Outdoor room for an active family

TIME: Eight months, plus several months for planning

Unless you're a skilled outdoor builder, installing large retaining walls, waterfalls, pools, and gazebos is best left to professionals. That's what Bob and Debi Kahn, of Thousand Oaks, California, decided before tackling their dream garden--a "Victorian country" outdoor living room with a pool, spa, waterfall, gazebo, built-in barbecue, patio, pocket planters, and raised vegetable beds.

"The backyard is only 72 feet wide, and the distance from the back of the house to the base of the hill is only about 38 feet," Bob Kahn says. "But our landscape architect (Marsh Sanders of Design Concepts) drew up a plan that met all of our objectives." Landscape professionals cleared the land, leaving as many mature trees as possible, and Ken Palmer of K.C. Palmer Construction installed all the hardscaping. Then Bob took over, planting colorful flowers in poolside pockets and on the terraced hillside.

Work on the garden began October 2 and was completed May 2 (the photographs below show the garden's progression). Then the Kahns threw a party as a way to say to the neighbors, "Sorry for the inconvenience, trucks, and noise--we're done."