Sunken patios, stacked beds, berms and other features add interest to outdoor spaces.
Instead of building up, consider digging down to add level changes to a flat lot. This backyard in Vancouver, British Columbia, features a sunken seating area around a fire pit. Dropping the height of the patio visually makes the yard appear larger, and the level change allows for casual wraparound seating around the fire pit in the evening.
Tip: Sunken seating areas require a solution for drainage. It’s best to work with an experienced landscape professional for design and installation.
This courtyard garden in Oklahoma City uses a series of raised beds at staggered heights to create level changes. The raised design adds drama and creativity to a classic planting of spring bulbs, box hedges and mixed edible greens.
Building berms (raised mounds of soil or mixtures of sand and gravel topped with soil) can be an effective way to add subtle level changes to a flat planting bed. For this San Diego planting, landscape designer Linda Bresler created low berms, varying from 1 foot to 1½ feet high, before planting to add modest height changes to the bed.
In addition to adding interest to flat gardens, Bresler says that she uses berms to create an ideal growing environment for dry-garden plants. “Succulents do not want wet feet, as they can rot,” Bresler says. Planting them on a slight mound of soil allows for proper drainage. “Plus, smaller succulents are better showcased on a slight slope, where you can admire their beauty more thoroughly,” the designer says.
Note: Adding berms or otherwise changing the topography of your landscape can affect drainage on your property. Hiring an experienced landscape professional to map out berms and redirect drainage into a swale, if needed, can prevent unwanted drainage issues down the line.