Take Back the (damn) Hill

The “problem area” of our yard is the hill. Or “that damn hill.”

It is a nightmare to weedeat (*full disclosure: until now this horrible task has fallen on my Ladyfriend and I only just started working on it this year).  If we turned our backs for just a season it would be taken over by wild blackberries.   Those of you not in the Pacific Northwest might not see this as a problem, but oh let me tell you, it most certainly is.   If I let them have their way, my entire lot, house and all, would be consumed.  The Ladyfriend and I are pretty certain blackberries (and there immortal root systems) are the only reason that the PNW doesn’t just fall into the ocean.  The underground mass is just holding it all together.

The hill is ugly and non-productive.  No food, no beauty and no habitat.

In the past 3 years we have focused on the livable part of the yard but something has to be done about the hill.  There are logistics. Primarily money. We just don’t have any excess cash to spend on this project at this point.  If we had hoards of cash it would be a no-brainer.  Call someone in to stabilize & terrace.  Done.

Erosion is a definite issue.  Wet soggy winters and potentially very dry summers.  Kids climbing up hill and sliding down. Trash callously tossed (usually in form of a beer can, booze flask or cheetos bags).  Some powerlines. A path at top of hill that is falling apart.

From the bottom of the driveway. This slope faces south. The worst. Steep. Weedy. The ugly boxwoods along the fence were removed.

Weird corner where there were steps at some point I think.

From weird corner down west side slope. Weeds. And horrifically pruned (not by me!) trees. Plant Amnesty would freak out.


The best information for my area was found on the King County website where I found a great plan for “steep slope with dry sunny conditions.”  Bingo!   Without terracing the slope is pretty impossible for food production.  What we can do, however, is increase our wildlife habitat and attract more birds, butterflies and bees. Bees are good for pollinating!  Birds are awesome!

I have done a bit to get the Take Back started along the south-facing slope.  I moved 3 fruit trees (a 4-way asian pear, a 4-way cherry and a 4-way apple) to the hillside near the top where we will be able to access them.  I have also planted some broken fruit branches that I am hoping will root.  I have no idea if it will work or not, but they are budding and starting to get small blooms, so I am hopeful!  I planted a salmonberry  and transplanted some mint to areas I could easily access.  I figured I didn’t care if the mint took over…in fact, I hope it does.  My summer cocktails are depending on it.

Another area I weeded and planted 2 small shore pine seedlings that I got on sale. In this area I also transplanted some native beach strawberries.  These lil’ buggers are aggressive spreaders so I just keep digging them out of the main garden and transplanting them to the hill.  Kinnikinnik was planted in various spots.  I transplanted some red osier dogwoods plants and cuttings.   I got some native roses, also on sale, and planted 3 of them.  They’ll provide habitat, food for wildlife and hopefully (once mature) the thorns will discourage kids from climbing up & down slope.

Aspens. I love aspen trees.  We have 4 in the yard in various stages of growth and they are lovely.  They send up suckers, which I dutifully place in pots and transplant to the hill.  They are thriving!

Here are some pictures of what we’ve done so far.

It is hard to see the plants in the pictures. I swear they are there!

I suppose I could have fixed up the coffee bags for the picture...

from the other way


My goals for the hill are to:

  • Add to the natural habitat. Our yard is already a Certified Wildlife Habitat .  Planting a variety of plants to the slope will give shelter and food for birds, butterflies and bees.
  • Prevent further erosion.   A way to help is to plant plants that have a variety of root systems.  You don’t want a mono-culture (here or anywhere).  What you are after is a nice mix of shallow, mid-depth and deep root systems.
  • Beauty & interest.  We have a view of Mt.Rainer to the south and the Olympics to the west.  The Mount Rainier view would be more beautiful if we were to ‘frame’ the view more.  Because our house is a bit higher than street level the current focus is on the houses, roofs and power lines in the neighborhood.  Not so nice.  Adding viewable interest that frames the mountain would enhance our living space within the yard by placing the focus on the mountain.   Our house is also situated on a busy street and the large corner would certainly ‘pretty up’ an otherwise not-so-pretty strip.  The view of the Olympics is more of a peeking view midsummer when the trees with full leaves.  The existing old Madrone, while messy, is gorgeous and the birds love it.  We have 2 trees (a hawthorne and a flowering something-or-other that doesn’t fruit) next to it, however, that are disastrous.  From the inside the yard you can’t tell that they were topped a really long time ago and they offer a nice bird habitat and privacy, but from the streetside they look sad. Wounded.  They need help.
  • Decrease maintenence needed. Planting largely native plants will be a great way to expand the habitat in a way that will need little care once established.

Your turn!

If you have any ideas definitely chime in!  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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5 Responses to Take Back the (damn) Hill

  1. Tengrain says:

    Well… I’d be careful about the trees on the south side. They will grow tall and could shade your best sun, which in Seattle could be your only sun. I don’t know your site, so it really is hard to say.

    Here in California — when I lived in the Oakland hills — we grew Mimulus (Monkey Flower) and it provided all the erosion control and habitat that we needed. Our hill previously was covered in ivy and rats. The monkey flower was amazing; butterflys and hummers for days.



    • I’ll have to check out the monkey flower– I’ve not heard of it so it is unlikely that it grows well here. But worth a look!
      I tried to plant my dwarf/semi-dwarf fruit trees near the top where I need to get good sun. The others are in areas where some summer afternoon shade would be nice.
      Who knows? We’ll see! Love the input…thanks!
      Oh, and rats….my nightmare!

      • Brook M. says:

        Mimulus guttatus is native on the coast all the way up to Alaska and down to S. America. I’m not sure how far inland you live, but Mimulus is so adaptable that it would probably do great.

        – Botanist in Vancouver

      • Hi- I didnt’ know what Mimulus guttatus was, but after looking it up it seems it is the ‘monkey flower’ that Tengrain mentioned. I’ll have to look for it!

  2. Pingback: November Mid-Month Meanderings II | Grow & Resist

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