Front Sloped Garden Goyt House Marple Bridge Cheshire.

I have designed a number of sloped gardens over the years in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are always potentially more challenging and complex than a flat space garden. Not least, because the scope for making the most of the space is completely different, coming front loaded as it does with substantial budgetary impacts for each choice made. Slopes are usually terraced, with planting beds to each level, but that takes up a lot of usable space and creates a dynamic in the design that is not immediately contemporary. My brief was to create a contemporary design that would work in harmony with the contemporary style of the house. In setting out to design the gardens I wanted to create a connected sense of journey from the top platform to the end of the sloped garden areas. Planting the entire slope would have disconnected the area from the rest of the house. I originally had in mind to use metal grid stairs with under-planting of ferns, however this worked out to be too costly. As I had already designed the side and top raised beds in Gabion baskets it was decided that the best approach in creating a contemporary transition was to use Gabions for the steps too. As timber was used for the stairs and upper platforms tonally this works well, whilst keeping a modern and contemporary aesthetic. Using Johnsons Wellfield traditional York Stone facing in the basket also helps connect and tie the hard landscaping colour tones. This is in keeping with the house but without being too hard edged.

However, it was always intended that the real star features of this garden would be the planting and my aim was to create waves and drifts across the entire space. In conversation with the client we added Tree Ferns to frame the stairs down to the lower levels and planted a Yew hedge as a defined boundary of the controlled garden pace, sitting as it does in a small area of forest. Although the planting is dense and impactful it creates a unique look within its setting without jarring with the more traditional woodland feel surrounding it.

Viewing the before pictures and the mid build pictures you can really being to appreciate the transformation that this style of planting brings to the project. This is, after all, a project that is all about the plants.

My aim as a designer has always been to try to avoid mediocrity. By that I mean I am always looking for ways to challenge myself and push my own boundaries. Usually that will manifest itself through my thought processes when putting together a planting palette.

Plants and planting design considerations

The planting design for this scheme is one I would most likely only consider, either for a client who is a passionate gardener, or one who has a good local garden maintenance team available as this style of planting will require regular maintenance and intervention to achieve both the long term vision, whilst also keeping it in good order. In this particular instance Warren Dickson falls into the very passionate gardener category. My initial scheme focused on rolling waves of planting using softer paler colours to the perimeter sides of the scheme with  Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’ and Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’ These  also add deep fiery reds  In the winter months. This is further enhanced, picked out and highlighted when viewed through the golden reddish straw Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’  Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Red Head’ and  Pennisetum alopecuroides f. viridescens. Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Red Head’ also provide a wonderful textural wave planted in between Buxus microphylla ‘Faulkner’ with ‘Faulkner’ chosen due to its greater blight resistance than the standard Buxus sempervirens. Over time the box will be allowed to co-join to form rolling mounded waves in between the grasses. The tree ferns were added to the scheme as the result of a conversation between myself and Warren as a means of creating a greater sense of journey down through the gabion steps to the lower levels of the garden, masking off areas when viewed from the top and sides of the plot. It also has the effect of bring the planting closer to the eye when viewed from the top decked areas of the garden.


Steep slopes by the nature of the terrain present a pretty major challenge but this particular project had the added challenge of location. Whilst the location, set among the rolling hills of Marple is pretty unique and stunning, being located down a narrow potholed gravel track meant access was restricted. Deliveries had to be made in small loads rather than bulk loads. Plants had to be delivered to a haulage yard and then transferred in a number of runs using Luton vans. Soil conditions on the slope as found were not great as it was full of years of dumped builder’s rubble that had been used to form the existing bank. Much of this had to be removed by hand. Client Warren and his son Jacob spent a couple of days hauling out bag after bag of rubble and bricks in an effort to improve conditions prior to the addition of soil and compost.  Compost enrichment also had to be supplied in bags with 110 bags of compost 50 bags of farmyard manure added along with a quantity of 20 kilo bags of blood fish and bone meal. On completion of planting a further 100 bags of bark chip was added as a top dressing acting as a weed suppressant until plants establish fully. We all remember the ongoing heat of 2018, but come planting time conditions had changed considerably with day after day of heavy rains which in turn made conditions very tricky for planting on a slippery slope. Planting also had to be carried out in phases in coordination with landscapers, as once the digger had finished in a particular area it was not possible for it to re-enter. On one particular day I counted close to 20 men working on site. Planting was finally completed in November 2018. It is only now looking back that I see just how monumental the task of creating this garden was.

David Keegan Garden Design 2019 ©

This article first appeared in Pr landscaper magazine UK November 2019