Are you looking to design a terraced vegetable garden to make use of a previously unusable space? This post covers 7 steps to planning and designing a terraced garden for your space!
In my years as a designer, I’ve found there’s always a solution to a problem and design can usually solve it. For us, we wanted to have a kitchen garden, and there was only one sunny area on our property. However, that sunny area was a fairly steep hillside beside our driveway.
Thus a terraced vegetable garden was the design solution to take advantage of the sunny area and make our kitchen garden dreams come true. Here’s seven steps to planning and designing a terraced vegetable garden or even just a regular terraced garden for flowers and shrubs!
Planning & Designing A Terraced Vegetable Garden
Pre-planning A Terraced Vegetable Garden
If you’re going to build a terraced vegetable garden, then there are a couple pre-planning items to consider.
- Does your City and/or HOA allow vegetable gardens in your chosen location (front yard, backyard, etc.)?
- Do you need permission to build structures/walls from your HOA?
- Are there easements on your property to stay out of?
- Where are the utility lines located on your property?
Additionally if you’re intending to make a kitchen garden or grow vegetables, check your city’s code for any ordinances that may restrict it. For example, some cities do not allow for agriculture (vegetable gardens) in the front yard, so you’d run the risk of getting fined by the city if you built and grew vegetables in the front yard. Luckily, ours allows productive vegetable gardens n the front yard as long as it’s not row crops and/or sold produce.
Lastly, call your local utility marking service to come mark out any utility lines in your yard. You’ll want to ensure there are no utilities running through where you’ll be digging!
#1 Decide on Final Location
If you’re planning on building a terraced garden, you likely already have a hill and location in mind. However, make sure to consider a few design items first when finalizing the location.
- Sunlight – How many hours of sun you get will determine what can be grown
(6+ hours is needed for a lot of vegetables)
- Water Access – How do you intend to water your plants? Is there a hose nearby or do you plan to run irrigation?
- Existing Structures – Are you tying into other walls or stairs? Does anything need to be demolished?
- Existing Utilities – Nearby utility lines may mean the location needs to shift
- Any other foreseen construction issues you can plan for?
It’s not the end of the world if you need to shift your design’s location around a little to make your life easier, to help your plants grow, or to not get into a big utility nightmare.
#2 Take Existing Site Measurements
It’s always important to understand your existing conditions. Take a measuring tape, pencil and paper, and measure out the existing space to use as your base for designing.
Tip – Take a picture, print it out, and write the measurements directly on it to help. Or use gridded paper to draw out your space to scale. Or even hop over to google earth, find your house and print out a plan view of the future garden location.
You’ll need measurements of the general space, measurements of structures like stairs, and an estimation on the elevation change.
Consider the Slope
You’ll need to know how much change in elevation there is on your hill to design a terraced garden.
A lot of cities will have an interactive map with topographic data. You can find it usually by searching for “ ‘City’s name’ GIS map” Kansas City has a Parcel Viewer that you can use to locate your house. Select the contours layer, and it will show you approximately the change in elevation across your property.
Or just take an educated guess! Our terraced garden design location was beside a set of stairs, so we knew the change in elevation based on the height of the stairs.
#3 Do Design Inspiration Research
Some people already will have a look in their head, but I always find it helpful to do some design inspiration research prior to actually designing. Here’s a few mini searches to take when looking for design inspiration:
- Design Type- “terraced garden” or “terraced vegetable garden”
- The type of material – “wood terraced garden”
- The existing problem/solution – “garden on slope”
Even if you have a design in mind, searches like these can bring new twists or alternate ideas that you may have never even considered!
Pinterest is a great way to search for design inspiration, and I use it almost weekly to find design ideas. Pinterest is a great visual search engine to find design ideas and reference images for your design. It’s also awesome because you can create a whole board to save images to and have all your design inspiration in one place. The best part is it will continue to suggest new ideas and images to you and lead you to something you may not have known to search for!
#4 Sketch It Out or Model A Design
Now that you know the existing conditions and have found design inspiration, break out some pen and paper to sketch out your design. Sketching out the design is a great way to test a few design concepts and is necessary to plan out what you’ll need.
Pssst, it doesn’t have to be a beautiful artist level drawing! Just enough to help you visualize what the terraced garden would look like.
Another option is to actually quickly model your idea in 3D.
Using Sketchup for Design
I was trained as a landscape architect and have used the Pro version of Sketchup for years to help aid in quick modeling of design ideas. I used it professionally, but I also use Sketchup personally for my own DIY projects and crazy design ideas. There’s a free version for anyone to use right in their browser. It’s really easy to quickly learn (lots of tutorials available), and you truly can see what your design would look like.
Word of caution, Sketchup can get addicting once you start using it to model ideas! I use it a lot to help visualize a design idea from small house projects to full-on projects like these terraced garden beds.
If you’re really picky on design elements, then it’s helpful as a pricing tool too. You can create modeled images that you can pair with reference images to give to contractors to quote if you don’t intend to build it yourself.
#5 Mock up your Design On-Site
Highly visual learner here! I can definitely visualize a design in my head and in a 3D model, but nothing beats physically testing it out on site.
So get outside with a couple sticks, strings, measuring tape, and your initial design plans to test out your design! You can also mark it out with marking spray, which is especially helpful if you’ve designed curves.
Start in one corner with a stick as your anchor point. Measure from there and add sticks at key corners. Then tie string between the posts to help visualize the edges of the design. Assess the layout of the design and make adjustments you think necessary. Then finally, measure and note any changes you made.
For our terraced garden design, laying it out actually made us decide to make the terraced walls longer for more planting space. The original sketch and model looked good, but actually laying it out on site made us know we needed to expand it and tweak our design.
#6 Finalize Design Details and Materials List
After mocking up your design, sketch out any changes you made. With your updated sketch in hand, the next step is to finalize any construction details and create a materials list.
If you’re DIY-ing your project, like we almost always do, then find a friend or family member to review your design. This is where having my hubby who’s an engineer comes in handy! He’s the perfect partner to help do research and bounce construction ideas off of. A second pair of eyes and brain will always help bring up new questions or notice something that may have been missed.
Finalize Details & Create A List
For a terraced garden made with wood construction, we had to consider the following:
- Size of the wood boards and their quantity
- Quantity of pressure-treated wood posts
- Quick-setting concrete for wood posts
- Quantity of bolts, screws, washers, and nuts
- Drainage pipe length and size
- Drainage gravel around all of the wood to extend it’s life
- Landscape fabric to separate the soil and gravel
- New topsoil for the garden beds
It sounds like a lot of work and it does take time, but planning ahead will actually save you a lot of money, hassle and time. It’s much harder to figure out something on the fly when in the middle of construction and have to keep making trips to the store!
#7 Begin the Building Process
Once you’ve finalized your design details and purchased your materials, it’s time to start the heavy lifting and begin the building process. Planning and designing your terraced garden walls in advance will go a long way in making the construction process easier!
Soon we’ll be sharing our how to build DIY terraced garden beds, so make sure to come back to check it out. Also, check out some of our beginner garden tips and other DIY projects for some design inspiration and all the crazy awesome projects you could be building!
Hope these steps help you towards planning and designing your terraced vegetable garden! Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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