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Designer | Contractor
Michael A. Gonzalez

San Francisco, CA

Site | Size
4,000 Sq Ft

Start | Completion

High End
Project Data

Landscape Case Study

Project Name

Guerrero Garden

Bay Area Landscape Organization

Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes

Situation + Site Condition

A two-unit Victorian house in the Mission District neighborhood of San Francisco was co-owned by two different individuals.

While the residence was immaculate, the landscape and outdoor space surrounding the structure desperately needed some attention and investment.

The landscape was covered in weeds and neglected plants that made property boundaries or possibilities difficult to envision.

As the co-owners considered the future and what to do about the landscape, the site had many issues to address including:

  • Overgrown, unkept + out of control outdoor environment
  • Large, empty concrete pond that was not functional
  • Pronounced diagonal grade running across property
  • No irrigation or site-wide drainage
  • Tall, imposing nearby residences that blocked air + light
  • Existing large redwood tree that needed to be integrated into a landscape solution
  • And more

Project Objectives

To address these challenges, Michael A. Gonzalez, owner + lead designer of Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes, was referred to one of the property owners by another landscape peer. He worked with this owner as his client to define and clarify a set of objectives that included:

  • Design + organize the garden + outdoor areas to become two separate spaces—one for each property owner
  • Unify the two distinct spaces while meeting the different personal preference requirements of each owner
  • Address + level uneven grade
  • Improve site-wide access + navigation through outdoor space
  • Significantly expand areas for planting + flower beds
  • Develop a design solution to compliment the distinctive residence architecture
  • Look to formal Arts + Crafts gardens for inspiration
  • Turn an abandoned, concrete-walled pond into a functional garden feature
  • Install new irrigation + gravity-controlled, grade water disbursement system
  • Inform + communicate all of the above with neighbors
Adjacent Structure Challenges
A large apartment building adjacent to the back of the garden presented an imposing barrier that restricted air flow + sunlight from reaching some areas of the garden.

Other structures around the property also required masking or line-of-sight interruptions to enhance privacy and provide opportunities for vertical green screens.

Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes | Case Study

Imposing adjacent structures restricted air flow + sunlight.
Grade Challenges
A pronounced diagonal grade ran across the property length and made access throughout the site awkward and uneven.

This existing condition also needed to be addressed in a new plan to accommodate grade water runoff and dispersion.

Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes | Case Study

Existing grade created awkward and uneven access throughout the site.
Heritage Tree Challenges
An existing, heritage CA native redwood with a +36” diameter trunk determined planting locations and specimen choices due to excessive shading and debris drop.

This Sequoia sempervirens also had high water requirements which could reduce adequate water delivery or absorption to other plants and trees.

Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes | Case Study

Existing heritage redwood tree created excessive shading + debris drop.
Abandoned Pond Challenges
A large, concrete-walled pond that was once a prominent garden feature had become a weed-filled mess.

Since removing it was cost-prohibitive, re-envisioning or modifying it to have a new aesthetic and functional role in a landscape plan was essential.

Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes | Case Study

An abandoned concrete pond was a weed-filled mess.

Plan + Solution

Michael approached developing a design solution for the project by creating a detailed, hand-drawn, scale drawing.

This analog document guided both his planning and budgeting. It also was essential for sharing his solution with his client. The plan was created to reflect both the materials and plants that would be used in the context of the site.

An innovative, three-level segmentation of the outdoor space focused on a central axis with an upper level and lower seating area became the core of Michael’s overall plan.

Michael shared images of Arts + Crafts gardens and walked his client through various plants that could be used to support the “cottage garden” feel of his plan. Incorporating long visual perspectives along the single axis that were flanked with flowers and planting beds butting to gravel access paths throughout the property helped to support this idea.
His client had a preference for abundantly, flowering annual plants which were to fill the new beds. Michael also relied on the formal structure of topiary cones to create vertical rhythm and define garden boundaries.

Michael planned on working with mason Jorge Lopez to re-face the concrete vertical walls of the abandoned pond with mossy, patinaed Sonoma fieldstone. The result would transform the old pond into a new green area to wander through and reflect.

Initially, the two property owners were not aligned on Michael’s plan or vision.

However, through consistent communication and discussions with both owners, Michael opened new solution opportunities for the project and met the needs and personal preferences of two different individuals.

Project Gallery

Selected Project Plants

Michael intentionally chose to not rely exclusively on CA native plants. His client was concerned about natives appearing to be too brown.

Flowering annual plants were selected to fill the beds and divisional areas including Peony, Bearded Irises, Digitalis, Dahlias, and Chrysanthemum. In addition, he complimented these annuals with just a few CA natives.
He also transformed the new garden space into a natural food-producing source. Espalier, fruit-bearing apple, and pear trees were installed along a sun-filled wall resulting in growing, green sculptures and seasonal fruit.

All plants from Pacific Nurseries were selected at the nursery to meet the project and location requirements.

Results | Outcome

This beautiful garden is now two separate spaces, unified into one harmonious landscape that satisfies the personal preference requirements of each owner.

It provides ample areas for reflection, views, and calming green relief. A new path system throughout the garden makes it easy to navigate through.

New expansive flower and planting beds complement the distinctive architecture of the residence and provide seasonal habitat for pollinators and insects.

The garden is sustained with new drip irrigation and a gravity-controlled, grade water disbursement system. Even the abandoned pond has been transformed into a functional and prominent area for planting.

Michael’s talent, patience, and skills resulted in both owners becoming vested participants in the execution of a successful landscape plan. Even the neighbors have continued to compliment the property owners on their beautiful outdoor addition.

Services Delivered


Property Owners Love their Garden

Two property owners fell in love with a unified solution that divided their garden


Increased Water Usage

Water usage increased by only 25% with significant plant additions + new drip irrigation


Increased Planting + Garden Access

Usable garden space for planting, walking, and relaxing increased by over 300%

“Michael helped us turn a backyard mess into a magical garden space that both of us just love. Wandering through the seasonal blooming beauty or pausing to reflect in the many restful areas that he created gives us the green relief from the city that we were looking for.”
Gurrero Garden Residents

Lessons Learned

  1. A garden in San Francisco reliant on flowering, annual plants can look challenged in winter
  2. CA native plants can complement lots of flowers and add pollinator-attracting beauty
  3. The downside of too many annuals in a garden is difficult to demonstrate without first-hand experience
  4. Whenever possible, turn a garden into a growing food source
  5. Staying within the parameters + regulations of city ordinances can avoid time-delaying permits + official inspections
  6. Plant knowledge and learning never ends—especially with flowering annuals
  7. Clear consistent communication with customers is essential—especially when navigating a two-owner situation
  8. Neighbors matter, and keeping them as informed as your client can impact project success + failure

Michael A. Gonzalez Landscapes

Michael A. Gonzalez has been designing and building landscapes in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years. His unique approach to garden design and landscape services stems from his art training and ownership of a commercial gallery in the City. The landscapes he creates provide his customers with urban green relief and lasting joy. Michael and his team use sustainable materials whenever possible and incorporate CA native and summer-dry tolerant plants in their landscape projects.