Here is a detail in progress for a large front and back yard permit plan set in Tiburon. The large Redwood staircase will connect a new Bluestone patio to an existing deck.
I was talking with a colleague today who works for another landscape construction firm in Sonoma County. Our conversation lit on the topic of reviews and unreasonable clients.
“How’s that jerk of a client you guys had recently, the one who wrote multiple bad Yelp reviews under different user names?” I asked.
“Oh I think they have finally given up and gone on to bug someone else,” he said. “Funny thing is, we didn’t have a lot of reviews when this guy started his campaign against us, it helped us make sure our happy clients shared their experiences online.”
We had a similar experience with a bad reviewer, who vowed to ruin our reputation with the power of his online scorn. The current online review score card for O’Connell Landscape?
Happy Clients 18, Jerk Clients 1
This front yard design and installation in San Rafael focused on creating a new low maintenance, low water use garden to replace an existing front lawn. Because of the layout of the front entry for this project, a new paver patio was installed to create a courtyard space off the front entry path. We used McNear pavers for the hardscape, accented with a Bluestone landing over an exisiting concrete stoop.
Plantings focused on creating color, texture and interest while being easy to care for. New LED lights highlight the path and new patio space.
We highly recommend O’Connell Landscape. We are delighted with our new front yard which eliminated the dreaded lawn and replaced it with an easy care, drought tolerant, very attractive landscape. Michael provided a design that incorporated all the elements my husband and I wanted, and expert advice and infinite patience on all fronts: Hardscape, plants, lighting, irrigation and more. O’Connell Landscape has a very efficient and yet flexible mode of operation; deadlines and the budget were meet. The crew is extremely hard working and highly skilled in all areas: Foundation work, paver fitting, soil preparation, woodwork and lighting installation. There was excellent communication between the crew and/or Michael and the client. In our case, approval of the plan was required by a homeowner’s association. Michael provided the requisite documentation for this process; compliments were expressed by the HOA for the complete and professional plans. The overall care and attention that our project received from O’Connell Landscape was of the highest quality. It was a lot of fun to work with this company.
-Carol Mirenda, San Rafael
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.
California real estate is expensive…that’s why expanding our living space outdoors was so critical to my husband and me. We hired O’Connell Landscape to basically overhaul every square foot of our yard. This included hardscape, plantings, outdoor kitchen, water feature, drainage, lighting, fencing, gates and more. The end result exceeded our expectations and is a true example of craftsmanship you just don’t see that often. Michael was meticulous with the details and was a real pleasure to work with. Backing him up is the most respectful and hard working team we’ve experienced. At the end of every day, we walk out into our yard and pinch ourselves! Bottom line, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend O’Connell Landscape.
-Cindy Jepsen, Petaluma
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
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