Tag Archives: hill garden

22 Jan

Hill Garden 2001-2014 a Transformation!

Before photo 2002



When my husband and I moved into our St. Louis suburban home in 2001 we inherited a south-facing, 18-foot tall, very steep, lawn-covered hill.  I looked at that hill and saw it as a great opportunity.  The grade itself provides privacy from neighbors, and the hill faces the house so I knew that we would get the full visual benefit of turning it into a garden.  My husband looked at it and wasn’t convinced!

Before even beginning my landscape planning, I knew I needed to get a jump-start on screening the surrounding houses, so right away I planted several ‘Keteleeri’ upright juniper on the top eastern corner of the hill.  These large evergreen shrubs would eventually satisfy my need for a 12-foot screen, without overgrowing the space.

hill digging


In order to create the formal look I desired for the rest of the yard, and to define the lower edge of the hill, we had a 4’ tall concrete block retaining wall installed.  By cutting into the hill, the wall also helped to expand the flat, useable area of my yard.  I resisted multiple terraces, because I wanted the area above the wall to be dominated by plants, not hardscape.

wall install


I kept my choice of plants to those with very fine foliage, small flowers, and a mature height of less than 3 feet tall.  This makes the plants appear farther away and the property appear larger.  I also wanted to create the feeling of an alpine meadow, which requires adhering to a specialized color scheme of mostly bluish purple, true pink, and red, with just a dab of clear yellow.  Most importantly, the plants had to be drought and sun tolerant.  To that end, I used a mixture of native and adapted plants.

I implemented the first round of planting over 2 years, starting with small wholesale liner plugs (72 plants to a flat).  Additionally, I fill in every year with new plants to replace what has not done well, or just for the fun of trying something new.

hill plugs

new hill plants


Each year, in the very early spring, my husband and I cut back all the plants on the hill.  We don’t remove any of the dead and dried plant material, we simply shred it and leave it to decompose between the plants and return the nutrients to the soil.   In mid spring, before the plants fill out, we hand weed quite a bit. Mainly we tackle the woody trees sprouting up.  We battle honeysuckle, maples and red bud trying to turn my prairie like hill garden back into a woodland forest!  The more we pull during the early spring, the less we have to do the rest of the year in terms of maintenance. But by the time the plants fill out in late spring, if we have done a good job of weeding to that point, there is little weed competition for the rest of the year.  I fertilize with an organic slow release fertilizer annually, and water about once a week.

plants 1 season


The three main initial grass varieties on the hill were the backbone of the design: Pennisetum orentale ‘Karley Rose’, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ , and to a lesser extent the Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ (which is a beautiful grass, but hasn’t thrived for me).



2005b smaller


The perennials successes are led by the Nepeta (Catmint),  Salvia greggii ‘maraschino’ (which surprisingly has come back for me for years despite it being only rated hardy to zone 7) and Amsonia hubrechtii, which has a fantastic golden fall color.  Pink Missouri primrose, several types of lavender and Plains Coreopsis (a self seeding native annual) also have established well.

Another species that is thriving is Rhus Glabra, the only woody species on the hill.  It is a native suckering shrub that I planted in the opposite corner from the evergreens to visually balance their height.  It has an outstanding fall color and is doing very well (maybe too well as it also wants to take over now…but it is pretty, and native, and for the most part the sumac and I are friends).

early fall 2006 smaller


I’ve also had a few disappointments – the Gaura ‘siskiyou pink’ and the Agastache rupestris I tried, both bloomed beautifully the first year and looked fantastic by my design criteria, but died out after only a year.  I’ve had little luck with Russian sage surprisingly, and also have been disappointed by several types of Penstemon, although last year I planted more Penstemon, so we’ll see if I fare better this summer.

I considered the Hill portion of the hill garden mature when it was 3 years old…about 2007.  The surrounding woody plants, the smooth sumac, the junipers, and many of the trees and shrubs in the rest of the yard have been growing now for over a decade, and although the hill itself still looks a lot like it did in 2007, the perimeter of the yard has gotten much larger and the yard is very private now.


2014 Pictures





Our planning and work has paid off, as you can see in the photos. Instead of a bland, hard-to-mow steep slope of turf grass, we have an ever-changing view of diverse and colorful plants to enjoy throughout the year. We’ve provided a nice sized area for local bird and pollinator insect populations, and a pleasant backdrop to the various activities in and around our suburban home. Most of the winter we have a resident fox who likes to sleep in the hillside sun…and, for a plant lover like me, I’ve created a wonderful place to test and enjoy a variety of grasses and wildflowers in my own backyard paradise.

The hill changes with every season.  Here are a few more of my favorite photos of the hill garden, enjoy!



photo 4


Photo 8


Photo 9

Mary Francois Deweese is a Registered Landscape Architect and Owner of Acorn Landscapes in St. Louis.

10 Jun

2014 Early June Garden Pictures

It has been a while since I posted pictures of the garden, a couple years actually, but I wanted to share with you some of the plants and fruits that I have going this year.

A place in the garden for meditation and relaxation

A place in the garden for meditation and relaxation

I bought this Buddha statue at Target about 10 years ago. It is resin (plastic) but still looks really great after an entire decade in the garden. ‘Catlin’s Giant’ Ajuga groundcover is in the foreground, along with annual begonia. A variety of native woodland irises (iris cristata) is just to the statue’s right with the short sword shaped leaves. In the far back is an evergreen yew. Behind the statue you can see the larger sword shaped leaves of a bearded iris and a chartreuse leaf spiderwort. I think the large boulder the statues sits on is ideal for creating some additional scale and impact, so the statue feels grounded and connected to the earth. Some black Mexican river stones around the statue also lend a nice effect.


A Steuben Grape on the arbor leading from the driveway to the patio.

A Steuben Grape on the arbor leading from the driveway to the patio.

A Steuben Grape on the arbor leading from the driveway to the patio. It is a little too much for this arbor and I haven’t cut it back yet this summer, so it looks a little out of control. The gate has bamboo poles spray painted black zip tied to the gate, extending above it, so the neighborhood deer don’t jump through the gate (the metal portion of the gate is only the bottom half) Looking through the gate you can see my Celeste fig and some other perennials in containers.


Sprinkler tripod made from Bamboo

Sprinkler tripod made from Bamboo

I made this tripod to elevate my impact sprinkler (which is on a timer)  The tripod is made from very heavy bamboo and the sprinkler is screwed very securely to it at the top.  The legs were also pounded into the ground about 6 inches or more.  It is amazing how much force a sprinkler has as it pulsates, but this thing isn’t going anywhere, it is very sturdy, and the added height allows the water to go over the shrubs and evenly water a large area.


Shade garden plants that have some nice color and texture contrasts.

Shade garden plants that have some nice color and texture contrasts.

I took the time to label the plants in this picture because I thought is was a good illustration of using foliage color and texture to create interest in a shade garden.  There are few plants that bloom for a long period in the shade, so relying on foliage is a good strategy for having a beautiful shade garden throughout the summer.  This is a mixture of native, and non native plants.  The coleus and the flowering torenia are annuals, but the rest are perennials that come back each year.


Serviceberry tree / Amelanchier 'Autumn Brilliance' after fruiting (and after harvesting)

Serviceberry tree / Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’ after fruiting (and after harvesting)

This shows our serviceberry tree about a week after the fruit was ripe.  Unfortunately, due to the late freeze this year we had very little fruit set…but usually between the two trees of this size we get up to 9 pounds of berries.  Well hope for better luck next year.


Native Edible Paw Paw tree in such deep shade my camera's flash popped up...ha!

Native Edible Paw Paw tree in such deep shade my camera’s flash popped up…ha!

I planted 3 paw paw but this is the only one that survived the transplanting…one was in too much sun and the other was in a place that was too dry, this spot was just right, very deep shade, and moist soil…


North Star Cherry just beginning to get ripe!

North Star Cherry just beginning to get ripe!

This North Star Cherry is about 3 years old and this is the first year we will get cherries off of it.  Right now they are looking beautiful….just starting to get ripe (if you follow me on facebook you know that I ended up netting this tree to keep the chipmunks from stealing the cherries….and yesterday I harvested about a pound and a half of cherries….)


Mandevilla in hanging wall basket planters.

Mandevilla in hanging wall basket planters.

This year I am trying tropical Mandevilla in the wall baskets….I hope they get enough sun to bloom well…they get about half a day’s sun facing east….I absolutely love having drip irrigation on my planters because things do so very much better when they don’t dry out so much during the day.


'Liberty' apple early June

‘Liberty’ apple early June

My apple trees are about 4 years old now…maybe 5…the fruit isn’t ripe until the fall, but it has set quite a few apples this year.  I wonder if I’ll get any or if the wildlife will take them all again this year?


Kousa dogwood with immature fruit and the last of its flowers.

Kousa dogwood with immature fruit and the last of its flowers.

This is the Kousa dogwood in the shade garden, it isn’t native but it is actually a lot hardier than our native dogwood in situations where there is full sun, shallow soil, and some drought.  Did you know that the fruits on this tree are edible?  They are, but they aren’t the greatest things I’ve ever tasted.   Not bad as an addition to the morning smoothies in moderation though, and I love eating a variety of things from the garden that you can’t find at the grocery store.


Hosta and ferns that overwinter outside in their containers in my zone 6 (last winter it dropped to zone 5) garden

Hosta and ferns that overwinter outside in their containers in my zone 6 (last winter it dropped to zone 5) garden

This hosta and native fern have both been in these containers for about 4 years.  I don’t take them inside or cover them or anything during the winter and they come back great each year, in fact, every year they look bigger and better!


A wider view of the hill garden from the shade garden patio

A wider view of the hill garden from the shade garden patio

I really love my garden!


immature blueberries on a plant that overwintered in a container, zone 6

immature blueberries on a plant that overwintered in a container, zone 6

These blueberries have also overwintered in containers outside for a few years now, and last winter the temps got down below any we had seen for over 15 years, so definitely below zone six and solidly into zone 5 temps.



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