||Terraces and split levels
It is only in the past 60 or 70 years that home owners have desired split-level designs inside their homes. The aim was not to save space, but to give an extra dimension to the living space and be creative with the interior décor. Originally the split levels were made out of necessity because the house was on a slope; more recently, though, they have been built into homes on the flat, as features.
Outside, however, split-level gardens have been tended for thousands of years. The topography of the land frequently makes it necessary to create terraces which, in this context, are used to denote flat areas on otherwise sloping ground. By interrupting an incline and creating a flat area, one is able to cultivate plants efficiently, enabling better irrigation and allowing best sunlight. Crops and decorative plants can be grown to perfection, where previously indigenous and ground cover plants would be all that would grow successfully.
Coastal gardens are frequently sited on dramatically undulating ground, and for this reason many are designed in a split-level fashion.
Bodnant, North Wales, UK
Bodnant is an 80-acre (32ha) garden set just a few miles inland from the coast of North Wales. It is not merely one of the prettiest places in the UK to visit, but it also has a collection of plants that make it globally important (see page 188 for details).
Visitors are captivated first by the house, then the views from the various terraces overlooking the lawns and across the valley to the Carneddau mountains and Snowdonia National Park. Usually, it is only then, after having absorbed all of this, that you notice the exquisite garden.
In the late nineteenth century, the then owner planted various shrubberies, formal beds and also the famous Laburnum Walk, which in late May and early June is an overwhelming mass of bloom.
There are so many aspects and facets, features and surprises, particularly in spring, that you really need to be there a week to see everything and to do it all justice.
Plan: Split-level coastal Garden
This plan is the design for a sloping garden surrounding a block of apartments, but could just as easily be created for a single, private dwelling. The terrace (C) is the lowest point of the garden, with the surrounding beds rising up and away. To avoid a ‘hemmed in’ appearance, the planting is kept deliberately open and sparse, with low-growing grasses and architecturally interesting plants, such as palms and phormiums.
C Lower level terrace
D Sloping driveway
F Water feature
G Pebbles and grasses
H Pebbles and grasses
K Pebbles and grasses
L Large cordylines
M Large cordylines
O Screening shrubs
P Retaining walls
Terraces at Bodnant
Bodnant combines dramatic formal terraces with extensive woodland plantings on the grandest of scales. A deep herbaceous border, backing on to a high wall, is instantly striking, with mature, often tender climbers rampant above bold, warm plantings.
Beside the house, two enormous cedars overshadow a formal lily pond; they are set on the first of a succession of terraces, where hydrangeas abound. A crisply shaved yew hedge curves above a mezzanine rose pergola. On the Canal Terrace is a stately gazebo, the Pin Mill. It was originally constructed around 1730, some 100 miles (160km) away in the county of Gloucestershire, as a garden house attached to an Elizabethan residence. In 1938 the roof, timbers and the dressed stonework were brought to Bodnant, and encased in a new brick, stucco-covered building.
Near the house there is the rose terrace but, with some irony, roses almost take backstage position. And the lily terrace is named after the stretch of water that contains many summer-flowering waterlilies planted in underwater boxes; as many as 1,000 blooms have been open at one time.
Plants at Bodnant
Pencil-thin cypresses, with many cultivars of potentilla and cistus, help to create a Mediterranean feel on clear, sunny days.
Along the stream there are meconopsis, hostas and bergenias.
There are a number of rose beds on the rose terrace, but they are edged with saxifrages, helianthemums and dwarf campanulas. There
is a prominent and vast strawberry tree (Arbutus x andrachnoides), with gracefully curved red stems and upright foliage. Beyond this are various climbers, with rhododendrons, pieris and camellias.
In the dell garden is the tallest redwood in Wales, the 147ft (45m) Sequoia sempervirens. Some of the massive sequoiadendron trees bear planting plaques, which show them to be well in to their second century.
Other feature plants include escallonias, syringes (lilacs), white wisterias, acers, sorbus and red-flowered embothriums. One of the most striking and important winter-flowering shrubs, Viburnum x bodnantense pictured right, was developed at Bodnant, and bears its Latinized name in recognition. Fabulous herbaceous borders and outstanding autumn colour add to the scene.
Making a level with water
Terraces in a sloping garden usually have a hard surface (that is, one you can stand on), but a pond can be laid level and set within the slope at one point and raised or supported at another. The surface of the water will find its own level and give the viewer – especially from a raised vantage point – the impression of a flat ‘terrace’. The pond could be surrounded with rustic stonework (as seen in the picture), or a more formal paved edge. Depending on the space, the gradient and cost, there could be all manner of water accessories, such as fountains, cascades, bubble pools, and so on.