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Backyard Landscaping: Private Sports Yard in the Sunset

Sunset District, San Francisco

Once upon a time, the Sunset District of San Francisco, California was known as the “Outside Lands”. Instead of homes and people, it was coastal scrub land full of sand dunes. No backyards; no backyard landscaping. It wasn’t until the baby boom that the last of the sand dunes disappeared, replaced by the tightly packed suburban style neighborhood it is today.

In February 2015, a backyard landscaping project took us to Inner Sunset, one of the four “micro neighborhoods” nestled in the Sunset District. The house was built in 1924, which may account for the unusually long backyard (most yards in the Inner Sunset don’t offer near as much room). The client looked at the space and dreamed of a sports-centered yard for two little boys – and maybe some adults, as well.

Before backyard landscaping

They opted for a large, artificial turf area for soccer and a padded sports court. For the sports court, they wanted basketball hoops, complete with overhead sports lights.

We had our work cut out for us. The retaining walls were crumbling, and the ground was taking back over poured concreate and a brick pathway. Weeds had destroyed most of the grass, and a gopher infestation was doing short work of the rest.  It took us three weeks to transition from a backyard disaster to a sporty backyard landscape.

Setting flagstones for an entrance into the home.

The first step was to set a concrete pad to provide a smooth, even surface for the flagstones. Quatzite flagstone went over the concrete base to create a small landing from the house to the backyard.

Digging down and building up: San Francisco cobbles used to build the retaining walls

Next, we dug out and replaced the retaining walls. Digging deeper gives the yard to very distinct levels: a turf area and a sports court area. Two benches were inset into the retaining walls to provide an area to watch the activity, and stairs going to the sports court. Plants along the terracing will eventually grow thick enough and tall enough to provide a privacy screen from neighbors.

Redwood bench set in recycled cobblestone retaining wallThe retaining walls are made with recycled San Francisco Cobble, which comes with interesting history. In or around the 1800s, these cobbles were quarried for use in the shipping industry. Old wooden ships would bob on the water like a cork once their goods were offloaded; the cobbles were used as a ballast to keep the now empty ships stable.

Of course, they were then off loaded, and San Francisco ended up with a whole bunch of cobbles. They were eventually turned into paved streets, the streets were covered in tarmac, the tarmac in asphalt and the cobbles were buried. So now the client can tell people their retaining walls have a long, established history. If nothing else, it’s a good conversation starter!

Sports backyard: basketball court has benches to watch the game play, as well as halogen lights

We brought in the Sports Court Company to install the special foam sport court. The two galvanized poles seen will be used to install halogen overhead lights.  Also, on the stairs, we installed LED down lighting for times when the games go late into the night.More redwood benches were installed here, for spectators, and another right off the flagstone porch.

Artificial turf, especially strong for soccer playingThe artificial turf we used is call S-Blade 90, from a long-term partner, Global Syn Turf. S-Blade 90 is a high-end, thick, realistic-looking material that will stand up to the rigors of soccer and other harsh activities.  It has brown thatch woven into the turf to make in look more real. The turf is laid over 3″ of compacted baserock for stability. In addition, we added heavy landscape fabric, to prevent weeds, and a layer of galvanized wire mesh to deter gophers.

The finished backyard landscaping project: sports centered, with strong turf, basketball court and room for soccer

Above: Our finished project! It did take three weeks, but at the end of that time, we were all extremely happy with how it turned it. A far cry from old, crumbling walls and a struggling weed patch!


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