Backyard Landscaping: Private Sports Yard in the Sunset

Sunset District, San Francisco
Sunset San Francisco

In February 2015, we took on a backyard landscaping project in Inner Sunset, one of the four “micro neighborhoods” making up the Sunset District. Our objective was to create a private sports yard for the homeowner, complete with a nice putting green and space for other activities

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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.

French Drains on Rolling Hills

Midtown Terrace San Francisco
By On October 29, 2015 In Completed Projects With No Comments Permanent Link to French Drains on Rolling HillsPermalink

Midtown Terrace San Francisco

The summer of 2015 found the Tamate Landscaping crew in the Midtown Terrace neighborhood. Like much of San Francisco, Midtown Terrace is built on rolling hills. –And while rolling hills make for beautiful landscape, they also make it hard for homeowners.

Falling retaining walls and sliding ground is often the culprit, but this time it was lack of drainage. The client had big concerns about water intruding into the home, thanks to the predicted El Niño.

The hillside butts right up against her house, and showed no evidence of a drainage system being installed during the home’s construction. Water marks were already noticeable in the garage foundation; if left unchecked water could start to cause dry rot. Dry rot, in turn, would continue to weep up the walls and cause very expensive damage.

We recommended a French drain, tied into the municipal drain system. With French drains, a trench is dug, and then filled with something (loose gravel, for instance) that helps vent the water before it seeps into the home. By tying it into the drain system, we would reduce the possibility of it seeping in elsewhere – basically wicking the water away from the home entirely.

Trench Around Property

The real challenge of this three-day project was excavating the rocky land. We needed to dig a 4’ foot (or deeper) ditch, which is a lot of work. The ditch had to be below the concrete slab of the basement. Otherwise, water could still gather at the base of the slab and weep into it due to concrete being porous.

Because of how rocky and compacted the soil was, we had to use jack hammers. We trenched down 5’ at the deepest level, to get below the concrete slab, and then discarded the removed soil.

Prepare the concrete

Once the excavation work is done, the next order of business is to prepare the concrete for the drain (Top image). As mentioned before, concrete is inherently porous and excessive water will penetrate, eventually seeping out the other side. A seal is added to prevent that from happening (Bottom Image).

Seal the concrete

However, before we could seal the exterior of the concrete, we had to make sure the concrete was clean. We used a high power washer to clean the concrete from any foreign material that would keep the sealant from bonding.

The sealant we used is a product called TamoSeal. We’ve been using it for 30 years, and we love it. TamoSeal is a Portland-based product that we often use in our pond construction jobs. It seals up all the pores, making the concreate water tight. It’s the extra protection this project needed.

Once the sealant was dry, we used a snap cutter to cut the old cast iron pipe leading to the municipal system. Since seeping water can carry dirt and debris into the drain pain, causing it to clog, the 3” perforated drain pipe we installed was wrapped in a fabric sleeve to help keep it clean. The last thing we want is to have to dig the trench back out because of a clogged pipe. We connected it to the municipal drain and then began the fill process.

The final step is to backfill the entire trench with tons of ¾” drain rock. Water follows the path of least resistance, and drain rock makes it easier for the water to get into the perforated pipe.

Drain Connect

Tamoa Seal

As an added layer of protection, we placed another black fabric barrier between the earth and the drain rock. This will ensure that the adjacent earth doesn’t slowly migrate into the French drain, which would eventually reduce its effectiveness.

All in all, it was a quick job; the hardest part was the digging. Even in our world of mechanical wonders, sometimes the best tool is manual labor!



Retaining Walls – Whitney Street – Glen Park

Whitney Street Project

Glen Park Neighborhood

Retaining walls are a necessary but often-overlooked element of landscape design. When done well, they can enhance the curb appeal of a property and add value to the home.

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Current Project 2014: West Portal Custom Front & Rear

By On January 18, 2014 In Completed Projects, Ponds and Waterfeatures, Retainingwall With Comments Off on Current Project 2014: West Portal Custom Front & Rear Permanent Link to Current Project 2014:  West Portal Custom Front & RearPermalink

Our first project in 2014 brings us back to West Portal and its a large one for San Francisco Standards.  Below is a shot of the rear before construction. We’ll be constructing new fences and sunken patios with contemporary concrete retaining walls that are becoming so popular these days.  Also included is a gas fire pit, stainless weir waterfearure, decks, lights and much more.


The end of 7 days.  After removing about 40 cubic yards of debris, concrete and dirt, you can see the forms for the new wall going up.



January 24, 2014, the end of week 2, we pumped 12 yards of  colored concrete (silver smoke), removed the forms on the same day and hand troweled for a smooth finish.



Also being installed is the rear wall stonework and water feature.


January 31, 2014:  Day 18.  

Things are moving along as planned and we should be done in about 7 days.  Below you see a test fire of the natural gas fire pit.  We installed a 30″  H- burner but now I’m thinking I was over ambitious.  The unit puts out so much heat that I’m concerned it may create superficial fissures in the concrete where its narrow.  Although the fire pit is a big chunk of steel re-enforced concrete, expansion and contraction of such material may cause an unsightly effect.  After a discussion with my clients, we are downgrading to a 24″ T-burner.  Stay tuned for a night shot.


A photo of Manuel in the background working on the “stainless weir” water feature.  Also, Mario in the foreground, ripping a piece of black limestone for installation.   A word about these two dedicated workers:  From the pueblo of San Mateo, Mexico,  they’ve been with me for 12 plus years and are the single greatest asset to my operation.   They are skilled, dedicated and with an unmatched dynamite work ethic.  Without them,  I simply would not be able to do an installation like this.


A photo of stair stringers made from 4″ pressure treated material.  All cuts have been sealed with “copper green”.   I’d say its elephant proof.


February 7, 2014:  2 shots of “Almost Done”








leni com 4

leni comp 1

Completed: West Portal Renovation Aug.2013

By On August 12, 2013 In Completed Projects, Retainingwall With Comments Off on Completed: West Portal Renovation Aug.2013 Permanent Link to Completed: West Portal Renovation Aug.2013Permalink

Below is a before shot of an uninviting, underutilized backyard.

chung before

We started with demo of the entire yard and concrete forms for a raised concrete planter which has become popular for todays contemporary styling.

chung planter forms

Planter number one with concrete forms removed.

Concrete planter number two.  This shot was taken 3 hours after the concrete pour.  Timing is crucial here.  Remove the forms too early and the whole structure will collapse.  Too late and it will be too hard to hand trowel a smooth finish.

kev 2

Winter 2013, Project Complete

chris comple 1

christ completet3

christ complete 2

Completed Project: Saint Francis Woods Curb Appeal. 7/2013

By On July 27, 2013 In Completed Projects With Comments Off on Completed Project: Saint Francis Woods Curb Appeal. 7/2013 Permanent Link to Completed Project:  Saint Francis Woods Curb Appeal. 7/2013Permalink

Below is a before shot of the front yard.  Client expressed a larger entrance patio that is more inviting and a general redesign to increase curb appeal.

The following three shots were provided by the homeowner and posted on yelp:  Below is a shot of the expanded patio.  Materials used were silver quartzite flagstone with a limestone border.  Note the FX Luminaire Brass step light.



Shot at night illuminated with FX Luminaire Copper LustroRame.


Completed Project: Outer Sunset Makeover, 6/2013

By On June 23, 2013 In Completed Projects, Retainingwall, SF Dept. of Building Inspection Permits/decks & retaining walls With Comments Off on Completed Project: Outer Sunset Makeover, 6/2013 Permanent Link to Completed Project: Outer Sunset Makeover, 6/2013Permalink

This residence in the outer sunset currently has crumbling concrete retaining walls/steps, terraces that slope and no foliage excepts for weeds.  Not a very inviting environment for a young couple with a new baby.  We were asked to provide a makeover, with a set strict budget and to include a deck, new steps, fix up the walls, turf and plants.  We were shown some photos of elements they liked and we took it from there.  Below are two photos of before.

We started with demo, relocating steps and reinforcing the existing walls.

Below is a shot of a massive concrete bench that we formed and poured.  It serves as as a safety barrier between the two terraces, a platform in which to tie the deck that we will be installing and also seating.

sunset forms

sunset deck

Adding new concrete to existing concrete must be done with great care.  The natural tendency is for new concrete to pull away from old concrete due to poor bonding and expansion and contraction of concrete.  We minimize this by anchoring rebar to existing concrete with a epoxy resin as seen below.

We also coat all surfaces of existing  concrete  with a bonding agent called Weld Crete as seen below.

Job complete.  Three new level terraces, new steps, an organic vegetable garden box, TREX deck and artificial turf.  Also installed were auto irrigation, lighting and plants.

Complete Projects: Retaining Wall in Buena Vista

February 13, 2013:

This project brings us to the Buena Vista neighborhood in San Francisco.  We’ll be replacing this wall with something much stronger.   A concrete wall is of course the most durable lasting 80 plus years but if budget is a factor, pressure treated (PT) timber is the way to go. But not all PT walls are constructed equally as you can see.  With the support post being the weakest link, failure occurs here in most instances.  Specifically, either the post rots out or the concrete footing will start destabilizing due insufficient depth and girth.


Tamate Landscaping - Old Retaining Wall

Day 1, old wall is removed and area excavated.

Tamate Landscaping - Old Retaining Wall Removal

So how do you make a standard pressure treated 15 plus year wall into a 30 plus year wall?  More concrete and substitute pressure treated posts with steel I-beams.  Here you see the steel post dropped into a hole 4′ deep by 2′ wide.  1/2 cubic yard of concrete will secure the post for a very long time.

Tamate Landscaping - Steel Support Beams for Retaining wall

Tamate Landscaping - Steel Support Beams for Retaining wall

Tamate Landscaping - Steel Support Beams for Retaining wall

As we excavate the post holes, soil is loaded onto the trailer for dumping and concrete mix brought up.

Tamate Landscaping - Soil and Concrete Loading

All with five gallon buckets.  A typical San Francisco project due to limited access.

Tamate Landscaping - Soil and Concrete Loading by Bucket

End of Day 3.

Tamate Landscaping - Support Structure for Retaining Wall

One very important process when working with pressure treated lumber is to seal all ends that have been cut.  When pressure treated material is manufactured, the chemical that protects it from rot, termites etc. is only injected about 20 percent into the surface ,at best.  Any cuts would leave that area open to intrusion of the elements.  Here we use “copper green” to seal it up.

Mira Drain.

Project Complete: February 2013, Buena Vista, San Francisco California.

Completed Project: Noe Valley Makeover 2013

Below is a photo of a rear yard in Noe Valley.  We installed the lower deck and fences about 6 months ago and soon we’ll be going back to finish the landscaping.  Included in the project will be a patio, stone planters, water feature, spiral stairs, curved bench/pergola, lighting, plants etc.

Here you see the completed quartzite patio and masonry work.  We used a bitterroot wall rock for the short retaining wall and a natural stone veneer on the existing concrete wall to cover the unsightliness.

View from the deck.  Note the curved redwood pergola which follows the contour of the patio.


We also installed a spiral staircase to provide access from the upper deck to the yard.  Spiral staircases are wonderful for small spaces as is typical in San Francisco.  They take up such a small footprint.  Tamate landscape acquires their made to order custom units from Salterspiralstairs and constructs them onsite.  This unit is aluminum and powdercoated.

We installed this simple water feature .  The cascade was made by cutting a channel into basalt.  The system re-circulates via a highly efficient pump which uses very little electricity.

Project shot at night with landscape lighting.