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.

Depending on where you are in the city, you can run into anything from a flat surface to a small foothill. In some cases, you can end up with both in the same backyard.

Visitacion Valley has its share of hills, and Russian Hill has its notable steep inclines, but according to Stephen Von Worley of Data Pointed, Bernal Heights takes the cake. In a survey of San Francisco’s steepest streets, he notes that several are in the Bernal Heights area, including Ripley Street and Nevada.

Oh sure, you may call Bernal Heights the “Hottest Neighborhood in San Francisco,” like Business Insider did in 2018, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there are streets that should come with medical warning signs. “Don’t walk this street if you have…”

Beautiful Landscaping for Hilly Backyards: Yes, It’s Possible!

Steep streets and backyards shouldn’t stop you from having a beautiful backyard landscape, however. Here are just a few ideas of what you can do to tame your hilly backyard into a peaceful oasis.

Natural Stone Stairs

Whether you just have the stairs, as in the first two pictures, or you include other landscaping techniques (terracing, fencing, etc.), stone blends well with the natural landscape around it.

Allowing nature to look… natural… is hard to do, but something as simple as a set of stairs can help your hilly backyard look purposeful. Replacing weeds with bushes and perennial plants can not only help with keeping down erosion, but also give you a beautiful view when you step outside.

Terracing: Layered Beauty

Not to be confused with the use of retaining walls (although it does use some retaining walls), terracing creates a set of layers in your landscape. As shown above, there are several ways you can use terracing. One way is to mix a patio/sitting area with sections of plants. Another is to use only plants for the hillside. Either way, the finished effect is fantastic.

Water Features: Ponds and Waterfalls

Hills are an excellent excuse to add a water feature, such as a small waterfall or koi pond. The natural grade of the landscape allows a waterfall to gracefully pour down the stone, providing the quiet trickling sounds that work to block out San Francisco’s hustle and bustle. These water features help to provide the peaceful serenity you need during a crazy work week.

Retaining Walls: Holding Back the Hills

While terracing uses retaining walls to create the layers, sometimes you just want to get rid of the hill and enjoy the possibilities of a flat space. While you might think a retaining wall is just a retaining wall, not all of them are created equal. You can pour a slab of concrete, but it just doesn’t have the same look as stone or redwood.

What Are You Going To Do With Your Hilly Backyard Landscape?

Yes, the hills of San Francisco and Bernal Heights are a challenge, but the biggest challenge isn’t what to do with it. It’s what to do with it. The possibilities are endless.

Besides the options above, you could also add a hot tub – hills afford excellent ways to incorporate a hot tub. We’ve shown you short terraces, but you could have a long terrace, with the second level being treated as an additional patio. In the case of one client, we turned the terrace into a sports area, complete with hoops.

Whatever you decide to do, take care of your hilly backyard landscape with a licensed landscape contractor. We’ve been designing and creating beautiful landscapes for over thirty years. Contact us today to discuss your project.


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