Marion Brenner

Fresh look for an overgrown slope

Sunset  – November 17, 2004 | Updated May 16, 2018

TIME: Two years

COST: About $6,000

“When we bought this house, the yard was overgrown with honey-suckle, ivy, and blackberries,” writes Scott Terry of Oakland, California. “It had obviously been beautiful at one time but had been neglected for 10 years.” Paths and retaining walls were crumbling; shrubs and trees were overgrown.

The biggest problem was an enormous lap pool (below ) at the bottom of the slope: Installed by the previous owner, the pool occupied the only spot on the property sunny enough for a vegetable garden. “We wanted it out,” Terry says.

The first year, Terry and his partner, Todd Brower, hired an arborist to identify the trees on the property. Then they cleared out the ones that were ill or misplaced. They also repaired the retaining walls, paths, and sprinkler systems.


Since the budget to take out the pool and completely revamp the bottom terrace was a mere $5,000–not much considering the amount of work that needed to be done–Terry and Brower decided to do the work themselves, rather than hire landscapers to do it for them. “We wanted to integrate the pool area with the rest of the garden. But we also wanted a seating area where we could relax and look upslope to the rest of the garden, as well as a space for a vegetable garden, a small pond with goldfish, and additional fruit trees.”

They asked landscape architect David Mandel to put their ideas on paper; for $800 (part of the $5,000), he measured the space, fine-tuned the ideas, and provided a blueprint.

Then it was time to dig in. Terry and Brower tore up the pool themselves (“a bear of a job”). After six months of searching, they found aged pavers, similar to ones on the upper terraces, at a CalTrans disposal yard near the freeway.

Then they built raised beds for spring tulips and summer vegetables, edging the beds with recycled broken concrete and installing trellises for peas. They brought in 1/2 yard of planting mix, hauling it downslope in 5-gallon buckets–backbreaking work, but it paid off.

“We did all the work ourselves. Right on budget,” Terry says proudly.

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