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What is the cost to level a garden?

There are lots of advantages to levelling a sloping garden and one of the main reasons is that it can provide much more usable space. The cost of levelling a garden depends on several factors and there is no one size fits all but it will usually be somewhere in the region of a few hundred pounds. A days’ labour for one man will be around £100-£200 and it doesn’t have to be a skilled job but there are some pitfalls before you consider saving money and doing it yourself and not taking any professional advice.

It is really important to finish with a level area otherwise you will create more problems than you solve. It will also be necessary to build a retaining wall to withstand the build-up of soil pressure. Complex and ornate terraced designs which are a solution for long and/or steep slopes can run into several thousands of pounds and will need the services of a garden designer.

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Factors which affect the cost

  • The size of the garden
  • The angle of the slope, a steeper slope will take more work particularly if you are opting to break it up into terraces
  • How much machinery is involved
  • Whether any additional drainage is required
  • The materials used to construct the retaining wall
  • Waste disposal of unwanted soil and plants – this usually requires skip hire
  • Where you are located in the UK – the South East and London are always more expensive than the regions

 

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The advantages of levelling a garden

A sloping garden has a number of specific problems and can be completely transformed by levelling. The advantages include:-

  • It creates a much more usable space – slopes are generally of no benefit for gardening or family activities and these are also not areas which can you use for garden furniture either
  • Levelling will minimise soil erosion
  • It resolves drainage issues particularly if the slope is facing downwards towards the house which can make the land directly behind the house overly wet and possibly even cause damp problems in the property
  • If the slope is laid to lawn then level ground will make this area much easier to mow
  • A level lawn means that the water can drain into the soil providing more nutrition and generally better quality grass

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How to level a sloping garden

Levelling a garden is a fairly simple process in principle but it can be a lot of hard work in practice. First, two stakes are positioned, one at the top and the other at the bottom of the slope and a string is tied between them. This string is referred to as, ‘the run’ and its height on the second stake is called, ‘the rise’. On the top stake, the string should be at ground level. The new lawn or earth will follow the line of the run so it is important to ensure that the top stake is level and a spirit level can confirm this.

Next, a retaining wall is built to support the soon to be raised land and to prevent any collapse of the new level after rainfall. The height of the wall is important as if you build too high, this could actually put pressure on the structure; the usual guide is a height of no more than two feet tall. The wall essentially keeps back the pressure of the soil so that when it rains, the ground will absorb the water. The land should be well watered 24 hours before digging starts as it will make it easier to work with – it is important not to overwater as sodden soil is just as challenging to deal with as rock hard land.

The process starts by piling in the soil behind the retaining wall to the required depth, it is a simple but laborious process. The new surface must be level and string and stakes plus a spirit level will help ensure this. The soil is compacted down to flatten out any gaps, air pockets and lumps and bumps; it is important for the finished result that the new level is consistent and also that it imposes an even pressure on the retaining wall. Most gardeners use a soil compactor for this.

Choosing a garden company to do the work

Many people are often confused about which help is the best, whether to use a sole gardener, a gardening company or a landscape designer. The answer to this lies in the scale of the project and the complexity of the design. Remember even if it is a small slope, you will still need to build a retaining wall.

Sourcing a garden contractor

There are several different routes to finding the right person or company to level a garden:-

  • Ask a friend, family member or colleague for a personal recommendation
  • Use a local advertising magazine
  • Put a post on a community group on social media and ask for some names
  • Use one of the many internet search platforms which will supply you with a list of names and numbers based on the description of your job and your location

Always obtain at least three estimates as prices can vary hugely.

Other factors to consider

Check the run of underground cables and pipeworks before you begin the project to avoid disruption to any mains services. A contractor should do this as part of the site inspection before he quotes.

If the land is always very wet or the garden is situated within a valley or an area of high rainfall, consider installing underground drainage as part of the project works. This will help direct too much water away from the newly levelled land and reduce pressure on the retaining wall as well as ensuring that your new garden is completely usable for whatever purpose you have planned for it.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The slope in my garden is very steep, what can I do?

In order to avoid building a high retaining wall at the bottom of the slope to cope with the soil pressure after levelling, the garden can be organised into a series of terraces which can look amazing. This works very well with very steep gardens where to flatten to just one level would create other problems. Each terrace can have a different function and so the garden is basically arranged in a row of steps.

What material can I use for the retaining wall?

  • Concrete blocks are very strong but are pricey. Some specifically designed for this purpose are constructed so that they are hollow and then soil is placed in the centre and plants are used to cleverly grow over and around the blocks to disguise them
  • Breeze blocks are cheaper than concrete blocks but are built solid and so are harder to disguise
  • House bricks which match the property can create a very nice finish
  • Natural stone always looks lovely but is the most expensive option
  • The only wooden option that is strong enough is reclaimed railway sleepers, don’t be tempted to use any other form of wood as it won’t hold the weight of the soil
  • Gabions are attractive wire nets full of stones usually formed into rectangles, these are commonly used to buffer slopes beside motorways and can look very stylish if you are building terraces

What are weep holes?

Weep holes are small holes at the bottom of stone or concrete retaining walls to allow excess water to drain from the soil behind. These are essential as in periods of heavy rain, the wall can collapse under the extra pressure caused by the water.

Is planning permission necessary to level a garden?

This all depends on the degree of levelling, the height of the retaining wall and the complexity of any design. A landscaper or garden designer will advise you but it is worth checking this out with the planning department at your local council if you intend major works before you start.

What is the relevance of the Party Wall Act?

The Party Wall Act of 1996 contains provisions about shared boundaries and this also refers to the garden as well as the house. If you are working up to one or more shared boundaries then you will need to obtain consent from any neighbours to your proposed works. The statute is designed to protect them from noise and disruption whilst the works are ongoing and also to ensure their property is not damaged in the process.

What machinery is used to level a garden?

The most common machinery is a mini digger which runs on caterpillar tyres to avoid getting bogged down in the mud. These can scrap and cart soil much more quickly than you could do by hand. Mini diggers can be very small and are designed to work in cramped spaces, you just need to ensure there is access for it if you are working at the rear of the property.

For more information on garden landscaping and designing, head to the Society of Garden Designers and the Association of Professional Landscapers websites.

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