Creating Usable Yard Space with Terraced Walls on a Steep Hillside

house on a steep hillside in Hiawassee Georgia
Wouldn’t everyone love to have this 180-degree panoramic view from their house? While the view is perfect, the yard space for our client was basically unusable, as they live on the top of a mountain in Hiawassee, Georgia.

Living on a steep hillside can present unique challenges when it comes to designing and utilizing outdoor spaces. However, with thoughtful planning and creative solutions, even the steepest of slopes can be transformed into a functional and beautiful yard. One effective way to make the most of a steep hillside is by incorporating terraced walls into the design. Terraced walls not only help to manage the slope but also create distinct levels that can be used for various purposes such as gardening, seating areas, or outdoor entertainment spaces.

3 terraced walls on steep hillside
Three initial walls were constructed into terraces to make their yard more usable. The top layer has mulch, and will be used to grow plants and herbs for their kitchen. The bottom two layers are topped with grass seed.

Here are some key steps to consider when creating usable yard space with terraced walls on a steep hillside:

  1. Assess the Site: Begin by assessing the site to understand the slope and any existing features that may impact the design, such as trees or rocks. Determine the best location for the terraced walls based on factors such as sunlight, drainage, and views. In this project, we also had to consider the location of the septic field lines and the property line.
  2. Design the Terraced Walls: Work with a landscape designer or architect to design the terraced walls. Consider factors such as the height and spacing of the walls, the materials to be used, and any additional features such as steps or pathways.
  3. Choose Appropriate Materials: Select materials for the terraced walls that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Common options include concrete blocks, natural stone, or timber. Consider the durability and maintenance requirements of each material.
  4. Consider Drainage: Proper drainage is essential when building terraced walls on a steep slope. Include drainage channels or pipes behind the walls to prevent water buildup and erosion (see image below).
  5. Create Access: Ensure there is safe and easy access between the terraced levels. This may involve incorporating steps, pathways, or ramps into the design (read below).
  6. Add Greenery: Incorporate plants and landscaping into the terraced walls to soften the look and add natural beauty. Choose plants that are suitable for the site’s sun exposure and soil conditions (see image above).
  7. Include Functional Spaces: Design each terraced level to serve a specific purpose, such as a garden bed, seating area, or outdoor kitchen. This will maximize the usability of the space.
  8. Consider Lighting: Install lighting to enhance the usability and ambiance of the terraced yard, especially for evening entertaining or safety.
  9. Maintenance: Plan for ongoing maintenance of the terraced walls and landscaping to ensure they remain in good condition over time.
terraced walls in yard, including proper drainage
Note the proper drainage built into the terraced walls at our client’s property. This larger wall on the right was constructed last to make more room for the grandchildren to play near the house.
View from the side of our client’s house highlighting the 3 terraced walls, creating 3 flat, usable spaces.

Now we are discussing, with our client, steps being built into the hillside to each of the terraces. This is an important piece, as stated in Number 5 above. More to come on that project!

By following these steps, you can create a usable and attractive yard space with terraced walls that make the most of a steep hillside. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can transform a challenging slope into a beautiful and functional outdoor oasis.

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