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Need some advice on terraced rear yard

17 years ago


I just discovered this site and have been really impressed by it!

I want to create a brighter, Mediterranean garden in our back yard. And I would love your advice on aspects of how to accomplish this.

We bought a house past spring in one of the sunnier San Francisco neighborhoods. Our back yard faces south, but we are on the north side of a substantial hill so we don't get a lot of sun during winter months. In the summer we get blasted, not only by the sun but it can also be quite windy.

A previous homeowner terraced our hillside, using pre-cast cement block (some sort of prefab system) to build 4 terraces into the hillside, above a decent-sized patio. Although I don't much like a building material itself, the hardscape design is kind of cool- it immediately reminded me of a Roman amphitheater. I tried to figure out how to load a phto here, but can't figure out how to do it. Anyway, the terraced levels are each about 3.5 feet high and about 7 feet deep, in something like a shallow crescent moon shape from one side of our 25' wide yard to the other. That said, we are facing a few issues that I would love anyone's thoughts on:

1) The cement block retaining walls are dark and drab. They are also supposed to look like stone but don't quite cut it. When I'm sitting on the patio looking up, all I see is grey... Replacing the material is cost prohibitive, and stuccoing over it won't work. (Lots of water "weeps" through the walls.) Also, the hillside itself makes it kinda dark back there, especially in the winter months. I've lately been thinking about whitewashing the walls with a tinted traditional whitewash (creamy yellow?) so they will be brighter without being blinding when it is sunny. We kind of have an eclectic look inside our house with a lot of mediterranean color, and I'd like to bring this outside. Any thoughts on whitewashing, especially precast "stone"?

2) The hillside itself is very wet- lots of natural springs there. The soil in our garden is heavy clay and doesn't drain well. (There was water in a puddle back there for 5 days after a recent rain!) As I am looking to create a space which is minimal to care for, my plan is to dig out the top level of dirt (how much is TBD) and lay down gravel, with a top coat of decomposed granite. I used to live in France and loved the gardens there which featured DG paths. Does anyone have any advice for me on how to do this?

3) Once I have the terraced areas covered in tidy DG, I want to "decorate" the area with drought-tolerant and relatively low-maintenance container plants. I love terra cotta pots and plan to use those as containers. Besides lavendar and rosemary and various agaves, any other recommendations for great container plants that would fit a Mediterranean style? I'm not into lots of flowers, but some would be OK. I'm all for low-maintenance here. I also have 2 little kids and the plants shouldn't be too prickly!

4) In the top terrace there is a slope which needs to be planted. I just removed bags and bags of weeds, as well as a dead tree from that section. Any thoughts on a fast-growing evergreen hedge that might do well in SF- that's drought-tolerant and that will be a windbreak, too? I'm looking for something that has a Mediterranean feel, too.

Thanks in advance for any help you might offer!

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