reason!  Not just because we’re huge Lord of the Rings fans (there was a Hobbit family called Underhill, and we thought it was fitting).  Our entire lot is a steep hillside!  In fact we have a 4′ high concrete retaining wall near the bottom of the garden that was installed by the builder to help create a “flat” section closer to the house.  It didn’t really work.  But we’re doing better than our neighboring house.  They have a 10′ retaining wall!

Overhill Plat  Note: 4′ high concrete retaining wall is not shown.  But its about 30′ from the rear wall of the house to the property line.

Below the retaining wall is a small narrow strip of yard – the flattest in the entire yard (about a 1.5′ change in elevation over the 14′ depth).  Its about 14′ x 75′.  Our lot is a 90′ x 150′ rectangle.  The total change in elevation over the 150′ depth is astounding.  I’d wager its about a 30′ drop – that’s almost 3 stories!

When we lived in England – on a nice flat 1/2 acre lot – we were able to do things like play croquet (must be said with the Queen of Hearts voice), or bocce or bowles in the garden on a regular basis.  We got spoiled.  Here at Overhill I find it difficult to throw a frisbee around because of the slant of the yard.  Chasing a wayward frisbee down the hill and then trudging back up is not my idea of fun!

Possible Garden Plan
An original concept layout I created while still living in England.  I made this after our whirlwind two day house purchasing trip in December 2014.  I didn’t take any measurements so all sizes are relative (the house and lot size are to scale with one another).  And I didn’t realize at the time how aggressively sloped the back yard was going to be.

So a retaining wall is planned for the back yard.  At first Kevin and I discussed making a “croquet lawn” about 30′ x 75′ by extending our concrete wall up about 3′ – 4′ but after meeting with a number of landscaping professionals we’ve realized that this fantasy would be very expensive.  Since we do not plan on living at Overhill for the rest of our lives (other plans include: running back to the expat lifestyle in Europe, or just cashing in our house chips and buying a boat and sailing around the world – both very real possibilities) we don’t want to invest tens of thousands of dollars on yard improvements that will most likely not raise the house value in a few short years.

But for the span of time we do live here, we’d like to be able to use the yard more.  Which means we need a flatter space somewhere – it just doesn’t need to be 30′ x 75′.  We also need to address a few issues with the land itself – like the erosion happening on the +45-degree sloping parts of the yard.  And I’d like to eliminate quite a bit of grass – especially on the narrow steep side yards.  Mowing a 45-degree angle is not fun.

The things we do believe will add overall value, increase our personal enjoyment of our outdoor time, and hopefully make the crazy sloping lot more attractive to the next family who lives here have become our top priority:

  1. Build a 12′ x 20′ (maybe 30′) patio/grass space into the upper back yard.  This will require a 2′ high retaining wall about 30′ (36′) wide across the back yard.
  2. Build a 14′ diameter round patio with a fire pit in the lower back yard.  Okay, this one is mostly for me.  I love the idea of having a fire pit over which to roast marshmallows and hot dogs.  Lolly seconds the idea!
  3. Build a wooden staircase that goes from the upper back yard to the lower backyard. At present the only way to get to the lower yard is to go down a very very steep – approx 60-degree slope – section of mostly shoe sucking Georgia Red Clay that doesn’t wash out of anything, ever mud.  The sod the builder laid in this area very quickly eroded away and we’ve tried to mitigate the erosion by placing some landscaping rocks in this area.
  4. Create a “potting shed” area below the stairs from the screen porch to the lower deck.  The garage is on the topside of the hill on the opposite side from where we’re looking to place our vegetable garden.  At the moment it is our sole location for outdoor storage.  It would be difficult to situate a free-standing shed on the property given the slope and homeowner’s association restrictions.
  5. Plant LOTS of ground cover plants on the steepest slopes of the yard.  Mainly the side yards and around the steep area next to the wall.

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