The terraces are a practical solution to a recurring problem here: how to get the garden down the hill. We live 200m above sea level (that’s a shade over 600 ft – or the height of a respectable cliff) in the Blackdown Hills, a gentle landscape of undulating fields, lanes and hedgerows and long views across hills blueing into the distance.
Everywhere is either up, or down. There are two flat patches in my garden: the vegetable garden, and the bit directly around the house. Linking the two is yet another slope. Or at least, it would be if someone way back in the annals of the house’s long list of owners hadn’t built walls and terraced the whole slope into three broad plateaux.
I fret, sometimes, about what to do with my slopes. In places, they’re precipitous: the house sits in a bowl, as it used to be a quarry. Maps dating back well into the early 1800s show our quarry once stretched around the side, where there’s still a bit of rough ground in the cow field behind, and up the hill into what’s now a smooth sheep pasture with not a hint of earthworks to be seen. In our garden, though, the scars of mining gravel and limestone, as well as the chertstone rock (a kind of fractured flint) from which our house was built, mark deep into the earth.
The hedgerows in the back garden grow on top of these near-vertical slopes, and I have been known to trim them while hanging, monkey-like, by one hand from the lower branches and wielding a petrol hedgetrimmer with the other. Don’t try this at home, folks.
I could take my cue from the terraces and turn them into a series of narrow (but flat) ribbons, stepping down the sides of my garden like paddyfields. But I baulk at the major work involved: I could bank up sleepers, perhaps, but I don’t much like the idea of forbidding walls of wood.
Stone walls would be more in keeping – and god knows there’s plenty of stone to build them with – but even so, it’s a huge job and I’m not convinced the end result wouldn’t look a bit… well… over-engineered.
Just now I’m thinking the softly softly, sympathetic approach is needed, and all that’s required is to cut paths winding through and up the cliffs, and maybe landsculpt more manageable, plantable slopes in between. We’ll see.
Here’s how the same space looked when we moved here in 2010…