Amazing home transformations

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3 great gardens from our readers

Our inventive readers show how to create the backyard of your dreams, even on a budget


Despite its many elements, including stepped decks, a covered bench, and a teahouse, the garden is serene, not busy.

Marion Brenner

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Potted bamboo
Garden deck
David Polifko

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David Polifko • San Francisco • 3 years, start to finish

My Inspiration: The architecture of Japan, where I lived for five years in the 1990s.

Challenges: Budget and time. Solution: I divided the makeover into three separate projects and completed one a year.

Discovery: Working on the garden let me focus on something different from my venture-capital job; it inspired me to pursue a fine-arts degree too.

Advice: Have a vision and make a plan. Then stretch out the work depending on your time, budget, and energy.

Now ... My garden is the first thing I see in the morning when I look outside ― a great way to start the day.


Which project came first? Planning, and shaping the land. To extend the patio nearest the house, I dug out 5 cubic yards of soil and moved it to the yard’s far end, then built a retaining wall to keep it there.

Then the decks? Yes. I built three decks of different sizes, at three different levels. At the same time, I added a fence on the property’s west side ― stepped to follow the property’s slope ― and a covered bench and arbor.

And the teahouse? That came last, in spring '05. It’s a custom design, 8 feet square, with post-and-beam construction, a board-and-batten roof, shoji-style door, and wraparound deck. I angled the teahouse to fit the tight corner.

The best part? Seeing my vision come to life. And the cost: about $7,000 for materials and plants.

Next: Johnsons' Beach


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