Hillside gardeners make the sign of the Z

It seems there are a lot of hills in Costa Rica. There are certainly a lot on torleyheader062314our property. Nice gentle rolling hills are one thing but 45-degree slopes are a lot harder to cope with. Fortunately, one of my local friends had the answer: a zig zag garden.

Sounds easy. A ZZ garden is a horizontal path, turn the corner, a few steps down and back in the other direction, and do it over and
over until you get to the bottom of the hill. In between the paths, you put lots of plants.

A ZZ garden, though, turns out to be a lot of work. That 45-degree slope means that even the horizontal parts aren’t really horizontal; they slope a bit, and they are covered with nasty weeds that aren’t helpful if you are making a path or five. And you have to dig out a bit more than expected, which means you have to shore up the edge of the paths with something. Medium sized river rocks are good, but if you don’t have a river, they are expensive. If you do have a river, then you have to carry them (always uphill) to where you want them. It’s all a bit painful.

Our solution was to use recycled materials, mostly roofing, cut to size. We also planted maní and vetiver to hold the soil. At some point, we have to mix very small stones into the mulch on the paths or they will be very slippery (add small stones to shopping list and better make it a truckload).

Get to the end of one path and turn the corner, make some steps down, and put in stepping stones – slippery again. The nice thing about making a ZZ garden is that you can put in plants while the lower paths are being constructed and you won’t disturb anything.

But the best thing about a ZZ garden? Where you once had an unsightly sunny and hot hillside that you occasionally slipped down, you now have quiet pathways that meander through plantings of all heights, understory plants, flowers, and tall plantings that have you shaded from the sun. A ZZ garden can be 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding landscape.

Make the planting area wide enough and you won’t even know if you are sharing the garden with someone else. Street noise disappears and you can hardly hear the neighbor’s barking dog. Tuck a little bench in here and there so you can rest in the shade. And don’t forget to put an arch for your climbers.

Flowers, shade, arching vines, and solitude, the ZZ garden is worth the trouble.

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