We just wrapped up this front and back yard installation in West Petaluma (see progress photos here). The project featured a lot of interesting custom woodwork- new pergolas, all new fencing, and custom Cedar accent gates. These complimented all new paving- a new colored concrete driveway, paver seating area, and rear paver patio. Accent lighting and a polished granite water feature served as accents, while a backyard BBQ included a new grill, fridge and Big Green Egg smoker.
We are in construction on an extensive landscape project incorporating all new front and back yard work in West Petaluma. The design incorporates new fencing and paving throughout, with the back yard featuring a new pergola, patio and outdoor kitchen.
Last year brought more interesting and beautiful projects in both Marin and Sonoma Counties. Below you’ll find a gallery of some of our 2015 highlights.
This front and back yard project in Cotati focused on new spaces around a recently constructed home. The front yard had some previous landscaping that was not cohesive and didn’t create a sense of entry or curb appeal. The back yard was a gentle slope with little existing landscape that needed a plan to best utilize the space. Our solution for the front yard was a split rail fence and new focus on an existing majestic Valley Oak. In the back yard a new series of spaces with seating areas, large garden area, and firepit with swing were highlights. See before and after images and design drawings below.
We are extremely pleased of what Michael O’Connell helped us achieve in our front, side and backyard.
He listened to our ideas and with his, designed a wonderfully enclosed vegetable garden, which includes a greenhouse and water feature, planned out seating areas for our family and his placement of lighting is absolutely beautiful in the evenings.
This was truly a team effort. And we very much appreciate his staff of workers who were friendly and knowledgeable of all tasks asked of them. They stayed on track and cleaned up each day.
Great selection of drought tolerant plants were chosen with just the right blend and size that will produce color for year round enjoyment.
Thank you Michael for all your advice and making yourself available to answer our questions evenings and weekends.
-Gary and Tina Ibello
Our Reviews Online
Positive Reviews- 20/22 unique reviews
We have reviews spread across several different sites, with good experiences that reflect our way of doing business. Below you’ll find a survey of those reviews, with links to the appropriate sites. Our composite score would translate to 4.5+ stars out of 5. In fact, of our 20 unique reviews as of this writing, we have only two negative reviews. I have included unique reviews, as some customers have left reviews on multiple sites. You can read past customer testimonials of our work on our blog. This is also helpful as it gives the context of each customer’s project.
Yelp (4 stars) – 7/9 positive unique reviews
Unfiltered Reviews: 4 positive, 2 negative
Filtered Reviews: 3 positive reviews
The Yelp filter is strangely at work on our review page, as reviews will move back and forth between filtered and unfiltered depending on the whims of Yelp’s computer. These are all real former customers. The two negative reviews show you can’t please everyone. The first was one of the most unpleasant customers we’ve worked with over the past decade. The second was a customer that we did a minor amount (~$1,500) of design work and no construction work. We responded in detail to that reviewer’s vitriol on the Yelp response.
Houzz (4.5 stars) 9/9 positive unique reviews
We have one negative review on Houzz as our upset Yelp customer, in his parting shots, vowed to make a stink on both Houzz and Yelp.
So that’s the survey of all the sites where we have customer reviews. Online reviews are a funny business. They are important to a businesses image, yet it can be hard to get a good feel of customer consensus when reviews are spread across multiple sites. Then there are questions like- when you look at a businesses star rating on Yelp, Google, or Houzz, does it accurately reflect the company’s performance? Does one particular review site show the full spectrum of client reviews? Is that negative review a real sign of shortcomings or an angry hothead?
As a user of Yelp and a business owner, the site is particularly vexing. First it suffers from a love it or hate it atmosphere where many reviews seem to boil down to one star or five star reviews, and many companies (restaurants, etc.) seem to average the 4 star mark. This makes it hard to separate good companies from great ones. In addition, many of the poor reviews are customers with one particular grudge or another. Yelp could benefit to a change to a thumbs up/thumbs down review system and an approval percentage that some other review sites use. Then there is the Yelp filter, a computerized algorithm supposed to filter outlier, one off, and fake reviews. This may work very well for restaurants that service scores of people a day. For a landscape contractor that has the same number of customers in a year that a restaurant has in an hour, it is an ill suited mess. Most of our custom residential landscape clients aren’t Yelp users. Yelp serves as a due diligence check for many potential clients, not a source of preliminary information. We aren’t the same type of buying decision as a plumber or restaurant.
Still, we are fortunate, the great majority of our clients are a delight to work with. As you can see they enjoying working with us as well. There will always be some difficult customers, but that’s true of any industry.
This project in Petaluma reinvented an older front yard that had been overgrown, junipers taking over the front yard. A new interior courtyard was installed with dividing fence connected with colored stamped concrete throughout. LED low voltage lighting and a front water feature complimented new plantings and accents of natural stone.
It was an absolute delight to work with Michael and his team. He was always available and very knowledgeable about all aspects of landscaping our front yard. Deadlines were always met and the workers were always on time and left everything neat when they left for the day.
The price was always broken down so I knew what each item cost. I would highly recommend O’Connell Landscape and Michael to anyone. Michael made the job seem so easy and effortless and he followed up after the job was completed to make sure everything was working correctly. I only wish all contractors were as friendly and as easy to get along with as Michael.
Carol Sikora, Petaluma
Our design-build installation in Sonoma won first place at this year’s CLCA North Coast Chapter Awards. The design-build categories are always filled with tough competition, so a first place award is always satisfying. Thanks to the Farmers in Sonoma for the recent photos below. You can see post install photos of the project here.
Congratulations to you for the great design and for Ruben and the crew executing it so flawlessly. We could not be happier with how the yard (front and back) turned out especially now with all the plants filling out. We are thoroughly enjoying the backyard!! – Lorelei and Larry Farmer, Sonoma
The landscape design and installation for this distinctive Victorian in West Petaluma was focused on improving the usability of a large 1/4 acre corner lot.
The project featured:
– New exterior picket fencing to reclaim the front yard spaces, while fitting in with the neighborhood.
– At the side yard a large hedge of mature 24″ box Pittosporum shrubs was used as screening to expand the back yard space.
-New redwood fencing was installed at the neighbors to provide for greater privacy.
-The landscape was integrated with a new irrigation system with laundry to landscape greywater system.
We absolutely loved working with Michael and his team on landscaping for our new home in Petaluma. Everyone of the team was very professional. Michael paid attention to all the details of design, budgets, contracts, schedules and overall customer service. All budgeted items and schedules were met. He was responsive to our questions nights and weekends and followed up on everything. We highly recommend them.
-Courtney and Peter Phleger
We are working on design development for this corner home in West Petaluma. It is prominently situated on a corner lot, meaning the design incorporates a lot of new fencing. At one side we have detailed large shrubs that would create a green fence and expand the size of the back yard. In the back yard a new patio, lawn and connecting walkways have been detailed for new living spaces.
The spring seems to be coming early this year with all of the warm weather this winter. Here are some images from four different design projects in different stages of conceptual development.
-Novato Concept- Back yard patio and synthetic turf installation
-San Anselmo Concept- Back yard patios, walkways and garden area
-Cotati Concept- Back yard terracing, vegetable garden, steps, and paths
-Tiburon Project- Hardscape layout and retaining wall plan
Creating a good estimate is a time consuming process. We consult on scores of projects every year, issue a lot of free estimates, and try to create a proposal that is complete and also responsive to client and project.
Our estimates are line item based, we think of them as similar to a menu at a restaurant. We outline the scope in terms of a wide array of options and detailing, and then refine the estimate depending on budget and client needs. We find line item estimates work better than lump sum estimates, especially at an initial phase. They take into account elements like a patio that may have a range of potential sizes depending on design, say 400-750 sq.ft., and a range of potential materials- like concrete, pavers, or flagstone. Line item estimates also allow for prioritization and the division of work into phases as needed.
Here is an example of an a recent estimate in San Anselmo that shows the type of granular detail involved:
An estimate like this one takes a lot of time to put together with such fine level detail. There are 5 work divisons and 26 individual elements. However, when we are starting out without any design documents, it serves as a great project roadmap to further develop the project.
For this ranch house in Cotati we are working on new concrete patios and walkways in the front and back yards. These new walkways create a new sense of entry to the front of the house and modernize the landscape.
When I started this blog in 2005 little did I think I would still be writing it 10 years later. But here we are. The rate of posts may have slowed down since the beginning, but we just logged our 500th post to the blog. I find blogging is a great way to share our work in a more informal forum with more frequent updates than our main website. That and you can read my occasionally coherent thoughts and musings. If you want to read every post since 2005 you can visit the live archive listing page. Enjoy and thanks for reading.
We are working on an interesting project with Bradanini Associates, developing an interior pool house planting scheme. The planting seeks to make the area a tropical oasis, as half the interior is devoted to the pool and the other half to a patio with palms and other tropical plantings. The plant selection provides an added chanllenge of selecting plantings that will give the desired look while doing well in a lower light environment.
Winter’s slower pace provides more schedule flexibility to fit in smaller projects. These two projects, one in Mill Valley and the other in Corte Madera had two things in common- small spaces and new Indian Sandstone. In Corte Madera we installed a new Navajo Brown Indian Sandstone patio. This created a more elegant and usable space, with screening achieved with Bamboo in concrete pots. In Mill Valley, we installed new Navajo Dusk Indian Sandstone over an existing concrete path, making an attractive new entry.
“Our project was a rather small one involving our front entry, so initially I was concerned it was too small for O’Connell to be interested. But when I explained our budget constraints to Michael, he was very responsive in designing a project that met our needs within our budget. He incorporated existing elements so that the work was focused on the things that needed changing. The old and new were blended very nicely.
The project itself was on time and on budget and we are very pleased with the results, both Michael’s design work, selection of materials, and the quality of the work done by the crews. Throughout the project Michael and the crew were very response to our questions and suggestions. Crews showed up on time, worked diligently, showed an amazing variety of skills, paid attention to detail, and did a good job of cleaning up at the end of each day.
Needless to say, we are pleased with the result and enjoyed working with O’Connell.”
-J.W. Mill Valley
While we previously highlighted work in progress construction photos on our last best of 2014 post, here are some finished project photos from our landscapes completed in 2014.
This past year brought some interesting commercial and residential projects to O’Connell Landscape. We worked on a variety of jobs large and small in Marin and Sonoma Counties. See the gallery below for examples of our construction work in progress from 2014.
With all this wonderful rain in the month of December, MMWD’s reservoirs are spilling. While the media is quick to point out that the drought is not over, one thing is clear, for this year at least there will be no water restrictions or drought in Marin, which gets 75% of its water from reservoir storage at Mt. Tam and Nicasio. In Sonoma County things are also looking good with Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma at about 80%.
This project in Sonoma was a complete make over of a front and back yard for a residence a few blocks from the Sonoma Square. The design focused on the back yard, with a new patio, seat wall and shade arbor framing paver garden paths. In the front yard a new matching bluestone walkway, concrete driveway, and privacy fence changed the look of the home from the street.
O’Connell Landscape just completed a landscape project for our front and back yards. The design, quality of workmanship, plant selection and his crew exceeded our expectations. His attention to detail is reflected in how his crew approached each phase of our landscape project.
Michael provided us with a detailed design, options for different materials and the cost. When we made a few changes/additions to the original design, he provided us with a signed Change Order before any additional work was started so there were no “surprises” at the end. He was available to answer all our questions and concerns and provided us with knowledgeable guidance from the day he gave us our complimentary consultation to the day of completion.
We are extremely pleased with the outcome and enjoy sitting out in our new backyard. It was a pleasure working with Michael and his crew.
-Lorelei and Larry Farmer, Sonoma
We started from scratch on this Kentfield back yard, with a complete removal of the unusable existing yard. The client wanted a back yard that would be a kid friendly play space, while at the same time good for entertaining. In its place we installed a new patio area, kid friendly synthetic turf and a new seating area. These elements were tied together with integrated perimeter plantings. See below for the before picture and after photos following installation.
This home in Adobe Creek next to the golf course had a small back yard with lawn that was unusable. We designed a new plan to better use the space with custom vegetable boxes and secondary brick patio. A bluestone pathway and low maintenance colorful plantings fill out the landscape.
This commercial office building was our second installation for the Marin Community Foundation (MCF), after our first project for their building near the Civic Center in San Rafael. This project was a more extensive removal and redevelopment of the landscape in the front and rear of the building. We focused our design on a reduced lawn area in front (the project is on reclaimed water and not subject to water restrictions). In the rear of the building we installed new screening trees and plantings.
“As I’ve said, you’ve done an exceptional job on this project, Michael. Thank you for your thorough investment in our nonprofit center and helping to make our tenants who serve the community feel valued.” -Mike Cosby, MCF Property Holdings
This project near the main square in Sonoma focuses on transitioning a back yard from a lawn and small deck to a larger more open layout with no lawn. A deck/porch with wrap around steps, central patio, garden paths and vegetable boxes highlight the design in the back yard. In the front yard a new driveway and entry walkway feature new materials and bluestone accents.
For this project just outside of town in East Petaluma, the challenge was creating a large scale entertaining and play space. Working around an existing playstructure, a new series of spaces including a patio and BBQ area, pergola and firepit with integrated seating were purposed.
As is common with many older landscapings, this project had been completely landscaped years ago, but had declined with age and lack of maintenance. For this back yard in San Rafael, the client was looking for something that would feature more usable space, entertaining areas, and updated plantings.
Great experience working with O’Connell Landscape! They did a great job from beginning to end in dramatically changing our backyard.
Michael was great through all phases of our major backyard project – planning, budgeting, execution and follow up. It was really helpful working with the same company through all phases – no opportunity for surprises or blame games between design and build.
Michael gave us good guidance on budgeting, showing us how to get the best bang for the buck in materials, and executed well on that plan.
We are very happy with the results and would recommend them highly…-Bridget & Scott Ryan, San Rafael
We received a nice note from Jim at Bradanini and Associates Landscape Architecture. We worked with Jim installing a large custom residential landscape in Kentfield.
O’Connell Landscape is an excellent landscape contractor who did a fabulous job installing a large and challenging landscape project for my Clients in Marin County. The project was multi-faceted and required considerable coordination with the General Contractor, Sub-Contractors, Owners and Architects over a 7- month period. Michael is very knowledgeable in all aspects of landscape construction, and very experienced in suggesting ways to economize but not cut quality. I would highly recommend O’Connell Landscape and look forward to many more collaborations.
-Jim Bradanini, Bradanini & Associates
Here are some conceptual drawings from a project we are working on in Petaluma. The design focuses on an overhaul of the front and rear yard, creating new usable rear patio and synthetic lawn spaces. In the front a new picket fence provides definition, while a revised entry path and porch will change the whole look of the front yard.
Houzz ideabook for the project:
This project in Penngrove suffered from overgrown and outdated plantings combined a drip irrigation system in need of work. We installed new plantings for planting areas throughout the large lot in the front and back yards, improving the entry and impact of the landscaped spaces.
The services were professional, on time and delivered as planned. The project was always kept clean and well managed. The value was excellent. Michael O’Connell knew exactly how to meet our needs and always had sage advice as to what plants were best suited for our weather and soil conditions. As a landscaper he is an artist.-Cece & Monte Bible, Penngrove
This project in San Rafael started with a yard that hadn’t been worked on in years. Working with the owners we installed phase 1 of the project- building a new fence to enclose the back yard, installing landings at a couple of sets of doors and clean up, grading and drainage for the whole site.
We have been very satisfied with O’Connell Landscape, and are planning to contract with them again for future phases of our landscaping project. Michael O’Connell was responsive, detail-oriented, and flexible throughout the proposal and construction phases. We asked for multiple changes and additions throughout the process, and he responded quickly and documented changes thoroughly. When minor hiccups occurred, he responded quickly and made it right. We needed mostly the “infrastructure” completed (demo, grading, drainage, gravel walkways, redwood fencing and landings, irrigation, small lawn), and plan to do much of the planting later ourselves. Despite this not being in their scope, Michael has been very helpful in recommending plantings based on our style and level of watering desired. He definitely understands customer service, and their crews are highly skilled.
-Amy & Tim Gilleran, San Rafael
This project near the Civic Center in San Rafael was typical of many commercial landscapes. Old and overgrown plantings (out of control ivy and old Junipers) needed a complete refresh to improve the look and feel surrounding this commercial office building. We developed a planting and irrigation scheme focused on low maintenance, low water use plantings, retrofitting the existing overhead irrigation to efficient reclaimed water drip irrigation.
It is a rare pleasure to work with a new vendor on a property improvement and have the process and end result surpass every expectation. Our recent landscaping project with O’Connell Landscape provided us with exactly this experience.
From first contact to final payment, O’Connell Landscape was outstanding. Every call was returned and question answered promptly and thoroughly. Numerous requests for changes were patiently accommodated, while still completing the project on time. All documents and drawings were user-friendly, which allowed us to better visualize recommendations and understand the process. They consistently kept us apprised of the project’s progress, giving us a sense of control. And their professionalism dealing with tenants and water district officials made us look good as the property owner.
It is without hesitation that we highly recommend O’Connell Landscape.
Mike Cosby, Marin Community Foundation
MCF Property Holdings, Inc.