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Slope design with stones: How do I design a hill in the garden?

Uneven terrain or a garden with a hill can be a disadvantage of a purchased plot. However, it is worth to turn this characteristic feature into an advantage and design it in an attractive way . Here are ideas on how to create a natural rock garden and a colorful heath landscape on a slope.

A garden on a slope – what are its advantages and disadvantages?

rock garden on steep slope slope planting

If you decide to buy a plot on a hill or on uneven terrain, you must expect certain difficulties:

  • Such an area is difficult to zone. The plot loses an area that could otherwise be used for a garden shed or a gym. In the case of small hills, it is possible to build a house with a basement. The best slopes are then those that face south or southwest. However, this requires more work, such as leveling the land.
  • The soil at the top of the hill may not be of the best quality and will lose moisture quickly.
  • A lawn in this location is difficult to mow and dries out quickly.
  • Plant selection must take into account which side of the hill is sunny and where the plants will always be in the shade.
  • Not all plants like a location with full sun or no windbreak.

rock garden on slope modern

However, a plot with a hill in the garden can have several advantages:

  • It adds variety and allows you to create interesting garden arrangements on the hill.
  • visually enlarges a small plot of land.
  • sets off the flowers planted on it.
  • Such a hillside design allows you to get a location with good sunlight, which many plant species appreciate.
  • If the hill is large enough, you can use it as a basement.

Create a rock garden on a slope

rock garden slope modern

The advantage of a garden on a slope is that you can create an impressive and natural-looking rock garden with little effort. Here we reveal how to do it.

Landscaping and determining the shape of the rock garden.

slope garden with stones and fountain


When planning a rock garden, you need to consider not only the terrain, but also the sun exposure. Plants chosen for rock gardens usually like sunny locations. It is best to think in advance what species will be part of the composition and find a suitable place for them in the slope design.

slope design with SItzecke fountain and steps

The shape of the hill can be changed by adding a drainage layer of gravel and soil. However, the slope should not exceed 30 °. The entire area should be cleared of weeds, dry leaves and branches before laying the stones. If the rock garden is to be laid evenly, you can also level the ground a little to give the hill a suitable shape. When planning garden steps, it is advisable to mark the location of the steps and arrange the ground so that the stones can be laid in the right way. Remember that the stones should be buried 2/3 of their height.

Drainage and earth filling

slope garden with stones and plants


To prevent rainwater and watering water from accumulating under the rock garden, a drainage layer should be created. It should be about 15 to 20 cm. Suitable materials are crushed stone, small stones or gravel. Then the drainage is covered with a layer of soil, so that the stones can be buried at the right depth and the plants can be planted. To prepare the area for the rock garden, you must first water it and wait a few days. Only then can the stones be laid.

The art of laying stones

small rock garden on slope

The key to a successful arrangement is to create a natural composition. The garden on the slope should not be too uniform and symmetrical, but should have the shape of a mountain hill. Rather, the rock garden should be arranged in steps, like the rocks in the mountains. The size of the stones must also be taken into account. Large specimens are placed at the bottom or in the middle, while small ones should occupy the top of the garden hill. The flat, chipped stones look better than the round ones, which look too perfect for a natural composition.

slope design with stones and sun loving plants

On the slope, place the largest stones at the base first. They can be slightly sloped to the slope. To make them stable and give the impression that they are buried, sink them into the ground, cover them with a 15-20 cm layer of soil where the plants will grow, and water them thoroughly. Then insert smaller stones, fill the substrate and water again. Let the stone bed rest for a few weeks (if weeds appear, remove them). Only after this time the plants can be planted. It is best to do this in the spring or late August/early September, depending on when the rock garden was created.

Final grips and planting

rock garden on a slope instruction

Remember that a rock garden is not just about rocks, it is also about plants. Plants should be suitable for the rock garden, meaning they can grow in sunny, dry locations. Selected species are best planted in groups, as they will look more impressive and not be overwhelmed by rocks. When planting, consider not only the needs of the plants, the different flowering periods, but also their height of growth. Those that grow low should not be placed in the shade of the others.

Plants for the rock garden

rock garden design on slope

Rock garden with fertile soil (more demanding plants):

  • anemone (anemone)
  • Rock stonewort
  • Fescue
  • Camomile
  • Common yarrow
  • Gypsophila
  • Clematis
  • Buttercup
  • Spring Adonis rose
  • Troll flowers
  • Tulips
  • Irises

A rock garden with dry, nutrient-poor soil (plants with lower requirements):

  • Houseleeks (Sempervivum)
  • Rockflowers (Draba)
  • Daisies
  • Thyme
  • Hornworts
  • Sedum
  • Oregano
  • Catmint
  • Narrow-leaved lavender
  • Rock weeds, such as rock stonewort (Alyssum saxatile) beach silverweed (Lobularia maritima) and others.
  • Mast weeds, such as star moss (Sagina subulata).

Small trees and shrubs for a garden on a slope with stones:

  • Dwarf cypress
  • Mountain pine (Pinus mugo)
  • Dwarf medlars (Cotoneaster)
  • Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
  • Occidental tree of life (Thuja occidentalis)
  • Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa)
  • Japanese holly (Ilex crenata)
  • Broom (Cytisus scoparius)
  • Rosemary heather (Andromeda polifolia)

Create a heather garden on a hillside

heather garden example with companion plants

Another way to make attractive use of a hill in the garden is to create a colorful heath landscape.

Here’s how you can create a heather garden:

1. the right time to create a heather garden is in September (flowering period from July to October).
2. location: dry, sunny, windless
3. soil: acidic soil with pH 3.5 to 5.0, not too fertile, permeable, humic
4. site preparation: enrich the soil with peat, sand and bark mulch or spread heather substrate (about 15 cm thick) and then dig it up. After planting, you should additionally cover the soil with bark mulch to maintain the acidity of the soil.
5. spacing and method of planting: about 25-30 cm apart, in groups.

heather garden design elements

Proper care for the heather garden:

1. recommended number of varieties of heather in a composition: 3-4.
2. flower color: white, from light pink to red.
3. fertilization and additional treatments: Heather grows well in symbiosis with special species of fungi, which can be introduced with the help of mycorrhizal inoculants. In spring, heather should be cut back by removing the flowers and covered with fleece in winter.
4. Watering: Keep the soil moist but not wet, water frequently but not too much. Heather does not like waterlogging.

Combine heather garden with stones and rhododendrons

What plants can you combine heather with?

heather garden plants list

Heather herbs, about 30 to 40 cm high:
1. yellow-orange and red varieties, e.g. ‘Cuprea’ (copper colored), ‘Boskoop’ (golden yellow), ‘Orange Queen’.
2. pink varieties, e.g. ‘Annemarie’, ‘Wickwar Flame’, ‘J.H. Hamilton’.
3. White and cream varieties, e.g. ‘Long White’, ‘Spring Cream’, ‘Silver Knight’.

heather garden on slope with conifers

Companion plants for heathers:

  1. Snow heather (Erica carnea).
  2. Winter flowering heather (Erica darleyensis)
  3. Gray heather (Erica cinerea)
  4. Cornwall heather (Erica vagans)
  5. Bell heather (Erica tetralix L.)
  6. Korean fir (Abies koreana)
  7. Hydrangeas
  8. Rhododendrons
  9. Carnations (Dianthus)
  10. Bellflowers (Campanula)
  11. Fescue (Festuca)

Frequently asked questions

garden design on sunny slope

Is it worth planting a lawn on a garden hill?
A lawn on a sunny hill can dry out severely or burn locally in hot weather. It should therefore be watered thoroughly every day. Mowing, however, is a major problem. On steep slopes, this is impossible.

How do I fertilize acid-loving plants?
Use acid fertilizers such as compost made from bark and pine needles or heather, ammonium sulfate or preparations intended for specific plant species.

garden on slope idea with fountain

What stone should be used for a rock garden?
Sandstones, basalt stones, limestones and field stones are suitable. It is best to choose a single type of stone to create visual balance. Since acid-loving plants thrive in rock gardens, acidic rocks such as granite, quartz or porphyry are good companions.