Those of my readers who live in or were visiting the Bonavista area recently may have witnessed an interesting sight along the harbour. Me…scaling a steep hillside, whipper-snippering the grass along Bonavista’s new million dollar boardwalk and harbour promenade.
The boardwalk is beautiful, but unfortunately the slope next to it, with regard to ease of maintenance, is not!
Sod planted on a 50-70 degree angle is a little problematic! You could just leave grass in these instances and let it naturalize, but that is not why the grass was planted. It was put on the site to look tidy and pretty. So, I had to cut it.
It took a few days, a few hours each day, and it was done. The site was crisp once more.
Carefully trimming grass along a bank which slopes directly into a water body is not likely a great or even safe job for student workers, at least not without being harnessed to the boardwalk rails. So I did it myself, one of those volunteer tasks that you can often see people take on around your own town.
The message this week is the issue with slopes, hills of any kind really. Gardening or landscaping on them is a perennial issue for many in Newfoundland since we have just a few dips and valleys over our landscape. So what can we do with them is the question? What are the options for slopes?
The first solution to most problems is likely to try not to create a problem in the first place. If you have a slope, you first attempt to lessen its angle or steepness before complicating matters by simply going ahead and grassing it. If the hill is not pure bedrock, have heavy equipment try to add extra material until you get to the point where you can easily walk the hill. Keep in mind that if a slope is too difficult to walk down, then how will you ever mow it?
So grassing a hill is always an option but if you want the grass trimmed regularly, then the slope cannot be too steep or you’ll never manage to cut the grass. These steep hills that most would automatically sod over are now seeing new and creative ideas, possible solutions for those who mow but are not mountain climbers!
So if a property owner intends to keep a steep slope but hoping not to have to sod, there are other options. One could always go with the tried and true rock garden approach, especially if there are larger rocks jutting out of the hillside naturally. But, most readers already know my feelings on rock gardens. These alpine microenvironments can get really weedy really fast! So do you want to be walking your steep slope weeding every week? If you do not have landscape support staff on site, I would not advise a large rock garden across any property.
A slightly different take on the rock garden is an alpine shrub bed built into such a slope. Here it is almost like putting in a traditional rock garden but instead you only plant lower growing shrubs very close together so not to leave space for weeds to invade. I have seen many home-owners implement this style in St. John’s through the planting of large beds of Creeping Juniper, Mugo Pine, English Ivy, etc. This option however will cost quite a bit more then sod or even rock garden perennials.
Another popular option for slopes is mulching them, covering the hillside with bark chips in shades of red, brown or black. This option can be costly, but more importantly it can be labor intensive and also not an option for very steep slopes as mulch will run off in heavy rains. In the case of mulching, all vegetation has to be removed before mulch is laid down. So if you already have a grassy hill that you want mulched, you will have to chop out all sod along the slope. If mulch is laid over vegetation, most grasses and weeds will simply push right up through. Once you have your mulch spread over your slope the maintenance begins. The wood chipped hillside will have to be weeded on a regular basis since many weed seeds can take root in wood materials.
The final option is really a reiteration of the first option with a twist. Remove the slope altogether, but this time through the installation of stone walls or terraces. Here excavation will be required and lots of funds to cover the cost of stone blocks. In the end you will have a giant stair-like structure with smaller flat surfaces which you could more easily mow or garden on top of.
So if you have a tricky slope on your property you really have to think about all your options and realize that a slope is a commitment to hard labor, athletic ability and often high monetary costs for installation and long term maintenance. Oh how some of us would just love to like on the flat open plains of the Prairie provinces!
If you have any questions about solutions for slopes on your property, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.