How we built a terraced garden
About a year ago, my family and I moved into a new house. As part of the deal, we got to design a substantial terraced garden which would be laid out by the construction company that built our cottage.
The terrain was steep and uneven – stones littered throughout – which meant that building a beautiful, sustainable garden would not be as simple as simply having soil trucked in and dumping it on the ground. Instead, we had to build up layers of soil so that we could plant trees, bushes, flowers, and grasses at various levels around our property to make the most use of space.
Our initial plan involved using rocks for this purpose, but after much consideration and research, we decided against it and opted for shipping containers instead because they’re: 1) easier to transport, 2) cheaper, 3) more secure, and 4) last longer. Because of the steepness of our property, we had to shift some containers uphill so that they wouldn’t topple over if any trees nearby fell on them during strong windstorms.
Our garden is designed around the idea that every plant has its place in nature. Some plants grow best near water sources, while others can thrive on dry land where limited access to water. Likewise, certain soil types are better than others for specific plants – i.e., acidic soils do well with acid-loving plants like rhododendrons while alkaline soils work best for azaleas or Rosa rugosa because of their preference for an alkalic environment helps them survive in their natural habitats.
The front and back portions of the garden (facing south and east, respectively) follow traditional contour farming principles, while the middle part follows permaculture principles.
The rocks we chose for this project were “black gold,” aka Indian black granite boulders. We used some stones that came with the property, but most of them were collected from around the area (a process known as rock-picking).
View from the bench facing southwest. This section is permaculture-based with fruit trees, berry bushes, and vegetables. In other words, it’s a food forest. We planted strawberries in front to add some color while they grow older, mint by the pond for our family to use in drinks and teas, lemon balm next to them to attract aphids away from the fruit trees (it’s a trap plant ), ground cover plants around the base of fruit trees to keep weeds down and prevent rodents from making homes in their trunks and under the bench, and perennial vegetables like asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke behind the trees.
One of our goals for this section was to eventually grow enough fruits and vegetables so that we won’t need to shop for them at all – but that may take a few years yet since we just planted these about six months ago.
We added rock borders along the edge of this section for visual appeal. One of our goals for this section was to eventually grow enough fruits and vegetables so that we won’t need to shop for them at all – but that may take a few years yet since we just planted these about six months ago.
Bergenia flowers attract butterflies that eat aphids. In addition, daffodils, grape hyacinths, and anemones hiding under trees provide food for beneficial insects, as do the dandelions that flower underneath.
This section is at the top of a hill, so we didn’t have to worry about it falling over since it has more soil than the rest. We also planted assorted vegetables here – beets, onions, basil, and chili peppers – which we may move down south later if they’re too cold up north.
The fruit trees in the back are hybrid poplars; riparian zone plants like willows, dogwoods, and cotoneasters (flowers) were planted under them. Fruit trees in this zone need to shade out weeds because they don’t produce as much leaf litter as the rest of the garden.
These trees provide food for wildlife in addition to helping purify the air; their large root systems also help prevent soil erosion during heavy rainstorms, which is why we chose these over ornamental flowering cherry trees or crabapple trees that would grow faster but not help with air quality or erosion control.