Uphill Garden Solutions

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

When you drive through Healing Present’s farm gate, you’ll immediately notice sets of stone stairways and terraced gardens (Photo 1). A lush mix of vines, fruit trees, ferns, kitchen gardens and other tropical vegetation grow on these multi-level gardens. The mosaic and terrazo stone steps lead to a payag and guest houses (Photo 2). Each house door opens to a terrace with greenery, lounges and café tables (Photo 3).

Today’s terraced garden is a far cry from its original landscape. Before the outdoor lounging areas, stairs and gardens, the area was rough, steep terrain. The hill was originally embedded with large boulders, some ferns, and weeds.

Photo 1. Multi-level terraced garden in Healing Present with series of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, ferns and stone wall edging.
Photo 2. High stone retaining walls and mosaic tile stairways in Healimg Present.

The hillside was completely transformed with retaining walls, stairs and terraces. The terrace edging and steps were constructed were stones and soil directly from the property (Photo 2 & 3). This reduced costs and the volume of raw materials transported into the farm.

Photo 3. Comfortable lounging & play areas in flat areas of Healing Present’s terraces.

In general, terraced gardening is an effective way to transform a steep, eroding hillside. With terraces, the steep angle can become an easy-to-maintain garden with multiple levels of flat spaces. Then, you don’t need to worry about falling debris, mini landslides, or tripping down a dangerous slope.

If you have a slope or hilly area you’re trying to transform, here are some encouraging reminders:

1. Retaining walls can be customizable, affordable and made of local materials. In my travels, I’ve seen creative retaining walls made from locally sourced materials like:

  • limestone,
  • recycled plastic bottle bricks,
  • concrete,
  • quartz,
  • pruned tree trunks,
  • scrap lumber,
  • adobe clay,
  • old tires, and
  • bamboo

Make sure you use durable materials that suit your site conditions. In Healing Present, we are prone to termite infestations, so we don’t use wood for our retaining walls.

2. Always consult an engineer to determine the slope of your hill. They will help you determine how much material you need to form the steps, garden beds, retaining walls and edging for your terraces.

3. Your sloped garden is unique to the characteristics of your hillside. Consider your soil type, water drainage, and hill angles.

4. You will also have to determine how much weight your terrace to hold. This will help determine your construction materials and stairway style. This will also help you identify the appropriate depth, width and height of your terraces.

5. Make sure your terraces suit you and your visitors. If you have elderly visitors or children, create stairs with railings and other safeguards. Add features that appeal to you and your visitors. When you create more flat areas and multiple levels in your terraced garden, you can plant more themed decorative gardens vegetable beds, play areas or even water features.

Below are 3 different terrace garden concepts I made for you (Photo 4 to 6). They have different features to inspire you.

Photo 4. Vibrant, edible fragrant garden beds wth multiple stairways & a central landing.
Photo 5. A limited variety of plants for a calmer, unified aesthetic with two main terrace levels connected by small set of stairs. Bottom level has seating built into terrace edging.
Photo 6. A formal, low-maintenance decorative border garden with central, open terraces.


When you find the best solution for difficult terrain like a steep slope, it’s incredibly rewarding. Make sure you take the time to plan your sloped landscape. Hasty decisions can make wasteful results like worsened soil erosion. So enjoy the uphill planning process to your hillside solutions.