Our Garden: Then and Now The Challenges of Landscaping on a Slope

One of our biggest challenges with the house was the landscaping. When we bought the property we underestimated the slope of the hill. It seemed like a gently sloping pasture when we were walking the property prior to buying it. We were so focused on the construction of the house we did not realize what a challenge it would be to deal with the steep (as it turned out) slope. In particular, how to get from the driveway above down to the house.

We knew we needed professional landscape design help, but it turned out to be one of the most difficult things to find. It seems that landscape design is not really a thing in Italy, except at the very high end (e.g., the villas around Lake Como). We did eventually find someone: a British woman who had retired to Italy and did a limited number of projects. We were warned that she tended to be a bit of a primadonna and quite difficult to work with, but we didn’t feel we had any choice, so we hired her.

As it turned out, she was just as described, and it took us a long time to get an actual plan. The structure and hardscape parts at the front of the house made sense and we executed most of that. That included a retaining wall up at the driveway, with a couple of terraces on the slope. There was a formal stairway leading to the front door and another, more rustic stairway leading to the kitchen door.

Retaining wall and stairs built (June 2018):

Beyond that, however, things got a little tricky. Many of the plant selections were not native to the area and/or not readily sourced. She also recommended extending our pergola across the entire back of the house, which would have obstructed both the light and the view. The plan had some other convoluted elements on the backside so we ditched those as well. In the end, we decided to let our gardens guys, Pippo and Marco, come up with solutions, based on inspiration photos I provided. That worked out quite well and was a lot less expensive than the plan that the fancy landscape architect had recommended.

By the time our yard was ready to be planted, it was already too hot, so we had to delay planting until the fall. I returned solo to work with Pippo and Marco on plant choices and placement in October.

Ready to plant (October 2018):

Newly planted:

How the slope looks today:


As it turns out, some of the plants have fared better than others. Some have thrived. Others have either died or struggled, especially in this summer’s extreme heat, leaving some bare spots. So at this point the plantings on the slope look a bit haphazard and will need some adjustment. When the weather gets cooler we’ll replace some of the casualties with plants that do well in this location. At any rate, it’s nice not to have to look at a mountain of bare earth. I don’t mind the wild and carefree appearance of the slope.

I do love the casual look of the back stairs with the lavender, roses, verbena and other flowering plants along the border. The hungry bees seem to be very pleased with the tasty smorgasbord.


I’m looking forward to the continued evolution of the garden.

Note: For anyone wanting to know which plants did well on this hot, dry slope with poor soil, here are some of them:

Russian sage
Santolina pinnata and chamaecyprissus
Potentilla frustosa
Rosa rugosa
Guara lindheimeni
Butterfly bush
Narrowleaf firethorn
Artemisia Powis Castle
Golden euryops (Golden shrub daisy)
Threadleaf fleabane

2 thoughts on “Our Garden: Then and Now The Challenges of Landscaping on a Slope

  • October 22, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    Where did you get the big flat rocks. We are doing our own as cant find landscapers in perugia.

  • October 24, 2021 at 3:57 am

    Hi Tracy- I am not sure about the rocks…our gardeners brought them…I will ask.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *