Slip­pery slopes

The Southern Gazette - - NEWS - JOHN NOR­MAN If you have any ques­tions about so­lu­tions for slopes on your prop­erty sim­ply email me at ‘ john­nor­[email protected]’. John Nor­man gar­dens in Bon­av­ista.

Those of my read­ers who live in, or were vis­it­ing the Bon­av­ista area re­cently, may have wit­nessed an in­ter­est­ing sight along the har­bour … me scal­ing a steep hill­side, whip­per snip­ping the grass along Bon­av­ista’s new mil­lion dol­lar board­walk and har­bour prom­e­nade.

The board­walk is beau­ti­ful, but un­for­tu­nately the slope next to it, with re­gard to ease of main­te­nance, is not!

Sod planted on a 50-70 de­gree an­gle is a lit­tle prob­lem­atic! You could just leave grass in th­ese in­stances and let it nat­u­ral­ize, but that is not why the grass was planted.

It was put on the site to look tidy and pretty. So, I had to cut it.

It took a few days, a few hours each day, and it was done. The site was crisp once more.

Care­fully trim­ming grass along a bank, which slopes di­rectly into a wa­ter body, is not likely a great or even safe job for stu­dent work­ers, at least not with­out be­ing har­nessed to the board­walk rails. So I did it my­self, one of those vol­un­teer tasks you can of­ten see peo­ple take on around your own town.

The mes­sage this week is the is­sue with slopes, hills of any kind re­ally. Gar­den­ing or land­scap­ing on them is a peren­nial is­sue for many in New­found­land, since we have just a few dips and val­leys over our land­scape.

So what can we do with them is the ques­tion? What are the op­tions for slopes?

The first so­lu­tion to most prob­lems is likely to try not to cre­ate a prob­lem in the first place. If you have a slope, you first at­tempt to lessen its an­gle or steep­ness be­fore com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters by sim­ply go­ing ahead and grass­ing it.

If the hill is not pure bedrock, have heavy equip­ment try to add ex­tra ma­te­rial un­til you get to the point where you can eas­ily walk the hill. Keep in mind if a slope is too dif­fi­cult to walk down, then how will you ever mow it?

Grass­ing a hill is al­ways an op­tion, but if you want the grass trimmed reg­u­larly then the slope can­not be too steep or you’ll never man­age to cut the grass. Th­ese steep hills most would au­to­mat­i­cally sod over are now see­ing new and creative ideas, pos­si­ble so­lu­tions for those who mow but are not moun­tain climbers!

So if a prop­erty owner in­tends to keep a steep slope but hop­ing not to have to sod, there are other op­tions. One could al­ways go with the tried and true rock gar­den ap­proach, es­pe­cially if there are larger rocks jut­ting out of the hill­side nat­u­rally.

But, most read­ers al­ready know my feel­ings on rock gar­dens. Th­ese alpine mi­croen­vi­ron­ments can get re­ally weedy re­ally fast!

So do you want to be walk­ing your steep slope weed­ing ev­ery week? If you do not have land­scape sup­port staff on site, I would not ad­vise a large rock gar­den across any prop­erty.

A slightly dif­fer­ent take on the rock gar­den is an alpine shrub bed built into such a slope. Here, it is al­most like putting in a tra­di­tional

John’s Gar­den

rock gar­den but in­stead you only plant lower grow­ing shrubs very close to­gether so not to leave space for weeds to in­vade.

I have seen many home­own­ers im­ple­ment this style in St. John’s through the plant­ing of large beds of Creep­ing Ju­niper, Mugo Pine, English Ivy, etc. This op­tion, how­ever, will cost quite a bit more then sod or even rock gar­den peren­ni­als.

An­other pop­u­lar op­tion for slopes is mulching them, cov­er­ing the hill­side with bark chips in shades of red, brown or black. This op­tion can be costly, but more im­por­tantly it can be labour in­ten­sive and also not an op­tion for very steep slopes as mulch will run off in heavy rains.

In the case of mulching, all veg­e­ta­tion has to be re­moved be­fore mulch is laid down. So if you al­ready have a grassy hill you want mulched, you will have to chop out all sod along the slope.

If mulch is laid over veg­e­ta­tion most grasses and weeds will sim­ply push right up through. Once you have your mulch spread over your slope the main­te­nance be­gins.

The wood chipped hill­side will have to be weeded on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, since many weed seeds can take root in wood ma­te­ri­als.

The fi­nal op­tion is re­ally a re­it­er­a­tion of the first op­tion with a twist. Re­move the slope al­to­gether, but this time through the in­stal­la­tion of stonewalls or ter­races.

Here ex­ca­va­tion will once more be re­quired and lots of funds to cover the cost of stone blocks. In the end you will have a gi­ant stair­like struc­ture with smaller flat sur­faces, which you could more eas­ily mow or gar­den on top of.

So if you have a tricky slope on your prop­erty you re­ally have to think about all your op­tions, and re­al­ize a slope is a com­mit­ment to hard labour, ath­letic abil­ity and of­ten high mone­tary costs for in­stal­la­tion and long term main­te­nance.

Oh how some of us would just love to live on the flat open plains of the Prairie prov­inces!

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