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Three Weeks to a Beautiful Backyard Landscape

Backyard Landscape Project: After, at dawn: Framed redwood lattice screens the neighbor's wall, illuminated steps lead to the house while the natural gas firepit provides additional beauty to the landscape

Early October 2017 took the Tamate Landscaping team to the picturesque streetscapes of Glen Park, San Francisco. The house at 226 Fairmount Street needed a major backyard landscape overhaul. The original landscape of grass, bush and decorative plants left little room for relaxing outside.

"Backyard

 

Backyard Landscape Project: Before, from parking area

Before, from parking area

After talking with the client about the possibilities, we pinpointed the goal. We would completely open the yard up and create an additional outdoor living space that the client could utilize for relaxing and outdoor entertaining.

The Backyard Landscape Project Begins

There was no way we could use the existing grounds. We gutted the entire backyard, including the paved walkway and faded, worn out, white lattice on the side. The old lattice was covered with dying ivy, which we also removed. We removed planters in favor of a more natural, planted aesthetic, to give the whole area an open, relaxing atmosphere. It took a lot of work, but only three weeks later, we have a beautiful backyard landscape, perfect for rest or entertaining, morning, noon and night.

Beautiful Backyard Landscape – Project Complete

We replaced the old pathway with interlocking pavers from McNear, in Slatestone Olevine. The dark color variation really makes the path stand out, in day or night. The pathway runs from the front gate entrance to the house/garden.

Backyard Landscape Project: After, pathway made from McNear Interlocking Paver in Slatestone Olevine

After, pathway made from McNear Interlocking Paver in Slatestone Olevine

Two steps down from the parking area, we installed a new redwood deck, large enough for several guests. The deck includes large planter boxes for decorative plants as well as strategic lighting. Step lights and path lights and uprights give the area a soft glow.

Backyard Landscape Project: New redwood deck with large planter boxes, step lights, path lights and uprights

After: New redwood deck with large planter boxes, step lights, path lights and uprights

The planter boxes are made of new redwood combined with reclaimed cedar from the site. The two colors really helped pull the shifting gray of the pavers together with the red of the deck.

 

 

 

Backyard Landscape Project: Planter boxes made of new redwood with reclaimed onsite cedar, hold decorative plants and upright lighting

After: Planter boxes made of new redwood with reclaimed onsite cedar, hold decorative plants and upright lighting

 

Backyard Landscape Project: Close-up of planter and back plant bed

After: Close-up of planter and back plant bed

Fresh, clean redwood lattice replaced the old, faded lattice. Not only does it provide a brighter backdrop, but it also hides the neighbor’s unsightly outer walls. Dying ivy and planters were removed in favor of decorative plants placed directly into the newly mulched plant bed. Back lighting provides additional illumination.

Backyard Landscape Project: Redwood lattice, decorative plants and backlighting

After: Redwood lattice, decorative plants and backlighting

We also replaced the stairs to the house with redwood and reclaimed, onsite cedar. Inset step lighting softens the darkness of the stairs.

Backyard Landscape Project: View of deck, lattice and stair lighting from the path

After: View of deck, lattice and stair lighting from the path

An additional interlocking paver patio holds a natural gas fire pit, as well as lighting on a 3-circuit remote switch. The fire pit is an iron dish provided by the client, which we customized to accept a natural gas fire ring. The pit is now permanently tied into the gas line, so it can be used at any time.

 

Backyard Landscape Project: Lower patio, made with interlocking pavers, holds a fire pit made from an Iron dish, customized to accept a natural gas fire ring

After: Lower patio, made with interlocking pavers, holds a fire pit made from an Iron dish, customized to accept a natural gas fire ring

 

Backyard Landscape Project: Close up of natural gas fire pit

After: Close up of natural gas fire pit

I think you’ll agree, the final product is breathtaking!

Backyard Landscape Project: After, at dawn: Framed redwood lattice screens the neighbor's wall, illuminated steps lead to the house while the natural gas firepit provides additional beauty to the landscape

After, at dawn: Framed redwood lattice screens the neighbor’s wall, illuminated steps lead to the house while the natural gas fire pit provides additional beauty to the landscape

 

Garden Design: Waterfalls, Stone Walkways and a 1,000 Pound Boulder

Before Landscaping Project

76 Castro Street, San Francisco

 

We love challenging landscape projects; we must. During a landscape project in Laurel Heights, we moved three large boulders and all the landscaping materials through the owner’s home. This time, it was easy; this time, we just had to move one boulder – up a flight of stairs to the back yard.

Pressed up against the edge of Duboce Triangle, a “walker’s paradise,” 76 Castro Street has an unassuming, genteel front that blends in with its neighbors. The backyard we were shown matched the look of the front, though looking worn down.

 

Before Landscaping Project

The owner wanted a complete rebuild  of the backyard, from the ground up. We gutted the entire back yard, including a deck. The only features that remained of the original setting were two mature maple trees. We designed the garden around the maple trees, so as not to disturbed them.

Steel Plate Installation

The new garden design including a stone retaining wall, replacing a weather-worn, wooden one. The old fencing we replaced with new, horizontal redwood fencing.

We also added a fire pit in the center. In the background of the picture above is a huge steel plate that we sent away to have bent by a huge hydraulic press. The plate makes a deflector for the custom gas fire pit.

Moving a Foundation Boulder Craning a 1,000 lb Boulder into Place

The most challenging part of this project was, as mentioned in the beginning, moving yet another large boulder. The boulder would become the base of a small stone cascade.

We also added new IPE decking, as well as a flagstone patio and a basalt bridge that leads across a stone creek. By the new retaining wall is the tinkling sound of water from the small stone cascade.

Basalt Bridge

Landscaping Project: After

Landscaping Project: After, Recirculating Cascade

Finally, we installed landscape lighting to provide warm tones at night.

Landscape Lighting at Night, Finished Project

Landscape at Night - Night lightning on Finished Project

Landscape at Night

It was a fun project, and we think the pictures speak for themselves!

Are you interested in renovating your backyard landscape? Contact Tamate Landscaping to discuss your project.

Contemporary Landscape Design: Building Around a Focal Point in Laurel Heights

156 Parker Avenue, Laurel Heights, San Francisco, Front View

156 Parker Avenue, Laurel Heights, San Francisco, Front View

Laurel Heights is a neighborhood in sunny San Francisco that shows a bit of the wide variety the whole city holds. It’s sometimes called the “model suburb”. This beautiful area is full of two-story Edwardian and Victorian style homes, as well as modern counterparts; blending contemporary landscape design into it isn’t necessarily easy.

It offers trendy restaurants and chic shops; it intersects entertaining city life with calm residential places. And if all that isn’t enough, Laurel Heights was chosen as one of the most popular neighborhoods for renters in San Francisco in February.

As we reached our client’s home at 156 Parker Avenue, we could see why. The house itself is beautiful, with well-tended plants at the front. The back wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what the client was looking for, either.

Before the landscaping project begins

The client wanted a peaceful, contemporary retreat where they could escape the challenges of city life. They had purchased a natural rock sculpture that weighed over one ton, and wanted us to design a garden to showcase it. The rock sculpture and an accompanying water feature were to be the focal point.

We came up with a design in which the sculpture would be installed in a custom-made concrete water basin. Two troughs would empty water into the basin from the left and right, pointing toward the sculpture. Once the design was finished, we got to work.

Our first step was to replace the old fence with custom fences. These fences were built all the way around, using finished redwood that was fastened in horizontally. Supervisor Dukey the Dog surveyed the site and kept a watch to make sure we did the job right.

In addition to the redwood fencing a new, wrap-around redwood deck was laid to help transition from the house to the landscape. The railing is stainless cable safety railing, which allows for a contemporary look without losing its functionality or helpfulness. Once the fence was up, we could get to the really exciting part of our one-month project.

installing-fencing decking-reinforced-railing

We built the forms for the focal point and poured in the concrete. While we waited for the concrete to set, we laid the black basalt patio.

pouring-concrete-into-forms building-concrete-forms

Once the concrete had set, the basin was filled and the one-ton sculpture brought in, then craned into the finished basin. Have you ever tried to haul a one-ton sculpture through a house without breaking anything? It was a big challenge. In fact, because of the lay of the land, all of the materials had to be brought through the house and out the back door. I’m happy to say that nothing was harmed in the fulfilling of this contemporary landscape design.

Hidden from view behind the water feature is a biological filtration system with an 18 watt UV light to kill algae. We also upgraded the filtration and added an additional 40 watt UV light because that corner gets a lot of sun and can be a breeding ground for algae.

craning-in-statuecustom-water-feature-showing-irrgation-setup

When creating the design, we had envisioned a ripple effect at night, caused by the two cascades from the troughs. With the proper landscape lighting, the ripples would reflect onto the sculpture and the background behind the sculpture.

Approximately twenty light fixtures were installed on three different circuits, controlled by a remote device. We installed under lights to cause the rippling effect. The outcome was stunning.

statue-as-focal-point

As well as the water feature, the client wanted a custom-made fire pit with built-in seating so they could escape the chills of the San Francisco evening. We built the gas fire pit with the focal point as the background. The built-in seating is made out of the same warm redwood as the deck and fencing.

custom-fire-pit-with-focal-pointcustom-fire-pit-with-seating

We also brought in turquoise boulders set around the patio to double as seating.

turqouise-stone-for-seatingafter-from-bar-b-que

The Bar-B-Q area has a gas line stub out in the corner for easy hook up. It also has articulation light fixtures for illumination while cooking in the evening.

bar-b-que-setup

Before & After
Overall, we’re very pleased with the results. It exceeded our expectations, and we’re proud to add this one to our landscaping project portfolio as another job well done!

Need help on your landscaping project? Are you looking for ideas for your contemporary landscape design? Call us at 415-265-2697 or contact us for a free consultation. Let us help you realize your landscaping dreams!

after-landscaping-project-from-upper-view
Realized contemporary landscape design, from above.

Retaining Walls in San Francisco? Watch Closely When El Niño Starts Up Again

El Niño

Effects of El Niño on San Francisco retaining walls

When El Nino hit this year, you may have been looking forward to it. After all, it’s rain – albeit a lot of it – on ground that badly needs the moisture. What you may not have expected, and what some homeowners obviously didn’t expect, is the strong storm taking down the San Francisco retaining walls that hold the hilly landscape at bay.

A lot of the problems we’ve had here in San Francisco this year have been small compared to the two Bay Area homes affected by sliding hillsides at the end of January. However, retaining walls failed all over the city because of the rains. -And now the El Nino, although it’s one of the strongest in history, is on pause.

Rather than breathe a sigh of relief that everything held, now is the time to really take a look at your property. If you have retaining walls (and what San Francisco property doesn’t?), you need to have them checked to make sure they’re still doing their jobs correctly.

Why Do San Francisco Retaining Walls Fail in Rain?

It’s often believed that San Francisco retaining walls fail because of the pressure of all that earth being held back. After all, the Bay Area is just one big hill, right?

That’s far from the truth, however. It’s actually water – not dirt – that is the biggest culprit for knocking down retaining walls. More specifically, it’s water combating a wall with improper, or no, drainage.

When a retaining wall has proper drainage, water slowly seeps out, keeping pressure on the wall down to manageable levels. Without that drainage, however, water builds quickly behind the wall, causing hydrostatic pressure.

Hydro means water, and static means non-moving. So hydrostatic pressure is the pressure against the wall caused by standing water. To understand how this principal works, you can take a full cup of water and stick your finger in it. The pressure of the water against your finger is hydrostatic pressure.

The resulting additional weight of the water against the wall – with no outlet because of poor drainage – causes structural damage. In some cases, it causes cracks or buckles as the water forces its own seep holes into the wall. In other cases, it brings the retaining wall down, along with the soaked ground behind it.

Is Your Retaining Wall Failing?

Is there a way you can tell if your retaining walls are… well, retaining? Are they doing their job? Luckily, your wall doesn’t have to be horizontal to tell if it needs repair. Here are a few warning signs that your retaining wall may not stand up much longer:

  • Non-weeping weep holes – If your retaining wall has little holes in it, and those holes aren’t seeping after a rain (particularly a heavy rain), this is a sign that the drainage behind the wall is either inadequate or blocked.
  • Pregnant walls – If your retaining wall looks pregnant about a third of the way up, this is a sign that it may not hold much longer. Another good hard rain may be all it will take to knock the wall down.
  • Cracking walls – If your retaining walls have cracks, especially if the cracks are deep, long or wide, it’s a good indication that they need repair.

Repair or Rebuild Your Retaining Walls?

If your in San Francisco retaining walls are showing one or some of the signs above, it’s time to have them inspected by the professionals. However, none of these signs are definitive signs of doom; it may not take a complete rebuild to fix the problem. Luckily, there are several ways to repair a retaining wall without starting from scratch.

Tamate Landscaping will work with you to develop the best plan for your landscape and budget, whether it’s repair, renovate or rework. Contact us at 415-265-2697 for a free estimate.

Three Major San Francisco Landscaping Trends for 2016

Natural Garden

We have emerged from our former year into a new one. 2016 is finally here, along with some major San Francisco landscaping trends. Each new year we make plans to do things differently; we’re looking for new and exciting experiences in all aspects of our life. New year, new us, right?

So what about our homes? Not all of us can just buy a new house. Good thing is, you don’t have too! With this new year comes new trends, especially in the landscaping business. Of course, landscaping is about personal preferences, but looking at new and past trends can give us an idea of how to give our house a revitalized feel. New year, new house!

So what’s hot in landscaping, you ask? Okay, you may not have asked it that way, but that’s okay – let’s look anyway…

3 San Francisco Landscaping Trends

Socialite, Meet California Wildlife.

Western JayIn years past, you may have noticed the critters in your garden, and most of the time, people would want them gone. Instead, invite them in!

We’re not saying you should build a Disney scene in your backyard, but adding animals definitely adds aesthetics to your “new” home. What animals should you add?

Some are building chicken coops that fit in with their San Francisco landscape while offering the additional benefits of fresh eggs. Others add native California plants that attract the birds of the area, called bird gardens.

For example, the Western Scrub Jay is a native California bird that loves the Toyon (Holly Berry) plant. A member of the rose family that flowers white with red berries, the Toyon is a beautiful addition to a bird garden – or any garden for that matter. Add a self-sustaining bird bath and it’s a win-win.

Potager Garden, Anyone?

What else can you add to your new year, new house? A potager garden, of course! Beautiful landscaping concoctions have been created usinSan Francisco Landscaping Trends: Potager Gardeng vegetable plantings – more like paintings for the eye rather than herbs for the tongue.

Take the Villandry Pottager Garden in France, as an extreme example. Made almost entirely of various edible vegetation, this famous kitchen garden is a feast for the eyes.

For San Francisco landscaping trends like these gardens, tomatoes add beautiful red color. Small green, red and purple cabbage patches provide interesting and colorful ground sections. By mixing vegetable plants that flower (snap peas, for instance), those that create ground cover (cabbages) and fruit-bearing trees, you can have an attractive and productive (and delicious!) landscape all rear round.

Lawn Free is the Way to Be!

One of the most common changes to San Francisco landscaping trends is replacing the high maintenance, water hogging, thick lawns with more colorful, eco-friendlier substitutes. Many are “putting nature back in nature,” so to speak, with interesting rock formations, succulents, cacti and native trees.

“Natural” doesn’t have to mean “unruly” or “dull”, however. This is taking mainstream emerald off your lawn and adding some rubies or diamonds. Imagine the bright yellow of Breath of Heaven with Horsetail Reed Grass in the background. The beautiful salmon-pink color of Maori Maiden mingles in delightful contrast with Mexican Feather Grass, encircled by a low grey slate border and river pebbles.

Natural GardenIt’s not just water conservationists that are going this seemingly extreme direction. Straight green lawns are becoming more and more a thing of the past. A landscape with interesting aesthetics is like an adventure. And who doesn’t like adventures?

There are other landscaping trends this year, of course. One that we’ve seen growing in use is self-sustaining water features. These are just some of the more common in San Francisco landscaping trends that please the eye and leave you in awe.

So, along with the new year and new you, give your land something to aspire to by renovating it. Contact Tamate Landscaping to discuss your up-and-coming landscaping project. New year, new landscape!

Yes, San Francisco, Beautiful, Small Yard Landscaping Designs ARE Possible

Japanese Lantern
By On January 18, 2016 In Completed Projects With No Comments Permanent Link to Yes, San Francisco, Beautiful, Small Yard Landscaping Designs ARE PossiblePermalink

San Francisco has its share of tiny terrain. Take Bernal Heights, for instance; you barely step out of your back door before you reach the end of the yard. Small yards don’t have to put a stop to bountiful beauty, however. As San Francisco landscapers, Tamate Landscaping has had ample opportunity to transform constricting crevices into beautiful, small yard landscaping designs – a client’s mini paradise.

Japanese Garden on Goldmine Drive, Noe Valley, San Francisco

Small Yard Landscaping - Beautiful Japanese Garden in San Francisco

Japanese Lantern

Goldmine Drive is a perfect example of a small yard landscaping design project that turned a tiny San Francisco yard into a peaceful, private paradise. This project started out as an overgrown patch, but now has all the makings of a quiet Japanese garden.

The owner wanted a koi pond and a dramatic, paved pathway. The tightly arched stone makes it seem like a longer stroll to the pond than the few feet you actually go. Walking under the small pergola, past the lit stone lantern, you come to the handmade wooden bench – the perfect place to set and meditate.

Lattice walls and greenery help give the impression that the Japanese garden and careful landscaping design continue beyond while still providing privacy, and the tiny waterfall helps cover the sounds of the hectic world around you. For the client, it’s quiet getaway, right in their own back yard.

Contemporary Hardscaping

West Portal, San Francisco

Contemporary Landscape on Merced Avenue

Another excellent example of small yard landscaping designs with a huge effect is the low maintenance contemporary landscape on Merced Avenue. In fact, “low maintenance” and “contemporary” were the client’s key words.

Horizontal redwood fencing provides a warm, creative backdrop to the modern landscape design. Puffs of topiary soften the stark lines of the rest of the yard without detracting from the flow of geometric shapes – squares, rectangles and crisp borders abound. Eventually, the plants will grow to provide more cover while still maintaining the minimalist look and feel.

Benches, integrated into the concrete planters, take up little space. This provides ample room to sit and talk without taking over floor area with a full seating arrangement. This is the perfect back yard landscape to enjoy small get-togethers in. – And with auto lighting, the get-togethers can go as late as you want!

Dog-friendly Backyard Oasis on Martha Avenue, Sunnyside, San Francisco

A small yard isn’t necessarily friendly for a dog, especially when a dog is really four dogs, and those dogs are two big Golden Retrievers and two small Dachshunds. For one house on Martha Avenue, however, “dog-friendly” is key. The client wanted a backyard oasis – a small landscaping design of beauty, serenity and utility -, and he wanted to make sure his dogs were safe, comfortable and happy.

He had a big wish list for such a small place:

  • Grass that discouraged digging
  • Waterfall that was safe
  • Gas fire pit
  • Bar-b-q grill
  • Queen Palms
  • Deck
  • Storage shed

We used grass pavers to discourage the dogs from tearing up the lawn while still providing green cover. As well, it makes an interesting conversation piece and adds texture to the setting. The waterfall in the back is just large enough to create the backyard oasis feeling without taking over the whole yard.

We utilized terraced layers to give the impression of space while still providing the client with what he wanted. We even managed to fit in a small storage shed, gracefully wrapped by a beautiful wooden deck.

Small Yard Landscaping - the Dog Friendly Yard

Backyard_Oasis

Small Yard Landscaping Design IS Possible

As you can see, just because you don’t have as much square footage as you want doesn’t mean you can’t have big ideas. Call Tamate Landscaping to discuss how we can turn your tiny terrain into a beautiful small yard landscaping design.

San Francisco Landscaping in Asian Style

Noe Valley

Noe Valley

In October of 2014, the San Francisco landscape was parched. California struggled under an intense heat wave. Los Angeles reached 92 degrees by noon. The LAUS school district cancelled all outside activities and sports for the rest of the week, and inland temperatures reached over the 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the weekends. It was hot.

While the ground sweltered and cracked, Los Angeles took on the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series… and Tamate Landscaping moved into Noe Valley to make that part of the country a little wetter, prettier, and a whole lot more stylish.

Noe Valley CracksBefore Noe Valley

This time, our client was a return visitor. Previously, they had wanted Tamate Landscaping to build a roof top garden when they lived in the Mission. Eventually they sold the place, and bought a new home in Noe Valley.

This time, the project was to update the front entrance and backyard with an Asian flair. It took some time and a lot of custom work, but we got it done. Judge for yourself how well it turned out!

Curb Appeal

For the front, we focused on curb appeal. What once started with a mismatched brick and stone entrance now has beautiful, matching planters, custom-made by Tamate Landscaping. All together there are three: two on each side of the pathway to the front door and one on the other side of the driveway.

Each planter was built with steel reinforced concrete. By reinforcing the concrete with steel, it guarantees a longer life-span for the planters. Once the concrete cured, the planters were veneered with stone. We deliberately chose stone that had color offsets rather than a uniform l0ok, to provide a more “authentic” feel. Finally, the walls of the planters were capped with 1-1/2” thick, black basalt.

Kanjuji lantern

In the close up above, a beautiful Kanjuji lantern sets off a bed of pebbles and Blue Fescue, helping set the Asian tone. It is an excellent choice for a Japanese/Western, east-west landscaping blend. Made of natural granite, each lantern is carved into separate pieces (due to the weight of the stone) and assembled in its new home.

Hardscaping

We couldn’t let all the stonework go to waste in the dark. We added step lights, wall lights and small night lighting in the planters to provide curb appeal even in the dark.

Water Feature

We continued the theme in the back yard. Above is a custom-made, Japanese-style water feature. We made this from scratch, drilling and carving to make the stone trough. The unit recirculates the water, so it’s drought and budget friendly. As well, the water feature provides a soft trickling sound to obscure street noise. Another Kanjuji lantern graces the area, and a little stone Buddha is the final touch.

The backyard went from an overgrown, patchy area to a beautiful Asian-flavored landscape, including the little rest area set in the corner. It’s perfect for enjoying the rest of the garden, lulled by the peaceful sound of water trickling.

Retaining Walls: 3 Types to Hold Back Those California Hills

Multi Terraced

Tamate Retaining Wall

In the landscaping world, retaining walls have the major purpose of providing stability to the earth, preventing erosion and the movement of soil. With San Francisco’s hilly grounds, retaining walls are an essential part of almost any household, apartment complex and business. Mud slides, ground seepage, crumbling dirt trying to take over your backyard – these structures are a barrier in the constant battle between man and nature.

Because of the ongoing war with gravity these structures are built to be burly and unstoppable. However, contrary to popular belief, these carefully engineered systems can also be aesthetically stunning. Not only do they hold back Mother Nature, but they also offer pragmatic benefits towards embellishing your home, such as providing privacy to your outdoor living areas and increasing the value of your home (which is a great return on investment, by the way).

Normally, retaining walls use their own mass, backfill anchoring systems to fend off the terrain behind it. They’re most commonly made with offset cinderblocks, angled stones, heavy blocks, wood or reinforced concrete frames, and then filled or backfilled. The fill source can be from just as many materials as the wall itself, but it has to have the necessary physical properties to act as a resistance to the natural earth pressures.

Types of Retaining Walls (and Examples of Landscape Projects You Might Use Them for)

When you think “retaining walls”, you may picture the oh-so-popular gray, imposing hunk of concrete. There are several types, however, and each one has a better use compared to another. For instance, a gravity wall (which you’ll read about shortly) is great for short terraces, but not so great for retaining walls over four feet.

Gravity Retaining Walls are the oldest type of retaining wall, and are built to be bottom-heavy. Fatter at the bottom than they are at the top, they’re often built to lean against the ground they’re holding up. It takes math and a ratio to get them set right, but these walls are great for short terraces. At four feet tall or less, they won’t require mortaring or steel reinforcements.
An example of gravity retaining walls is this multi-terraced retaining wall and drainage project below.

Example of Gravity Retaining Walls

Cantilever Retaining Walls can hold a significant amount of dirt, and are good for tall slopes. They have a horizontal base that extends out to the back, and often to the front as well. For a cantilever wall to last and not come down eventually, it needs reinforcements (often steel) and some form of water drainage.

While a retaining wall with weep holes or a drainage system doesn’t very aesthetically pleasing, you’d be surprised to find out how beautiful it can be. Tamate Landscaping often uses stone facing and caps to turn a plain wall into a perfect backdrop for an Asian garden, or stucco covering to blend in with the Californian landscape like we did in Glenn Park. Click the link to read more about this retaining wall project.

Example of Cantilever Retaining Walls

Steel H Beam and Plank Retaining Walls are sturdy structures, and great for soft soil areas. They consist of beams driven into the ground at spaced intervals. Only about one third of the beams are above ground, with the rest below. They can be made out of steel, wood, concrete, or a mix, as we did in this Buena Vista retaining wall project in 2013. We buried the steel beams, then used treated wooden planks for the wall material.

Example of Steel H Beam and Plank Retaining Walls

Now that you are a pro at retaining walls you can consider having one built. These walls have been around for years and continue to offer myriads of solutions and aesthetic landscaping additions. Take care of the evil slouch in the yard where you wanted to build a pool but never got around to it. Beautify the atmosphere of your home in the back yard, front yard or all the way around the house.

Call Tamate Landscaping at 415-265-2697 to discuss your landscaping project. Find out how a retaining wall can beautify your view.

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!

Update Your Back Yard

Outside Patio

Finished Patio

Noe Valley, also known as Stroller Town by some, is an upscale neighborhood in central San Francisco. Wide sidewalks, its own strips of shops, and an eclectic style of homes makes it a curiosity and a pleasure to walk through.

It’s a mixture of homes, both large and small. From multi-million dollar mansions to 6-figure homes, there’s something for everyone. Rumor has it, even Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame lives here somewhere.

Before Updates

In July of 2015, we were called to Elizabeth Street, on the northern side of Noe Valley. The client wanted to update her backyard, and it wasn’t a small project. At the time, it wasn’t a very esthetic landscape.

The client’s home has a modern interior design, and felt like the outside just didn’t match up. We agreed; the landscape definitely needed an upgrade.

You’ll notice in the picture above that there were some existing retaining walls and fencing, but it was an eyesore. We started there, with fencing on three sides.

High Quality Tongue and Groove

We wanted to make sure the surroundings were something the client and any guests would enjoy looking at. We used very high quality 1”x4” tongue and groove clear Western Cedar to cover the old concrete retaining walls.

Laying out the Panels

Tongue and groove type paneling allows for the individual boards to sit flush against the other. Using stainless staples and fastening the horizontally allowed us to provide a clean, staple-free look, as the staples were hidden in the grooves.

Bluestone Patio

Next the client wanted a bluestone patio using Connecticut Full Range tiles. This is a classic stone that provides a beautiful mix of colors. All natural hues, the Full Range contains blue, gray, brown, green and lilac, which allows an endless number of possibilities in patterns.

For this part of the landscaping project, we had to pour a 4” concrete pad as a foundation, then go back and use thin set to mortar the tiles onto the pad.

Outside Patio

Captured in this picture is the blueprint for the patio in the upper right corner. We choose a 3-piece pattern of 12”x12”, 12”x24” and 24”x24”, which provided a nice geometrical design.

The client also wanted veneer stone panels on the existing retaining walls, as well as a fire pit and new artificial turf. The existing concrete retaining wall was uneven, so we leveled it and used Blue Creek stone panels as a veneer on part of the wall. We capped the veneer with 1”-1½” bluestone. This created a great backdrop to showcase the client’s new, modern landscape.

As you can see in the picture below, the landscape now has bright, new artificial turf. The turf is S Blade 90 – a very heavy duty turf -, heavy enough to stand up to the wear and tear of the client’s 100 pound lab.

Green Turf Patio

The fire pit in the center of the patio was actually made with concrete. However, while concrete can handle heat without melting, it may crack – and we want this to last a good, long time.

With that in mind, we lined the inside of the fire pit with fire clay to stand up to the heat. (See image below) Fire clay is resistant to high temperatures, and can withstand heat of 2,759 Fahrenheit (1,515 Celsius) or more. It’s doubtful that the fire pit will get that hot, but if she wants to bake pottery in it, it will be ready for the challenge.

To top it off, we added an LED light to the lip of the cap piece, and veneered the outside with matching stone. We installed stainless trays to the fence with succulents planted inside. Above the trays are copper downlights. Between the downlights on the walls and the lighting on the cap stones, the patio will be well-lit at night.

Fire Pit PatioAnd the finished landscaping project! It took us two weeks and was a lot of work, but we’re extremely happy with the result.