A dream comes true

This garden is the labor of love
Lauren Bonar Swezey

Catherine Burns wanted to remodel her Oakland garden, so she sought estimates from professionals. Put off by the high bids, she and her husband, Michael Monroe, decided to tackle the project themselves. It took about six months of weekend work, but eventually they completed their dream garden.

Before beginning, Burns and Monroe searched how-to books for landscaping ideas. After making a wish list, they sketched a rough plan for placement of various features. "The garden consisted mostly of dirt and weeds," explains Burns, "but fortunately there were lovely mature trees and rhododendrons we could incorporate into our design."

The couple's biggest accomplishment was building a tiered concrete pond, which a mason had discouraged them from attempting themselves. They had to hand-dig the soil since there was no access for machinery, then make laminated forms to create the pond's curved edge.

On the opposite side of the patio, a flower bed planted with annuals and perennials mirrors the shape of the pond. The rest of the garden is filled with shade- and sun-loving subtropical and Mediterranean plants ― abutilon, bougainvillea, datura, giant bird of paradise, and princess flower (Tibouchina). "The garden's been my haven away from the chaos of work," says Burns. "And the daily feeding of the koi has become one of my greatest pleasures."