Renewing the Sloping Garden

After many hours of work, the landscapers Juan and John had finished digging tons of rocks and stepping stones from the sloping garden in my back yard. As I said at the end of my last blog, I was so tired by this time that I went indoors to take a nap.

Riprap Rock

Riprap Rock

When I woke up and looked out my window, I was stunned. I had expected something that looked like a rock garden – meaning rocks jutting out of the soil between the upper and lower tiers, leaving crevices for small plants and, well – interesting. I thought they’d use something like riprap rock:

Instead, what I had was a plain two-tiered garden with uniform rocks separating the tiers.

The new slope garden

The new slope garden was not what I expected.

Now, this isn’t totally horrible by any means – it just wasn’t what I had in mind. They had used all the uniform rocks that had been buried in the original wasteland and put aside everything that was uneven. (A lot of that turned out to be flagstones, not the best thing for a true rock garden anyway – too flat – and bricks.) And anyway, the sight of all that lovely black dirt was heavenly!

One big problem was the stepping stone stairs. They were not installed correctly, and they were unsteady. For some reason John had decided to use all the stones they’d dug up, using the unattractive ones as bases for the nice-looking aggregate stones I had already had. That only made the stairs more unstable.

Badly laid stepping stones

The stepping stone stairway is DANGEROUS.

The two were back the next day to finish up. Juan worked a long time trying to make the staircase of stones more reliable, but in the end, he was defeated. My guess is that he knew what really should have been done, but John was the boss and had other ideas. (Also, the extra stepping stones at the sides of the top and bottom are ridiculous. They take up too much planting space!)

Meanwhile, Joey dug up a couple of strips along the eastern fence line that had been entirely given over to weeds, and leftover black dirt was spread there. I worked with John on placing some of the plants that had been taken out, while Joey potted the ones I wasn’t sure what to do with. (Joey also dug out a hellish patch of vinca around the composter, saving what he could of the ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga.)

Five small clumps of peonies went into an area I can’t see from the balcony (because I just loathe the color of the flowers), but now I’m thinking that was a mistake, because I came up with a mixture of plants that should be outstanding. (More on that in a future blog.) Juan planted the rest of the peonies in one of the fence line strips. (Anybody want some magenta peonies? Come and dig them up!)

Juan planting peonies

Juan planting peonies along the fence line.

I had Siberian irises with two very different types of leaves. We put all the ones with larger leaves back in, along with the three ‘Crimson Pirate’ daylilies (which had never bloomed in the 3 years when they were stuck in the gravelly garden), and almost all the sedums. Three of the latter are ‘Hab Grey’ and one is ‘Frosty Morn’; I can’t identify the other one. We also put in the lone rescued columbine plant (aquilegia) and the single centaurea montana plant. (This plant has a variety of common names, including mountain cornflower and mountain bluet.)

The slope garden after initial planting

The slope garden after initial planting.

Juan painstakingly put a row of smaller rocks along the upper edge of the bottom tier of rocks. Unfortunately, he ran out of those small rocks before he could line the entire length. I like the effect very much and will buy some more rocks to finish it off.

Small rocks added to border

Juan decorated the lower rock border with small rocks.

John handed me a bill, grossly overcharging me (but I’d agreed to the estimate, so was stuck), and he and Juan were gone.

And there I was with improperly laid, unstable stepping stones, a bottom row of rocks going right into the lawn (meaning grass will grow up into the garden through the spaces between rocks, and a completely uneven edge at the top of the garden.

I can’t entirely blame them. I trusted my friend’s recommendation and did not get any estimates but John’s. At the time it seemed reasonable; only in hindsight could I see that it was not, based on the number of hours they worked.

And after seeing what the “finished” project looked like, I really didn’t want to ask them to do anything else. I didn’t trust them to do it right.

(Today I had another landscaper who does stone work come and take a look at the stepping stones as well as both the unsafe path through the eastern shade garden and the wall around it. I should have the estimates in a couple of days, but I doubt I’ll be able to afford it all this year.)

I’ve planted a few things since then, but here is the way it looked when the landscapers left:

The slope garden after the landscapers left

The slope garden after the landscapers left.


  1. Centaurea montana
  2. Siberian irises (iris sibirica)
  3. Columbine (aquilegia)
  4. Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’
  5. Daylilies ‘Crimson Pirate’
  6. Sedum ‘Hab Grey’
  7. Peonies
  8. Branches of the weeping pea tree (caragana arborescens ‘pendula’) with another ‘Hab Grey’ sedum behind it.

The watering wand is over the third ‘Hab Grey,’ and behind that is an unidentified sedum.

None of these placements is necessarily permanent, because now I’ve got to work on a design. Except for the drudgery of measuring, this is one of the fun parts!

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