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Case Study - Multi-level garden

Project Summary

This was a fairly challenging project with a 4m level change from one end of the garden to the other.  And luckily enough for us - we love a good challenge so we jumped at the opportunity. With very little usable space, we transformed the neglected sloping garden into a multi-functional garden on four different levels, each with it's own identity and purpose

The brief

The clients – a couple with 3 children of varying ages – owned a long sloping garden with a dilapidated garage at the lower end of the garden. Due to the slope and uneven surfaces, the family spent very little time in the garden, despite it being fairly sizeable.


The brief was to create more usable space that all family members could enjoy. They were also keen to incorporate a trampoline – always a challenge for any designer due to their sheer presence.

Terraced garden design

Steps leading down the garden

In the centre of the garden a smaller decked area extending out on stilts over sloped ground would enable the clients to take in views of the whole garden. To the side of the deck, chunky overlapping steps would lead down to the play area where the children could bounce to their hearts content with a large sunken trampoline from


From this level, the clients could walk directly onto the decked roof of the new studio/sauna building which would be used for entertaining and enjoying the last of the evening sun.

The Design Solution

Because of the significant level changes, a topographical survey was completed before the design process began -which enabled us to work from accurate levels and calculate exactly how many steps were needed to transition from top to bottom of the garden. We created a number of different terraced levels which would each serve a different function – dining, entertaining, relaxing and play.


A generous terrace near the house would serve as the main dining and barbequing area, looking out onto a lawn with surrounding planting beds full of colour and scent.

Apple day bed in terraced garden

The 'Apple' day bed on the overhanging terrace

Further steps would lead down the side of the studio to the lower courtyard terrace, giving access to the garage that had been converted into a studio and sauna

LED strip lighting on garden step

Chunky steps with LED strip lighting


In terms of the materials used in the garden design, Jura Beige Limestone from London Stone was chosen for the main terrace, coping and stepping stones across the lawn. It’s a beautiful warm-grey, hard-wearing stone with a slight marbling effect, with the odd fossil encased in it. Reclaimed London stock bricks were used for the main terrace retaining walls and the studio at the bottom of the garden.

The Build

Whenever a sloped landscape is turned into flat terraced areas, two main things are required: 1) lots of earth moving, and 2) retaining walls to keep the ground at the higher level where it is supposed to be. In some circumstances, when you terrace a sloped landscape you can use the ‘cut and fill’ method whereby the soil that is excavated from the higher level is used to bring the level of the lower area up to meet it. However, in this project the earth consisted of heavy compacted clay which was not stable enough to be re-used, and so was taken off site – in 6 grab lorries.

Excavation and ground preparation in garden

Demolition and excavation well under way

For the chunky overlapping steps in the centre of the garden, as well as the overhanging central terrace and the studio roof deck, ‘Smoked oak’ composite decking from Millboard was chosen for its longevity, slip resistance and warm tones that complemented the other materials used on site.

Around the edges of the studio roof terrace, large corten steel planters planted with a clipped hedge were used to create a safety barrier and also provide some screening from neighbouring properties.

Planting design

With new free-draining topsoil at the top of the garden, a combination of Mediterranean plants and shrubs were chosen to provide lots of colour and scent, along with evergreen topiary providing year-round structure and form. In the central sloped area, more of a woodland theme was adopted with dabbled shade being created from mass-planting of Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ trees, underplanted with shade-tolerant plants such as ferns, anemones, foxgloves and hellebores. 

Setting out plants in garden - Simon Orchard Garden Design

Setting out the plants in their final positions

The trough planters on the studio roof terrace were planted with a row of Prunus lusitanica ‘Myrtifolia’ which would be clipped into a formal hedge to provide solid screening. In the lower courtyard a multi-stemmed Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ was planted in a huge planter to act as a focal point


In this garden design we were not only able to increase the usable space but also increase the number of hours that the garden could be enjoyed by the clever use of garden lighting. This included ‘eyelid’ step lights on the studio steps, spike spotlights in the borders to accent the planting and LED strip lights on the underside of the overlapping chunky steps to add drama and emphasise the floating design of the steps.

Garden at night with stunning lighting
Garden lighting scheme by Simon Orchard Garden Design

Extend the hours of enjoyment with garden lighting

What the client said

"We worked with Simon over a period of 18 months. This was a complete garden redesign, including rebuild of a garage, establishing retaining walls, lighting, irrigation - the works. Simon came up with a design which met all our needs, creating areas of the garden to suit the different needs of the whole family, with children ranging from 8-17, and 2 parents! He also was a great help working with both builders and landscapers, he really made sure that we got what the design specified.


We had never had a garden design before, but Simon is meticulous and lovely to work with, when we went out to tender for a contractor they were all really impressed with the detail and clarity of his work! Thank you Simon"      - JB, Oct 18

See more of our customer reviews

You can see the full album for this and other garden design projects on our portfolio page

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