Making a Terrace Garden

Terraces have been used sustainably for centuries.
Why not make a down-scaled version for your garden?

One of the first things to consider in beginning to design a garden is where, exactly, it should be. I have to say that this step usually takes a secondary place in my mind to exciting images of plants and vegetables flourishing in glorious abundance; but unless you make a plan first, this flourishing could easily just as well become glorious chaos. Energy efficiency is a good one to remember here: how can you make the most effective garden space with the least amount of effort?

If the space you have available to you is not flat, this question may seem a tricky one. I have found that gently sloping gardens are ideal for swale-making and water-management (more on this in another article) but what if your space is more vertiginous than this? If the only potential space you have is a steep slope, will this cause a problem for your garden?

For answers, we can turn to one of many of the great ancient civilisations of our world. Terraced gardens have been implemented for many centuries by various cultures; from the impressively shimmering flooded rice paddies of South East Asia to the flowing steps of the mountains of North Africa and Spain, making the once uninhabitable slopes verdant and abundant in their elegant levelling.

These terraces have made it possible for entire civilisations to live in places where previously people found it difficult to settle. In more recent times, in the Austrian Alps, Sepp Holzer has used terracing with great success to create aquacultures and microclimates (see Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, 2011) on his 45 hectare farm.

But terracing is by no means limited to such grand scales. You may not have 45 hectares or a civilisation to feed; but terracing is still a very viable option on any scale.

With these eight steps as a guideline, you can turn the problem of your steep garden or other space into (of course) a solution.

The steps below are the methods I used to make a roughly 2 metre x 1 metre squared terraced garden in a mountainside. The materials listed should be widely available in any wild or semi-wild space. However, if your terraced garden is closer to ‘civilisation’ – i.e. in a town or city – you may wish to consider using alternatives. For example, in place of flat rocks you can use recycled tiles or bricks. In many British and European towns these are commonplace in skips or rubbish dumps, so just look around!

Whatever you decide to use, make sure you experiment with what feels most comfortable to you. And, most importantly, enjoy.

Materials I used:

  • Four or five large sticks, at least 5cm in diameter and 2m long
  • Many small sticks (at least 50), around 1m long
  • Flat rocks of varying sizes
  • String
  • Various mulching materials:
    - Ash
    - Dry leaves
    - Fresh plant matter
    - Manure
    - Straw
    - Compost (small amount)

Tools I used:

  • Post hole digger – a heavy, 2m long sharp metal spike designed for the purpose
  • Pick axe
  • Shovel
  • Container for moving around organic material and earth


Anness The Complete Practical Guide to Patio, Terrace, Backyard & Courtyard Gardening: How to plan, design and plant up garden courtyards, walled spaces, patios, terraces and enclosed backyards
Book (Anness)

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