If you neighbors are a little too friendly, consider adding bushes, trees, or climbing vines to create some privacy. Bamboo is a fast growing plant that makes a great privacy screen, though some varieties of bamboo can be invasive. Evergreen trees are a popular option, because they can grow several feet a year and can be planted close to each other without any problems. If you are looking to fill in the gaps of an existing fence, look into climbing vines. Some vining plants that grow fast are ivy, clematis or hops.
If your yard is skinny, consider adding height! Create visual interest and interesting views by creating multiple levels to your yard. Add a multi-level deck to create defined spaces, such as an outdoor kitchen or reading area. No matter where you are in your yard you’ll have a varied and diverse view.
Multilevel landscape design includes a combination of retaining walls of varying heights, flat terraces, moderately sloped areas, and landscape features that are created together with walking paths and stairways. For a grand, formal look, route the stairs straight up the middle of a series of retaining walls. Alternatively, break up the landscape by using the stairs to go from one terrace to the next in different areas, using pathways along the terraces to connect them.
Wherever access by foot is not needed, it's fine to leave the slope steeper (no more than 45 degrees) and use those areas just for planting. You can make planting shelves, like mini-terraces, to create a focal point, as well as flat ground to plant on, for individual trees on areas of steep slopes. On the flatter areas, build small beds and fill them with rich topsoil for flowers or vegetables and herbs, if desired. The best approach is to use a single material for all walls, stairs and beds and weave them together into a single design.
The following landscape techniques can be integrated with terraces and retaining walls or used independently. Because they are all freestanding structures, they can also be used to create multi-level interest in flat yards.
Building a large terrace allows you to build a patio for outdoor gathering, but you can often get more space with a deck. Because they are made of wood and elevated off the ground, decks also have a very different feel than a terrace and can be used to make a multi-level design even more dynamic.
Decks and trellises often go hand in hand. The exposed underside of a deck on the downhill slope can be concealed with lattice work planted with vines. Trellises are also useful around the sides of a deck as a visual screen. In any way you choose to integrate them, trellises are yet another way to add vertical levels to the design.
Living walls can be integrated with retaining walls, attached to the exterior of the home or erected as free-standing structures. They are specially designed structures that provide a growing medium for plants (often succulents) and have a built-in irrigation system. Unlike other vertical structures, they appear as a living wall of vegetation rather than a hard surface.
A boardwalk is an elevated wooden pathway that is built in the same way as a deck. They are easily integrated with wooden stairs and deck areas and are a viable alternative to ground level terrace and stair systems for getting around on a steep slope.
Retaining walls reduce the angle of a slope so it is easier to plant, walk on or use as an accesible landscape. Retaining Walls are typically made by 'cutting and filling'; a practise of excavating a portion of the slope and then using the cut soil to backfill behind the retaining wall creating a relatively flat area. A single retaining wall may be enough to support a short stretch of slope, while a series of parallel retaining walls is often used to support larger slopes.
The taller the retaining walls are and the closer they are together, the flatter the slope is above them. Terraces are created when a retaining wall is tall enough to create a level surface above it. Terraces are necessary for pathways, lawns, patios, vegetable gardens and other areas where people need to move around comfortably. But if the goal is only to plant the landscape with ornamentals, the retaining walls can be shorter -- most groundcovers will thrive on slopes as steep 45 degrees, but getting the slope down to about 20 degrees opens up more possibilities for landscaping.
Retaining walls are built with natural stone, concrete blocks, railroad ties and a variety of other materials. Seattle Rockeries uses material that match the look of your house and fit with the overall style of your landscape. Sticking with the same material for all the walls and stairs is a wise choice because it gives cohesiveness to the overall design.
Retaining walls over three feet tall generally require a building permit and should be built by a professional contractor. Retaining walls of any size need to be built on compacted subsoil to prevent them from settling over time and need a perforated drain pipe and a layer of drainage gravel behind them so water can flow away rather than build up behind the wall. Walls may be constructed with a perfectly vertical profile or angled slightly into the hill which reduces the complexity of building them.