Garden Design on a Hillside

Parent Q&A

  • Deck for Steep Yard

    (1 reply)

    We're looking for a deck builder for our steep yard.  We would like to build terraced decks out of wood or composite materials.  The decks would not be attached to the house.  We know there are lots of people out there who can build decks.  Please only reply if you have actually built or had someone build decks on a steep incline.  Thanks!  Send replies to bpnrequest [at]

    RE: Deck for Steep Yard ()

    Hi. We live on a property that backs onto a canyon in San Diego. We ended up doing something entirely different, just sharing it in case you wanted another option besides cantilevered decking. We created landfilled terraces supported by keystone walls. Then we put astroturf on one of the terraces for a seating/fire pit area. It's worked quite well because we were able to plant drought resistant, native plants (Mexican daisies, coyote brush, sage, cacti, etc.), and we don't have to worry about termites. Yes, I know termites don't eat composite, we elected not to use it because it gets very slick when wet and decomposes in direct sunlight and gets too hot to walk on. The keystone walls have helped curb the signficant erosion that was occurring, while also giving us a pretty and comfortable hangout space. We put up wood fencing on top of the wall on the last terrace, for safety and privacy, and we essentially only cleared and replanted the bottom half of the canyon wall that we own. Just throwing in my 2 cents, sorry I don't have a contractor referral to offer. Good luck with the project!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Landscaping/Constructing A Backyard on a sloping hill

Feb 2014

My husband and I are looking for someone who can help us visualize and build a backyard on a sloping- downward hill filled with ivy. We are looking for a reasonably priced/skilled landscaper and/or contractor that could help us look at our options and perhaps implement one of them this spring. Can anyone in the BPN community recommend someone? Thank you so much! Judy

Hi there- I'd like to recommend Alejandro from AOG Landscaping in Berkeley- I've been really happy with his work, reasonably priced and full of good ideas- also, willing to work with my particular requests, even when I change my mind! Alejandro 510 517 0329 Angel H

Landscape Architect for master plan for terraced yard

Oct 2012

Hi, We just moved into our new home. We are in the Oakland Hills and we have a challenging yard. It is terraced and there are some drainage issues. The previous owner had done some landscaping many years ago and kept it up until they sold it to us in this summer. However, it is definitely showing its age and contains some plants that need frequent maintenance. There is also a very decayed and overgrown badminton court with what I like to call a 'bog' (standing water that appears to be coming from an underground spring). Needless to say, we are quite overwhelmed with the space but believe it has amazing potential. We don't want to spend much money right now but we do need to do some initial work and figure out ongoing maintenance. However, we hate to go forth with this without knowing what our long term goals are as we realize we could head in the wrong direction. Does anyone know a landscape architect/designer/professional who could give us a 'master plan' now, help us figure out the drainage and irrigation, and implement our plan over time? Part of the long-term vision includes a spot for herbs, veggies, a water feature, outdoor seating/entertaining, a children's play area, installation of a drip/irrigation system - but where does it all go and how does it get implemented over time? We'd love any recommendations. Thanks! Caroline

I think you should give Peter Gradjansky a call 415-699-5441 / gradjansky [at], this is. exactly what he does. He is very talented and he creates beautiful gardens. Jean

Hi there - I have been working with Sue Oda ( for my landscape overhaul and she is so nice to work with. While I don't have my final yard installed yet, I can tell you she is very good with the designs and great to work with. I have done just what you are asking, I hired Sue to design and draw up all the plans and we will be executing ourselves as budget allows. She has also given me names of some great resources that I plan to use along the way (like her arborist). good luck landscaping mama

I enthusiastically recommend Matt Hornby for landscaping, particularly developing a plan for an underutilized yard. Last year, I interviewed several firms to relandscape our back yard and initially didn't hire Matt because he felt that he could not accomplish all that we hoped for within our budget. We went with someone else, who then came back with a bid that did not meet our goals AND was twice what we could pay. So I went back to Matt, impressed by his honesty. Together, we came up with a plan that did fit within our budget and met all of our goals. He went way above the call of duty--finding us a micro-sized play structure that we could squeeze into our tiny lawn, wading through mud and rain to get the contours of the yard just right, and carefully preserving a large arbor that was original to the house. In the end he installed hardscaping, put in irrigation, plus worked with a plant specialist to pick out flowers that have proved hardy and low maintenance. Our yard is now a magical place, which gets comments from everyone who visits our home. We spend so much more time outside that it feels like we've put an addition on the house. We recommended Matt to some friends who had a similarly outstanding experience. You can reach Matt at: Kathy in North Berkeley

Your project sounds a lot like something we started a year ago and are still in the process of finishing up. We also bought a house in a very hilly part of Oakland and inherited a large backyard with a slope, drainage issues, plants we hated, and bad infrastructure. Our landscape contractor was Matt Hornby, whom I highly recommend. It was our second time working with Matt: he had transformed the tiny backyard of our previous home in N. Oakland into a beautifully landscaped garden. We brought Matt back to work on our new property and asked him to help us develop it in phases, so we could make the process more affordable. Matt and his team are very creative, resourceful and solutions-oriented -- he also cares a lot about quality and how his work stands the test of time. He recently came back and replaced some plants because they were faring poorly under the irrigation system he set up, and took on the majority of the cost himself. We are still not done but plan to have Matt finish up the project. You can reach Matt Hornby at (510) 717-1342 or matthornby72 [at] Teresa

If you're looking for a master plan for your garden, I would highly recommend Vanessa Kuemmerle, owner of Vee Horticulture. She recently helped my husband and I with a design which we are going to implement - probably with help from her team at some point. She was simply amazing. Vanessa has that magical combination of technical knowledge plus a true artist's design sensibility. She is a great listener and very intuitive. Our garden up to this point has been a hodgepodge of design. We've tried to work on it at various times but it wasn't really coming together in a way we were both happy with. And we're also challenged with having four dogs, a three-year old, not a ton of space, money or time for upkeep. Vanessa worked with us to put together a fantastic plan that takes into account our requirements, differences and limitations. She really took time to understand our joint aesthetic and what we wanted our garden to feel like at the end of the day. I was impressed that she and her assistant spent a full day at our house taking measurements, seeing how the sun traveled across the yard, talking with me and my husband about different design ideas - all to help inspire them and more accurately plan the perfect garden for us. She then reviewed the plan carefully with us and broke it down into stages, indicating what we could easily do alone and which parts might be trickier and require outside help. Vanessa's a true artist, a great listener, creative, incredibly knowlegable and really respected and worked with all of our various needs. Her website is: robin

Landscape Architect for Hilly Backyard

Oct 2010

Hi - we need a landscape architect that is familiar with the landscaping that helps with erosion but also looks beautiful. Our property is on a hill and the backgard desperately needs landscaping but also has natural erosion every year and its fairly significant. We are in Kensington and would love a recommendation on a landscape arhitect that can help us with a design that curbs but also will yield to some natural erosion but also provides a place for our little son to start enjoying the backyard. Margaret

I just posted this in response to a different inquiry, but I think it applies just as well to your question: Its been a few weeks, but if you have not found anyone yet I'd like to recommend Scott Parker. He has done a lot of really great landscaping work on our property -- both huge projects and small ones. Though Scott is a hands-on landscaper, his design sense is impeccable (for our largest project, we hired a landscape architect, and had Scott do the installation but in the end it felt more like Scott's design). He is also a pleasure to deal with. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. aj

I can definitely recommend Bill Armijo of Bay Area Stone Gardens. He and his colleagues transformed our forbidding slope of a backyard into a functional terraced living space and made it safe for our small children. He showed care and attention to detail, and was very responsive to our requests. We appreciated his integrity and responsiveness. I'm glad to send pix and answer questions. Wendy

We have recently completed landscaping the backyard of our hillside property. Tomi Kobara is a local landscape architect that we had the pleasure of working with. She designed beautiful sitting, pathway & play spaces along with native, drought tolerant trees, bushes and grasses. Tomi understood from the beginning our vision for the hill, devised the planting scheme and the automated drip irrigation system and worked with the topography of the site to provide a beautiful, serene space for us to enjoy. She purchased all the plants at wholesale prices, teamed up with a terrific contractor, delivered the project within our budget and without delays. I am certain that she will do as well or better with your project. Tomi's number is 420-1197 and her website is Alina

Need landscaper for small hillside front yard

Feb 2010

We're looking for a great, reliable landscaper to help up with our small hillside front yard. We'll need irrigation, plant recommendations, and room for edibles too. I've been upfront with our budget, $3500 max, but very few have replied to my emails and calls. Is this just too small potatoes? I'm hesitant to go at it without some professional help...any leads you can provide would be great! Graen Thumb help!

I highly recommend Jorge Zavala as a landscaper/gardner. He transformed our back yard into a beautiful space (mediterranean, drought resistant bloomers with gravel and a fountain)He heavy rototilled, removed tons of dead grass/trees/ivy, constructed a small retaining wall from moss rock, put down flagstone paths, got me a deal on 50 xylosma for a living fence, put an irrigation system, etc.) Our yard is large (one landscaper saw three separate sections of $30,000 to do each one! Not happening over here let me tell you!)Not only are his rates very reasonable,but he is reliable,courteous,happy to discuss your vision(I had idea pictures) and procure both heavy materials and plants.We continue to have him back for projects. He sticks to budget,shows receipts,and does great work all around Oakland,Piedmont,and Berkeley. I almost never ever recommend tradespeople, but Jorge Zavala is a genuine find.Tel: (510)459-6359 or Zavala360 [at] bk

Hello there, Last spring we hired a small landscaping business in Berkeley (yard art) and would like to recommend them for your project. $3500 is a reasonable budget for a small front yard venture (ie: not ''too small potatoes''), but i'm wondering if you need an entire irrigation system installed or do you have one in place that simply needs to be re-worked and/or adjusted? They recommended an irrigation specialist to us who then gave us a clear idea of initial cost since we needed electrical installed. They then proceeded to work with us after the system was put in to meet our budget as well as our dream of having a front yard ''re-do''. Our end-budget fluctuated only slightly (up about $500) and the final result far exceeded our original ideas. It was a great collaborative project that neither my wife nor I have any regrets about and in fact, have both realized a newfound love of gardening! I would suggest getting their expertise, their associates information (we had irrigation and lighting) and then whatever is left is where you can begin your budget for designing and installing a plant scape and adjusting irrigation lines accordingly. They emphasized natives and drought-tolerant gardens so their ideas were right in line with ours. Hope this helps. Feel free to email me if you want more information. We may be having more work done this year before we put our house on the market and plan on having yard art back again. Their contact info is DJ Whelan: 510- 292-1512 - djliveshere [at] Geoff

You may want to give Bay Area Stone Gardens a call (based in Oakland) 415.412.6824. Check out m42gal

Need good landscape contractor for hillside property

March 2009

We are looking for a reliable and reasonably priced landscape contractor or landscape handyman to do a number of projects on our upslope property. We need some brick paths repaired, retaining walls repaired, irrigation installed, and some fence and gate work. Basic, solid work not overly detailed. If you have a recommendation please pass on! david

Wendy Dutton is a hillside expert, having lived and landscaped in Montclair for years. She recently did a slope on our property that featured drought-tolerant plants to hold the soil well. We happened to have existing irrigation, but she can install that as well. In addition, I have seen Wendy's work on neighbors' hillside slopes that included beautiful rock work or even creative paths and kid-friendly details. She can be reached at 510-393-4675 or shoots2000 [at] Sarah

Ashton McKay Landscapers are worth calling. Great work- good design and technical, on time, pleasant to work with, keep project within budget too. contact: ALEXANDRA ASHTON, 510.612.0639 ASHTONMCKAY [at] GMAIL.COM kelle

Creative landscape architect/designer for hillside

Feb 2009

Looking for a creative landscape architect/designer to help us with our hillside front yard. Looking for someone that specializes in a California natives, minimal water use, and of course someone that can help us get creative with our limited budget. Thanks! annie

I can recommend these 2 fantastic women, ''Two Marthas'', who are very knowledgable about all things garden. Their design style takes in their clients needs(great listeners), they have a strong work ethic and it's a pleasurable experience to work with them. They were very able to work within the budget. Lots of experience in drought/native/veggies, irrigation & hard-scape as well. I can recommend them for folks looking for a little guidance or a complete renew of their yard, and ongoing maintenance. Marty Barclay 295-7743. --happy gardening !

I would like to recommend a unique and amazing designer and gardener, Michelle Bayba, 385-6535. I have never had a gardener like her. She is knowledgeable about all aspects of gardening, and she designs landscapes and gardens as if they were her own. She's full of energy and natural creativity. She is personable and fun to work with, does amazing work, and at very reasonable rates. A Berkeley native, Michelle knows the local plants and takes into account the practicality of a garden and how you use it. She knows how to design a garden from scratch, or as in my case, take a straggly garden and properly prune it, fill it in with new plants, nourish them organically, and upgrade the irrigation system. Since I hired Michelle, she now has four clients just on my neighborhood block. She has individualized to each of our needs-- and we are all thrilled. Elizabeth

Call Claudia Viera at 510-653-6535. She is an expert on designing for our native soils, hillside conditions and with native/drought tolerant plantings. I am a licensed landscape contractor and have installed many of her designs. She always does a great job. pablo Cepero, California Landscape Service pablo

I would like to recommend Tomi Kobara (tomiskye [at] or ph. 420.1197) for your project. We have recently completed the landscaping of the backyard in our steep property with native, drought tolerant trees, bushes and grasses. Tomi understood from the beginning our vision for the hill, devised the planting scheme and the automated drip irrigation system and worked with the topography of the site to provide a beautiful, serene space for us to enjoy. She found us a terrific contractor and delivered the project within our limited budget and without delays. I am certain that she will do as well or better with your project. Alina

I would love to recommend Pete Whipple of Limescape Landscape and Construction for your landscaping help. 925 640 2036. He is timely, his pricing is reasonable, and he is very knowledgeable. He has done projects for me and my neighbors and I have seen lots of his other work as well. I love his attention to detail and he makes sure he understands your needs and gets your ideas before he jumps into the job. I was totally happy with his work in every aspect. He is also a general contractor and I've seen many of his remodels which are great and he has fixed many problems in our house that were done by not so great contractors! I'd give Pete and call. Good Luck! Tia

I recently hired Claudia Vieira, a landscape designer. She designed a beautiful plan for our front and back yards. She designed a plan that included all our needs (drought resistant natives, herb garden, free-way sound reduction and wind issues). She was very helpful, accomodating and professional. Highly recommended! Email her atcvgardendesign [at] or call at:510-653-6535 Cindy

I first met Christopher Shein of Wildheart Gardens - (510) 368-2811 - - when I consulted him about working on our neglected bermuda-grass-thatched little patch of a front yard. He and his friendly hard-working crew transformed it into a beautiful and productive garden. Christopher was able to take my half-formed ''wish list'' of plants and fruits and turn it into a detailed, esthetically pleasing and thoughtful plan. For us, it was great to find someone who was willing to teach us and let us work alongside to learn, but please know that this approach is only one of the ways he can work, a traditional landscaper-client approach is of course an option. Christopher is one of those people you meet who seems to be doing exactly what he's meant to do, creating wonderful sustainable gardens and generously sharing his skills and knowledge with others. Christopher had many suggestions for plants I'd never heard of that I now love, as well as ideas for free and low-cost resources for mulch, amendments and the like, so we could carry the plan out more economically. We now have drought-tolerant natives, annual vegetables, edible perennials, fruit trees, herbs and flowers, all thriving harmoniously, and additionally Christopher designed and implemented extensive low-tech earth-friendly ways of harvesting rainwater (and run-off that could have been a problem) so we have nature's help staying within our water budget. We are continuing to work with him transforming our sloped back yard, and really value his knowledge and competence on this ongoing project. Thanks to his design input and skillset, we now see that the somewhat hilly nature of our back yard can be an asset, not the disadvantage we had thought. I really recommend Wildheart Gardens to anyone who wants excellence, competence and expertise in designing and putting into place a beautiful garden space thoughtfully tailored to your preferences about plants and time available to spend tending it - if it is important to you to support a local business that really ''walks the talk'' in terms of ethical practices, even more so - and if you also want to learn as well as benefit from environmentally sound gardening practices then most of all. Penny S.

Need to redesign our landscape on a steep slope

March 2004

We would like to completely redesign our landscape, which includes a very large deck, with a small pool built into the deck. The deck is old and needs to be completely rebuilt. Since the house is on a steep slope, our deck is our only outdoor living space and our only access to almost 1 acre of land. The current design is a nightmare as well as a safety hazard for our 1 yr. old daughter. There is a small level side yard that we would like to make more usable too. We are looking for a landscape architect who has tackled awkward lots like ours before. Thanks for your recommendations. skhiar

I am interested in finding someone to plant our garden and possibly do some irrigation work and fencing as well. We have the design, we now just need it installed. Reliable, knowledgeable and on the less expensive side preferred. Thanks! Vivian

We are looking for a landscape architect to help us ''remodel'' our backyard, side yard, and front area. It will require (at least) irrigation, lighting, laying lawn, pulling up concrete, building fences, building deckspace, putting in electricity (for a hottub, which we want to add as part of this project), etc. The area is already nice, but we want to make it GREAT. We want someone who is creative, and can design a plan for the *whole* space (thinking about flow, capitalizing on using all the space, making it the best in outdoor living for adults and kids, and also paying consideration to safety). We have decided that it is worth it to us to invest some real money into this project, and we want someone who is excellent (that said, it'd be even better if that person was also at least somewhat sensitive to cost). We have called people who are recommended on the UCB parent archives, but it is seeming like maybe our job is a little bigger in scale than their experience (we may really need an actual landscape architect). We need someone who has experience doing total remodels of large outdoor spaces (including potentially designing and/or building structures). I think it will be a fun project -- the area is already nice, we want someone to work with us to make it fantastic! Note: a recommendation for someone you have worked with personally is the most meaningful to us. Thanks! Vandy

In the Feb. 12, 2004 digest, there were a couple of request for recommendations for landscapers who could a) replace an existing irrigation system and b) cope with a hillside location. As I have done many times, I unreservedly recommend Andy Packer of Acorn Landscaping (510/915-3720). We've worked with Andy extensively over the past five years, since we moved into our hillside house in Upper Rockridge. We did a small project in our front rock garden initially (installing an irrigation system), and then--when we were finally ready to tackle the jungle in the sloping back yard--we called on Andy to level the area (into three different flat sections); install a lawn, flower beds, mulch paths, and a second irrigation system; build a fence, a vegetable box, and three sets of stairs; and create a freeform stone patio. On top of all that, when an anonymous smash-and-run driver backed into and toppled the low, circa 1939 brickwork ''fence'' along the top of our front yard, Andy took it upon himself to fix that, too. (He thought we'd have a tough time finding a good mason who would get around to squeezing such a small job into his or her schedule.) In all respects, Andy is great. And as a PS--If you want to view his work, you can email me for our address. darcy

A good person for you to contact is Gina Chavez. She's a landscape designer with a degree in landscape architecture. Her contact information is as follows: Phone: 510/703-6589 E-mail: gchavez at Good luck! Catie

Hi, I talked to a landscape architect when I was getting my back yard redone 1 and 1/2 years ago and she said that unless you are building some serious structures back there, to just use a landscaper instead.

I did, and used Tamar Carson Landscaping and got a superb backyard. I have a beautiful brick and mexican tile patio, great plantings, an attractive low wall with blue bottles incorporated into the wall itself (it looks very cool). I would call the theme ''Mexican/Mediterranean''

Tamar is fun to work with, very creative, has a fantastic eye for color and is happy to work with your vision. Her husband and business partner, Rogelio, is intelligent and technical--they make an excellent team. She gave me a back yard that was even better than I had hoped for. Tamar Carson Landscaping, 654-8242 denise

Tamar Carson Landscaping is a terrific, full-service landscaping firm -- design, installation, patios, irrigation, walls, water. Incredibly responsive and responsible, beautiful, innovative designs. (You can see many of their beautiful gardens around the area, especially in Berkeley.) I believe they'll do design-only if you like. Contacts are Tamar Carson & Rogelio Giron, 510-654-8242. Susan

I would like to recommend Matt Horn Landscaping and Tree Care, located in Rockridge. Matt created my beautiful backyard from scratch, including a flagstone patio, pathways, grass and border plantings. In addition, he installed an irrigation system, and built a fence and gates to enclose the entire yard. I was really looking for one person to do the whole project, instead of doing them piecemeal. I couldn't have been happier, having chosen Matt. He was creative, hard working, timely, meticulous, and sensitive to my slim budget. (For example, while he originally suggested an arbor, to divide up the space, I couldn't afford this. Therefore he selected plantings that would grow tall to create a natural screen.) Most of all, he is friendly and a joy to work with. I recommend him highly--feel free to use my name. Matt Horn Landscaping: 510-658-6088 Elizabeth

Want to redo our steeply sloped Kensington backyard

June 2003

We want to redo our steeply sloped Kensington backyard. We have an ivy-covered hillside behind our backyard patio that we want to turn into a terraced garden with paths and a water feature. We need help with both design and installation. A landscape architect would probably be best because the retaining walls will definitely have to be engineered. Also, we have two young children so we want a design that's kid-safe and kid-fun. Any suggestions? Sally

Hi, A person was writing about landscaping her steep yard. Although she is not a landscape architect, I know Tamar Carson has worked on steep yards doing some fantastic terracing. She and her crew did my sloping backyard and it turned out absolutely fantastic. She has a three year old, so has a good idea about landscaping for children, as well as a great eye for color. She took my weedy, ugly, overgrown mess and turned it into a unique, attractive, easy to maintain masterpiece. She and her husband work together, they have their own crew and she comes in on the budget that she quotes you. I have nothing but praise for her work and you should talk to her to see if you REALLY need a LA to do your work. Tamar Carson Landscaping. 654-8242 Denise

We used Rare Earth Landscaping to design and re-landscape our very hilly and difficult front yard. We found their work and service to be excellent and definately would recommend them. The result was beautiful. Even more importantly - their follow-up on a problem we had with our irrigation system was very responsive (follow-up on repairs/mistakes with other contractors we have used has not been as good!). Jenny

Without question, the nicest work I have seen done in our neighborhood was done by Gary Lazar Landscape Architect Company. He's done at least two amazing jobs in our community alone and I've seen him personally talking with the owners of the property at least once or twice per week, during the job, to ensure they were getting exactly what they wanted. He can be reached at (510) 444-5195. Oakland Hills Resident

I used Rare Earth for a small backyard project - included irrigation system and complete lawn overhaul - installation of small turf yard and plantings on perimeters. We were very satisfied - work was done professionally and quickly by a competent and courteous crew - great crew foreman. Steve Rudy worked with us around a tight budget and remained responsive throughout, revising bid a few times to meet our needs. Steve P.

I would highly recommend the Landscaper that did our yard, Matt Horn. He's a really nice guy and very professional. He was always on time and his estimated cost and time spend were pretty much correct. Our backyard was a driveway into a dilapidated one car garage. We now have a beautiful brick patio and lawn and a wonderful redwood fence for privacy. I'm only now realizing , since it's been warm, how much we are going to enjoy our new yard. Matt lives and works out of his home in Rockridge. I don't have his number at hand, but if you're interested I'll find his number. Good Luck, Michelle

In response to the question about Rare Earth Landscape: We had our front ''yard'' (well, a slope) landscaped by Rare Earth a little over a year ago. We had two rows of dry- stack stone wall put in, a fence, and concrete stairs, along with all the plantings. Steve Rudy at Rare Earth did the design for free (taking into account my requests), gave us a reasonable bid, and did the work on time. We were pretty pleased with the results and I'd hire him again. He was reliable and just a really nice guy. He had done some work for a friend of ours and she was happy with it, which is how we hooked up with him. Good luck- Jennifer