Our front yard is just one big ugly hill. The soil is poor, partly because it was graded and stripped of all top soil when the house was built but also because the hill is so steep everything washes away. A steep hill with nothing growing in it just does not retain water or humus. In come swales. I first learned of this from the book Gaia's Garden. A swale catches and holds water in the soil. We first started a hugelkultur swale a couple of years ago. We were amazed to watch how quickly it changed the landscape. This hill would normally grow next to nothing, even weeds don't take root in many places. It very quickly became lush and green.
I was also inspired by the terrace gardens of China. Many cultures have had to garden on hills and they do it successfully by terracing it. Most of the Chinese terraces I saw were just dirt sided, no stones or wood holding it up. And if they are maintained they can last not just hundreds but over a thousand years. I decided this could be a way to actually do something with our big ugly hill and give me more gardening space with full sun. I also quickly learned that I'm rather good with a shovel and it doesn't take that long to sculpt the yard with one.
This is a view from the Fairy Garden. That section there behind it is actually planted with Romano Bush beans, Husk Cherries and some cabbage.
Here is a partial glimpse of the hill from the top. It's steep. The trees and bushes are growing slowly because the water and nutrients are just washing away.
The right side of the photo above and the left below show our first swale. It's the green growing thing. I initially piled large amounts of dead and decaying wood in a swathe all around the hill. I then dug into the hill and tossed the dirt over the wood. It's been planted, all 90 ft in length of it, with potatoes, turnips, lettuce and clover. Clover adds nitrogen to the soil and the turnips were a quick growing green mulch that would hopefully crowd out any weeds before they could get a head start.. And so far it has done that with everything but sorrel. The bed will be furthered refined and shaped once we harvest the potatoes. We are trying to build up the soil.
These next two swales/terraces were mostly dug out by me yesterday. They need to have manure added to them and be further shaped and leveled. But I'm really pleased so far with them. Excuse those big clods of dirt in the first path. They rolled there as I was tossing dirt onto the next terrace.