A Sloped Backyard is Transformed into a Picture-Perfect Retreat

On the upside, this home's landscape gets a fresh start.
01-14 Featured On the Upside
Photos: David Croxford

Located only a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Honolulu is Tantalus Drive, Hawaii’s own nature sanctuary. With its calm vibes, Tantalus is known for its signature panoramic city views framed by an abundance of native plants and trees stretching for miles into the mountains.

Nestled along Tantalus Drive, this large home’s landscape got a fresh start courtesy of the professionals at Steve’s Gardening Service. Before renovation, the neglected backyard of the house suffered erosion problems, with unstable slopes and overgrown vegetation. The interior, open-air courtyard also needed a complete renovation, including new grass, borders, sprinklers and lights.

Landscaper Steve Dewald worked with the new homeowners to achieve the desired look for the yards. Grass pavers were installed in the front yard, giving it a more organized look, as well as allowing extra room for much-needed parking. Dewald’s team made the entryway to the home more accessible by removing plants that cluttered and darkened the area. At the request of the owner, a water urn was also added. Guests can now enjoy the light, tranquil sounds of running water over the rustling of the wind through the trees as they approach the home’s stately entryway.

In the home’s serene courtyard, a variety of plants line the perimeter of the walls. The center was kept clean and simple to provide a balance for the colorful flora and stone accents on the sides. The homeowner wanted to go with a contemporary Japanese-garden theme for this area. The original base plants were blended with new flowers, like spider lilies and blue ginger, to soften the appearance of the courtyard’s garden. Hybrid-clumping bamboo, which also functions as a natural wall, was also added to shield the home from high winds.

Due to the area’s frequent heavy rains, drainage was also an important component of this project.

An alternative to traditional gutter downspouts, rain chains is a device that collects rainwater and diverts it down a chain toward the ground. The chains, one as long as 30 feet, were installed to control the water coming off the eaves. “Rain chains create a really dramatic effect, especially from that height when it’s pouring down,” says Dewald.

The beautiful valley views were used to complement the work done in the backyard. Dewald made modifications that were appropriate to the homeowners’ needs by using low-maintenance plants to enhance the private lookout. “What we wanted to do was not compete with the view,” says Dewald. “The idea was to plant something there, buffer it and make it all blend in.” Monstera leaves and areca palms now frame the yard.

The yard was also terraced to help ease the steepness of the slopes, giving the homeowner a more convenient way to access the natural view. Dewald also added a few romantic touches, including a grass ramp and seating area overlooking the valley and Hawaii Nature Center.

Despite the busy nearby downtown atmosphere, escaping the hectic city is easy with a sight like this. “This is a spectacular view,” Dewald says. “For as close as you are to town, this is a very secluded, nice view.”

Playing the Angles

Landscaper Steve Dewald of Steve’s Gardening Service offers these tips for landscaping on a slope:

  1. Do your research. Different plants thrive in different climates. For hillside landscapes with more volatile weather conditions, Dewald advises using plants with a root system that will provide a strong anchor, such as variegated flax and monstera leaves.
  2. Train your yard. For those yards that go unruly, adding a lawn is ideal for erosion control. Homeowners can also build small walls to help mitigate slope steepness.
  3. Think long term. How are the plants going to look in a year? Five years? What sort of weekly maintenance will be required?
Categories: Landscape Design, Outdoor Living