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New Terrace

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributor

Friday, August 9, 2011

bottle-wall terrace

By Rick Gush

You can see the old rock ledge inside the yet-to-be-filled planting area.

A large part of building a garden on a cliff involves jockeying for sun exposure. Unfortunately, the far-left side of the garden, where there is a bit more dirt and fewer rocks, does not get as much sun exposure as the far-right side does. It’s also a bit steeper on the right side, meaning that any terrace construction has to be fairly heroic.


I am almost finished with a gardening project that kicked off in the month of August: constructing a big new terrace in the sunniest zone. I used to have a loose rock wall built here on a ledge of rock that cuts across the cliff face. I tore down the old rock wall and built a big, lower wall of bottles and concrete that curves out and triples the planting area of the terrace. I used about 500 bottles to build the lower wall. In some places, it’s fairly tall, being about 7 feet at the maximum.

You can see the old rock ledge inside the yet-to-be-filled planting area. I actually used a sledgehammer and chisel to chip away more than a foot of the rock ridge. After I fill it all with dirt, the soil surface will be 2 feet above the rock ridge. I’ll put the walkway in the bed up against the wall in such a way as to minimize the amount of the planting area with the ridge underneath. In the deep areas of the bed, the soil will be 7 feet deep before it reaches the native soil/rock mix.

To finish the potted plants section, I have a wall to build on top, and one of the beds on the far left is still built of the old birdnest system that I used for the first building of each of the beds, so I’ll need to fix that, too.

As for big projects, though, I think getting rid of the old rock ledge will be the last major planting area I’ll construct for the garden. I have a few more steps to add here and there, and a little expansion in the shady-plants area, but 95 percent of the main construction is now finished.

The end of this project is still a ways off because now, I have the huge job of filling the area with soil. I have a location picked out on one of the upper ridges where I can dig up dirt and sift the rocks out to make fill dirt acceptable for the planting terrace. I’ll add a bunch of organic material such as manure, compost and old leaves, to it. I’ve already started filling one end of the bed, but I estimate it will take at least another 400 buckets full to fill the bed to the top of the brick edging. The dirt will settle a foot or so during the first year, since I will have added new soil to all the planting areas after the first year.

With the fall season just around the corner, I find myself eager to wrap up this late-summer gardening project. As rewarding as it’s been, I’m looking forward to spending more of my time pampering plants than carrying sod.

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on New Terrace.
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a', Houston, TX
Posted: 10/7/2013 6:49:06 AM
Rick, Wow space must really be at a premium in Italy. I guess Americans, especially in the midwest, are spoiled with wide open spaces. Even the American urban yard has quite a lot of space but we just take it for granted. I'm sure there wouldn't be anyone that I know that would chisel out a rock ledge, build a wall out of bottles, and build garden into the side of cliff. Seven feet of dirt is a lot of dirt to move in buckets my friend. I hope and pray that all the joints and back survives the stress of it all.

My advice is to find some young neighborhood kids who want to earn a few bucks and pay them to lug the dirt. It probably would get done faster and it would be much easier on the body parts.

Have a great day building cliff gardens.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 9/12/2011 3:17:14 PM
A huge project to be sure! But one done with no small amount of style. I'm anxious for photos of it once it is finished, filled and planted. I certainly hope your source of soil is not too far away.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 9/12/2011 12:45:07 PM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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