Creating an Earth Bank for Privacy: A Case Study

Most of the projects we’ve covered on Landscape Expert are the kind of landscaping that ordinary mortals might do in their own gardens. But there are landscape projects of a different kind, those on a huge scale. We take a look at one such project where the big diggers were employed.

Idyllic Goldfish Bowl

Martha and Robin Selby* live in a long, low cottage on the edge of the Cotswolds. The property was originally three separate tiny cottages but they were knocked together some time back, they think probably around fifty years ago.

The house is set back from the road by about eighty yards, and that frontage was largely open meadow until the Selbys got started. “When we moved in we didn’t think that privacy or noise would be a particular problem,” said Martha, “but it soon began to niggle at us, the noise of the cars and lorries going past. And we felt very vulnerable whenever we wanted to sit out in the garden.”

Sporadic but Irritating Traffic Patterns

The Selbys live on the edge of a village that nudges against a country A-road. Although there isn’t a huge volume of traffic, it is the main road between two major market towns in the area and it’s one of the main routes for crossing the Cotswolds from the M40 towards Cheltenham and Gloucester or Bath and Bristol.

“It’s not like the M1 or anything, but because the traffic is sporadic you notice it much more when a big lorry goes past, or sight-seeing tourists gawping as they drive slowly by,” said Martha. “We will probably be here for the rest of our lives,” added Robin, “so we feel it’s worth investing in projects that don’t necessarily make a great deal of financial sense but improve the way we live. We felt like we were in a goldfish bowl.”

Earth Moving

They brought in a landscape gardener who had been recommended by the local point-to-point club, as they knew they were probably looking at large-scale earth moving. And they were right. The landscape expert suggested removing earth from the font of the house, digging down about two feet, but over a wide area, and piling it up in a large bank where the meadow met the road.

More earth from the rear and the south side of the house would be piled at each end of the bank, coming back slightly towards the house, so the bank formed a large ‘C’ shape. “The curving ends deflect the noise from the cars as they approach and depart and the bulk of the bank copes with it as they actually drive past. We also wanted to screen ourselves completely from the road,” Robin said.

Cost and Organisation

“It wasn’t as expensive as we first feared,” he continued, although he politely declined to be drawn on the exact cost. “Although hiring the earth-moving machinery and the operators was expensive, they were only here for one and a half days. They did the bulk of the work on one day, then came back for a half day about six weeks later, after we’d monitored the noise levels and spotted a few places where we could still be seen from the road.”

On the second visit they added a few bits here and there based on the Selby’s observations. “That’s not to say that there were any problems with the work,” Robin is keen to point out, “that was always the way it was meant to be done and it was included in the original quote. They know that it’s an inexact science and you can’t tell how the bank will settle after a bit of rain.”

Other costs were kept low because there was little preparation. As there were no garden plants to speak of, the diggers just scraped off the top soil, plants and all, and dumped it down it its new location. Landscaping after the work had been done was a case of turfing the area around the house and adding a stone flag patio, then allowing grass and plants to grow back on the earth bank and meadow. The Selbys are happy to allow that to happen naturally while preventing nettles and brambles from completely taking over the virgin earth.

Where’s the View?

Speaking of landscape, when you visit the property it’s immediately apparent that the bank, as well as making the property cosier and quieter, has completely blocked the view over the vale to the north-west. Was that a hard choice to make, sacrificing the landscape for privacy and quiet?

Robin laughs. “Ah, well, that leads us to the next project; we’re going to turn the house upside down. We’ve got planning permission to build into the roof and there’ll be a large open plan lounge and master bedroom up there, large windows facing that direction. The middle floor will have the kitchen and dining room and the ground floor will be utility room, tack room and some extra bedrooms.”

“So you see, we’ll be able to enjoy the view and get the privacy we always wanted too.”

* Names have been changed