Asheville Landscape Designers Are Masters At Creating Beautiful Sloping Gardens In Western NC

Posted on | May 1, 2015 | No Comments

Few things could be better than enjoying your own piece of outdoor paradise in a pristine North Carolina mountain setting. The most beautiful mountainside gardens look effortless – almost as though they sprang up naturally. In reality, they are the result of skill, careful planning, know-how, and determination. No one knows this better than the Asheville landscape designers at Gardens For Living, who have been serving the Western NC area for three decades. North Carolina Design sat down with owner John Phillips, his son Shane, and designer Marobeth Ruegg to find out more about the company, and to learn what goes into creating the perfect mountain landscape.

Images Courtesy of Gardens For Living ©

In the Phillips family, the love of all things green runs three generations deep. “My father started a garden center and greenhouse operation back in the 60′s,” recounts John. “When I came back from college, I started a nursery, which transitioned into landscaping.” Three years ago, Shane decided to join the family business. “I really enjoy working with living things, and seeing a project take shape from the ground up,” he says.

Creating a garden on a mountainside presents an array of unique trials, the most obvious of which is the steep gradation. “Topography is a big challenge,” Shane concedes. “Slopes entail serious space limitations. You almost have to create space out of thin air. Then you have to worry about erosion, runoff, and drainage issues.”

John notes that, while challenging, working on a slope does have its advantages. “It gives us an opportunity to do something really interesting with the landscape,” he explains. “We can create interest from retaining walls using natural stone boulders, concrete with stone veneers, or even segmented block walls. We tie in colors with the walls and with the surrounding plants for a look that flows together. We can even use the slope to create water features and rain gardens.”

Of course, the right plants are crucial to the success of a garden’s design. “Anything we add should look appropriate with what’s naturally there,” says Marobeth. “You don’t want to lose that natural mountain look and feel. We use a lot of native plants, including shrubs, trees and groundcovers. We love using dwarf conifers, which we feel give our designs a distinctive look. They complement the landscape, and they combine well with stone, which is a huge component out here in the mountains.”

Conifers also stand up to mountain winters, which are a bit more severe than elsewhere in North Carolina. But, as Marobeth notes, evergreens aren’t the only option for an impressive winter landscape. “Oak leaf hydrangeas look beautiful in winter,” she says. “Native hollies produce berries, which add a bright pop of color. Deciduous bark adds winter interest. And some perennials and ornamental grasses take on a subtle beauty after they’ve died — almost like a dried arrangement.”

Proper plant location is crucial for mountainside gardens. “North-facing slopes never get full sun, even in the summer,” Shane notes. “They should only be planted with shade-loving plants like leucothoe, ferns, and rhododendron.” Then there is the issue of the view to keep in mind. “In the mountains, almost everybody wants their garden to revolve around the view,” Marobeth maintains. “So removing the right trees and placing trees in the right spots becomes critical.”

As in so many other things in life, great challenges bring great rewards. “When all is said and done, you have created this beautiful, livable space that draws people outdoors, and allows them to get back to elementary things like sunshine, soil and plants,” says John. “You’ve enriched their day-to-day lives. And that makes it all worthwhile.”

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