How to Landscape a Terrace Garden

hillside terrace garden
Hillside terrace garden at Swift House Inn. Photo by Serena Kim

It was our dream to transform our wild, poison ivy and myrtle entangled slope into a terraced hillside garden.

Although the weedy, disorganized mass of plants growing on the existing hillside were great for attracting pollinators and creating a refuge for wild life, it was a lost opportunity for growing food and produce for our seasonal and locally focused menu at Jessica’s at Swift House Inn.

We called in the experts.

Rocky Dale Gardens

Rocky Dale Gardens is an idyllic nursery located on a dramatic rocky hillside in Bristol, Vt. Owner and landscaper Ed Burke knows his way around hillsides. So we commissioned a plan for the steeply graded area to the west of the Carriage House parking lot. The landscape designer sent over blueprints and plans with his proposed ideas responding to our requests for lots of native wildflowers and ornamental grasses to create a natural meadow feeling on the hillside. Over the course of the year, we learned how to make a terrace hillside garden.

This is how we did it.

Step 1: Excavate all of the trees, shrubs, and plants out of the hillside.

Step 2: Carefully and meticulously grade the earth to make sure the forthcoming raised beds will be perfectly aligned and even.

Step 3: Fill the beds with rotting tree logs as a form of hugelkultur.

Step 4: Bring in granite steps to form a fanned out staircase down the hillside and to divide the beds.

Step 5: Now comes the fun part. Plant it all out!

On a cool September morning, Ed showed up with a truck filled with wildflower plugs. First he asked us to sort them in piles, then he arranged them with the eye of a landscape designer. And then Lisa, Xander and Serena used hori hori knives to nestle the plugs into place. A few days later, a couple of inches of rain fell, insuring that these little baby plants have a good start. By next year we should see a great wildflower show that will make bees, birds, and bugs of all kinds very happy. And that makes us happy!

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