How to Choose the Right Fish for Your Japanese Koi Pond

Japanese Koi fish swimming in the pond
Japanese Koi fish swimming in the pond

Water features are a common addition to most Japanese garden designs, whether that water feature is a trickling fountain, a tiny stream, or a mini Japanese Koi pond. As one of the five elements, water represents the flowing, fluid things in nature and constant renewal. It’s part of Onmyōdō: the Yin to stone’s Yang, creating a balanced landscape.

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Landscaping for Hilly Backyards: Bernal Heights

Retaining wall with waterfall

One of the great things about San Francisco is the hills, because it allows a whole slew of people a panoramic city view. A flat street limits the view. However, it also makes hilly backyards a challenge for any landscaping project.

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Native and Exotic Plants for Your Next San Francisco Landscape Project

colorful flower garden

As a San Francisco landscape contractor, we’re often asked which plants are best for our Mediterranean climate, cool winds and foggy skies. There is a huge array of potted plants, flowering shrubs and large trees that do well in our backyards.  Today, we’ll cover just a few of them that would flourish here. Whether you’re in North Beach, Visitacion Valley, Parkmerced, Outer Richmond or anywhere in between, there’s a plant for you.

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5 Reasons (Plus 1) to Add a Water Feature to Your Landscape

benefits of water features
benefits of water features

A landscape water feature can include elements such as a fountain, stream, or waterfall. The sound of water has a therapeutic effect on many people. It can help reduce a person’s stress levels. Over time, stress reduction may be able to add years to a person’s life – but that’s just one benefit. Here are five other benefits of adding a water feature to any landscape.

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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. Continue Reading →

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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!

Realized contemporary landscape design, from above.

San Francisco Landscaping in Asian Style

Noe Valley

Noe Valley

In October of 2014, San Francisco landscaping 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.

It Was A Hot Summer

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 rooftop 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!

Front Curb Appeal

Curb Appeal

For the front, we focused on curb appeal, while staying true to the San Francisco Landscaping in Asian Style and elements. 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.

Japanese Lanterns Added To The Asian Style

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, 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 that San Francisco Landscaping 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.


Steps & Lights

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 backyard. 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.

San Francisco Landscaping in Asian Style often incorporates stones, with lights water and rocks, plants, and ornamentation to create a tranquil and relaxing environment.

It is often used in public spaces such as parks and gardens, as well as in private homes. Our wonderful city has many excellent examples of Asian-style landscaping, and it is definitely worth taking a stroll through one of these landscapes to experience the peaceful atmosphere for yourself.

You have a project in mind, then reach out to Tamate Landscaping for an estimate.

Japanese Hot Tubs: Expanding Your Landscape with a Private Ofuro

Ofuro Hot Tub

Ofuro Hot Tub

What’s an ofuro? What’s the difference between Japanese hot tubs, or soaking tubs, and American? Definition, differences and benefits of having an ofuro as part of your landscaping project.

If you’ve always thought a hot tub is just a hot tub, think again. Before adding a bubbly pool of water to the landscape design of your peaceful Japanese garden, take a few moments to read about the ofuro. The Japanese manner of relaxing at the end of the day is as beautiful as Japan’s timeless tea ceremony, the Way of Tea.

What is an Ofuro?

The Japanese culture is full of expression; something as simple as arranging flowers are done with such precision and focused thought that it becomes a momentary living masterpiece. It’s no wonder, then, that such a culture would develop a cherished tradition out of the everyday task of bathing. It’s also no wonder that Americans look with a little wonder upon these out-of-time traditions.

The ofuro, a deep soaking tub made from Japanese Cypress (Hinoki wood), is just one of those traditions that brings a bit of the calm quietude of Japanese culture. Meant to relax the body, ease the mind and bring tranquility to the soul, this way of bathing – surrounded by your beautiful Asian landscape – will help you stay healthy inside and out.

How is an Ofuro Different from an American Hot Tub?

Rather than a bath tub such as Americans use to wash off in, the ofuro tub is meant for a much more enticing task – relaxation. In fact, since more than one person would normally use the water, it’s customary to clean off before entering the Japanese soaking tub. Many Japanese bathrooms have separate areas to wash off before entering the ofuro. After all, you’re going to soak, not just sluice off.

Not only does the use differ, but the way it’s built is as well. American baths tend to be longer, with curved sides; we can stretch out and fight to be covered by all the water. A Japanese hot tub, however, is built to be shorter – you won’t be able to lie down -, but it is often deep enough that you can sit comfortably covered up to your shoulders. The walls tend to be straight up and down, rather than curved, and many come with built-in benches, making your soaking time even more enjoyable.

The biggest way that these Japanese soaking tubs differ from American bath tubs, however, is the view. When possible, a window is put in next to the ofuro so the bather can look out and contemplate the beauty of nature.

The Benefits of Having an Ofuro in Your Private Garden

Although other materials are available, ofuros are traditionally built out of Japanese Cypress, or hinoki wood. This cherished wood is used for chopping boards by sushi chefs, to build Shinto temples and many other construction projects. It has excellent strength and resistance, doesn’t mind humidity, doesn’t rot, and is resistant to mold. Knowing that hinoki structures have lasted thousands of years should give you plenty of confidence in your ofuro!

As well, hinoki oil, loosed by the hot water in the tub, contains minerals and essential oils used for numerous therapeutic purposes. It’s gentle on the body and gentle on the skin (has been used to treat skin irritations). Inhaled, the oil has been used as a decongestant, nervous system tonic and as stress-reducing aromatherapy.

Other Wood Options for Japanese Hot Tubs

While hinoki wood may be hard to get ahold of in San Francisco, other woods are available, and are excellent stand-ins. For example, Robert’s Hot Tubs offers Alaskan yellow cedar, or even exotic teak wood.

Although these woods may not be the “traditional” wood for the Japanese hot tubs, they offer the same enjoyment – with the addition of each wood’s unique pattern and color.

As you sit in your ofuro and gaze out over your peaceful, Asian garden, you’ll slowly begin to understand why the Japanese are so interested in bathing that they made a daily tradition out of it. Thirty minutes to an hour later, you’ll step out refreshed, relaxed and rejuvenated.

If you live in San Francisco and are thinking about adding a hot tub to your landscaping project, contact Tamate Landscaping. Highly skilled in Japanese garden design, we’ll help you design and create your Asian paradise.

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 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.