Landscaping a hill need not be an expensive job requiring retaining walls, bulldozers and a crew of landscapers to perform. While a very steep hill presents certain challenges, a gradual slope or rounded hill can actually be a boon to the creative landscaper. Completely flat land is boring, but a hill puts vertical dimension into your landscape and creates a dramatic backdrop for plantings and garden features.
Visually Level a Hill
If you want to minimize your hill, but do not want to remove it physically, try this simple "fool the eye" trick to lower it visually. Instead of the usual method of planting shorter plants in front and taller in back, reverse the process. Put small trees or shrubs at the base of the hill. Place tall grasses or foundation plantings higher up the slope immediately behind those. Continue planting shorter plants as you work upward to the top of the hill, covering the summit with grass or low ground cover to diminish outlines that add height to the hill.
If you have a hill and want a water feature, consider yourself lucky indeed. Natural hills are the best place to site a cascading waterfall with small pools or a meandering stream. Form your falls, stream and pools with the aid of pond liners or concrete, adding large rocks and plantings where appropriate. Consult the library for books about artificial water features for specific construction methods, or check out the Clear Water Landscapes website photo essay on pond and waterfall construction.
If your house sits at the base of a hill, squeezing your lawn and garden between house and hill, consider creating a terrace to break up the space. Pave the area near the house with flagstone, leaving a strip of lawn beyond it on the side near the hill to avoid an abrupt stop that further emphasizes the closed-in effect. Build a curved path paralleling the hill's base, working gradually up and around the hill. If you own the whole hill, continue spiraling around it to the summit. If not, use switchbacks in the path to wind to the top. Plant shrubs on the uphill side of the path and lower plants down the slope so the path is visible and inviting from below. Create wider places along the path for a bench here and there, and use an occasional larger shrub or small tree to hide the path and add a touch of intrigue concerning its destination.
If your house sits atop your hill, you have a view of everything below it. That can be a good thing in some ways, but rather spoils attempts at creating little garden nooks or intimate corners. Adding short staircases to small paved terraces (backed by retaining walls on very steep slopes) will break up the view a bit and give a closer, cozier feel to the perspective. Plant a large shade tree or build a vine arbor at the back of terraced areas to cover the ground just beneath, block the view from above and create private sitting areas.