This year has been a roller coaster with the spring shut down, followed by an increase in project demand as folks spend more time at home. One of the nice surprises of 2020 is how many repeat client projects we have done this year. We have installed 6 projects for past clients as part of new phases or remodels of their landscapes.
This project in Petaluma featured a repeat client who downsized into a smaller home. We installed a new Versa-lok retaining wall to open up some additional space in their yard; renovated the existing irrigation system and installed new turf and a seating area in this preliminary phase.
This is a repeat performance (second home and landscape project) with O’Connell Landscape and we couldn’t be happier. The first project resulted in an award-winning yard (which undoubtedly helped in last year’s sale). In our current down-sized home we didn’t hesitate to call Michael and his crew, the same men were we worked with 12 years ago. They transformed an overgrown yard into an attractive, low maintenance, functioning living space. They offered detailed fore-thought, responsive collaboration, and quality implementation. We can’t recommend Michael and his team highly enough.
-Sharon & Mike Morgan, Petaluma
Here is a video from another repeat client installation that we recently completed. This featured new fencing and custom driveway gates by Prowell Woodworks in Cotati to compliment the landscape installation we did a couple of years ago. We installed a custom 6’+2′ featherboard fence with matched gates for the carport area.
Hedges are traditional yet versatile components of planting design. They are great for screening, to act as a fence, to provide borders, and to lend a formal or modern element to a planting scheme. Here are some of our favorite plants for hedging from our great Plantmaster database. You’ll notice that some hedges are classified as small trees, which can be maintained at a smaller size with regular pruning.
Sometimes a simple installation can result in the most profound transformation of an existing yard. This was the case for this patio installation near Helen Putnam Park in Cotati. The owners had removed an existing deck and wanted a new paver patio and some grass redone to make the yard more usable. We settled on a classic Calstone Paver with some decomposed granite pathways to tie the areas together. The result was a clean and open new space.
The work you completed here was nothing short of amazing. From your initial consult and design, to the crew’s meticulous work, we are very pleased with the outcome!
This mid-century style installation in Terra Linda focused on clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic. We took a tired back yard patio and lawn and renovated with a new patio, connecting paths, spa and shower area, and slab for a soon to be installed studio.
We were in need of a completely new look for our boring, rectangular, flat backyard. Of the design/build firms we contacted, Michael O’Connell of O’Connell Landscape was by far the most responsive, thoughtful and creative. He was familiar with our neighborhood and was interested in working with the mid-century design elements we were hoping to complement. He was willing to work with our rough, preliminary sketches and bring them up to a higher level.
The O’Connell Landscape team was exceptional. Since it was COVID-time, Michael had the same two highly skilled workers on the job, start to finish. They showed up every day at 7:00 and did everything from complete demo of two patios, tree, root, rock and dirt removal, to laying the DG pathways, setting the concrete forms, laying electrical conduit and all new irrigation, building the fences and an outdoor shower and all the plantings. They wore masks consistently and Michael provided two separate portapotties to ensure their safety.
Michael provided regular updates on the job and detailed invoices. He did not go over budget, except for the changes we wanted and approved. There were some unforeseen issues (an older, hidden concrete patio that had to demo-ed, for example) and he itemized the extra costs clearly and in writing. We just love our new yard. It is exactly what we wanted and the entire process was easier better-communicated than some of our other past projects.
We completed this garden in Cotati in 2016, and have returned a couple of times for some follow-up projects. A couple years back we extended a driveway for the homeowners. This past summer we tuned up the bluestone seating areas in the back yard. Here is a post install video of the landscape, which has matured nicely since it was installed.
The plan for this traditional home in West Petaluma near downtown is starting with a virtual clean slate. The front yard features a new expanded driveway, entry, and fence; the back starts over with a rear patio and entertaining area are among the highlights. Use of brick and concrete will tie together old and new elements.
I had the pleasure of revisiting one of our past installations in preparation for some additional fencing and gate work we are going to do on the property. This landscape has really grown in since it was first installed two years ago and looks great.
We have been using YouTube video recaps as a productive tool to communicate with clients for a while now. This before and after series of videos really underscores the transformation we made to the property with a front and back yard installation.
This project in Petaluma started with a yard that was in need of a clean slate and new vision. We created a design scheme that incorporated multiple use areas- a new patio, a firepit area and a vegetable garden, all tied together with a beautiful redwood pergola. Several accents, including boulders, a new fountain and low voltage lighting tied the front and rear yards and brought the whole project together.
Our experience with O’Connell Landscape from beginning to end was exceptional. Michael came to our house, listened to our thoughts and ideas and came up with the perfect design for our front and back yards. He took our ugly, weed infested yards and created an oasis. Michael and his crew were very professional and super easy to work with. Any questions or concerns were addressed in a very timely manner. We can not express how much we love our new ”Shangri La”! -Melanie & Russ, Petaluma
Recently we featured our favorite evergreen small trees. Here are their compliments in all their fall foliage and spring bloom beauty- trees that make nice accents and don’t get huge. All images come from our Plantmaster database.
In our last post we highlighted our favorite Small Scale Evergreen Trees, using our awesome Plantmaster Database. This time we wanted to share some favorite grasses. Truth be told, these selections include “grass like” plants, such as sedges and reeds, as well as true grasses. Many of these grasses are evergreen (indicated with – (EG), providing year round appeal. Grasses are a great component of any planting design, providing a break in texture, form, and color. They range in size from the small Mondo Grass (less than a foot), to towering Miscanthus which may be 6′ or more. These plant genera also host many other interesting and nice cultivars to explore.
For many modern homes the back yard can feel like a fishbowl. Higher density housing often means more eyes peering from neighboring second story windows. In these situations plant screening becomes a great way to create privacy. The challenge here becomes selecting the right plants that screen, but don’t turn into monster trees over time.
Small scale evergreens are the solution, but what are some good selections? Many times these plants are either trees proper, or large shrubs that can be used as a tall hedge or trained as a small tree (standardized to a single trunk). Here are some of our favorites shared via our Plantmaster online database.
This project was a complete demo and renovation of a deep lot on Sir Francis Drake Blvd in Kentfield. The design redeveloped the front of the yard with a privacy fence, driveway gate and auto court, providing a much need break with the street. In the back a large patio, deck, and softscape areas were detailed to transform and make the area more usable and kid friendly.
Michael and his team recently completed a complete renovation of our outdoor landscaping. We did extensive use of pavers, woodwork, lighting, drainage and of course planting. Michael is clearly very knowledgeable about landscaping and provided excellent advice on design and implementation. We are very happy with the quality of his work and his very reasonable pricing. Highly recommended!
Here are images from a project we wrapped up this past spring of an installation in Corte Madera. Deer and access were and issue for the large uphill property. We created a secure perimeter with an new driveway entry gate, deer and entry fencing This really opened up the property and made it feel larger and more usable.
Here are some images from a project we completed in 2017 of a Modern Farm House in the country on the West side of Petaluma. The design featured large masses of ornamental grasses, which as they have grown in totally changed the look of the large entrance and circular driveway.
For this project in Kentfield we installed a large rear patio and front yard auto court using Cal Stone pavers. This video gives a good overview of the Quarry Stone line from Cal Stone and illustrates the installation in progress.
Nothing is worse than a newly installed landscape that is quickly overcome with weeds with the arrival of the spring rains. One potential solution is to install weed fabric under mulched areas to reduce weed growth. Weed fabric is typically a spun polycloth that allows water to pass, but limits weeds. We don’t typically install weed fabric on our projects, but it has its uses and applications.
Here are some Pros and Cons of weed fabric:
Pro: Reduces weed growth Con: Small weeds can grow on top of the cloth
Pro: Reduces need for hand weeding or herbicide. Con: While not very expensive, the cost of weed cloth can add up over large areas. Weeds will grow next to plant crowns where fabric windows are cut for plant installation.
Pro: Can help control weed prone areas like rural installations Con: Can pop-up over mulch with time and must be cut to install new plants
Pro: Segregates gravel mulches from soil Con: Adds expense, but this is one of weed fabrics best applications
Alternatives: Good alternatives to traditional weed cloths or fabrics are increasing the depth of mulch layer or using a sheet mulch cardboard to reduce weed germination.
For this project in Kentfield we are redeveloping a full front and back yard. At the front of the property a new driveway gate and pedestrian access gate is being installed to buffer a busy main thoroughfare. Details show the detail of drive gate, fence, and smaller gate- a custom cedar gate from Pacific Gate Works.
Here are some construction and permit document details from a project in design in San Anselmo. The new work will totally open up and formalize a cobbled together entryway. Show here are section-elevation views and details of the proposed stairs and deck.
Working in home improvement contracting can be very interesting. As a contractor you get to work with clients to build something that will improve and enhance their home. It’s typically something that people are excited about, and that makes the work rewarding and fun.
As with any trade that deals directly with the public, it can also at times be extremely frustrating. It’s at these moments that I think of the classic 1948 film, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, starring legends Carey Grant and Myrna Loy. The Blandings, tired of apartment life in New York City, move to the country to build their dream house. Whoever wrote some of these scenes felt my frustrations.
My favorite two scenes (see clips below) are when Mrs. Blandings picks paint colors and when the Blandings are helping their architect design their dream home. In 1948, their custom home budget was $10,000! That might get you a patio now-a-days – Enjoy!
Contractors get a bad rap. Sometimes however this reputation is deserved. We are working on a project in Marin that needs extensive demo, grading, and excavation. On the client’s behalf we are soliciting bids for the work. We meet on-site with one prospective company.
“When can you get me numbers?” I ask.
“Two days” says the excavator.
I think to myself this is either an efficient estimator or he is putting me on. A week rolls by, no response. A second week comes and goes. I decide to reach out:
“Just touching base on our site visit from a couple weeks back. Let me know if you have any questions or need anything additional from us in putting together an estimate.”
I get back this reply: “We appreciate having been given the opportunity bid this job. However, we are not bidding any new projects at this time. We are in contract with many other jobs and do not have the man power to take on any others at this time. Therefore, we are regrettably not in a position to submit a proposal.”
This type of bush league business practice is the reason for contractor’s bad reputation with the public. Clearly they were too busy to be bothered, and we are on to do business with a more professional outfit.
We just wrapped up this custom gate installation in Corte Madera. The homeowners wanted a nice architectural gate to match their remodel and front landscape. We installed a heavy timber gate framed with 4×4’s, 6×6 posts and powdercoated black hardware and wire panel inserts.
We reached out to O’Connell Landscape to bid on a large landscaping project for our home in Marin. They were the only firm willing/experienced enough to provide us with line item estimated costs, which was incredibly helpful in deciding how to move forward. When we decided to implement our project in phases, Michael was flexible and worked us into their schedule with only a short wait. We were so impressed with their work — it surpassed our (high) expectations in look, function and quality. They were mindful of every detail and it shows. When we had to make adjustments, they didn’t hit us with change orders and additional costs. They started and finished the project on time, were here every day, provided progress updates, and were generally so professional and pleasant to work with. We’ve worked with many contractors for our landscape and home, and these guys are as good as it gets! We look forward to working with them again on future projects.
It is always fun to visit a project a while after installation and see the transformation as the garden starts to fill in and mature. This project in Tiburon was a complete transformation of a front and back yard. It benefited from the great Tiburon climate, with its mild bay-side influence. We installed all new plantings, walkways, rear patios, retaining walls, extensive fencing and driveway for this remodel project. Enjoy!
Another year of interesting projects is in the books. 2018 was a year of delightful clients, marked by surpassing twenty 5-star reviews on Houzz. Here you will find projects from Petaluma, San Rafael, and Santa Rosa- Enjoy!
We recently completed a bit of a different project for us, a quarter mile of agricultural fence designed for deer exclusion of a 3 acre area. We build a lot of wood and welded wire fences, but not being as familiar with the construction of these types of fences we did a lot of research on proper construction techniques for deer fencing. Here are some of the tools, techniques, and tips we learned along the way.
What we installed
-1500′ of 8′ fencing- 6′ of netting plus a smooth wire. We used 75″ tall Bekeart Solidlock Pro 20 Fixed Knot 12.5 Gauge Fence (17-75-6), combined with a high smooth tensile wire to top the fence
-5 HN corner braces with kicker posts using 2 3/8″ OD schedule 40 posts with galvanized schedule 20 cross bracing
-Corners joined using Fence Bullets instead of welding
-Wire tied to posts using Gripple T-Clips, wire joined using medium Gripple Plus connectors
-10′ T posts (1.33 weight) installed at 15′ spacing
-Gate corners built using 6×8 pressure treated crossed braced members set in concrete
Building an ag fence is different from other types of fencing. There are some specialized tools that make the work much easier. These are often special order materials that you can’t find at your local Home Depot or even Tractor Supply:
-Post Pounder: While you can drive metal T-posts and pipe corners with a standard post pounder, there is an easier way. There are lots of options out on the market, but we chose to purchase a Man Saver Post Pounder to assist in driving posts. The Man Saver is a pneumatic pounder that can work with a fairly small air compressor in the field. After trying a smaller size twin tank unit, we swapped this for a larger but still mobile 8cfm Devilbiss compressor paired with a 5500 watt generator to run the Man Saver. We used 2 3/8″ schedule 40 galvanized posts for our fence corner bracing. The Man Saver lived up to its name, it was very handy in driving the posts. We were working in heavy clay soil driving corners to between 4-5′ in depth. The Man Saver did a great job in the softer layer up until about 3′ and then struggled in some harder sections where we finished the posts with a manual pounder. Given the size, weight, and cost of the Man Saver, these were acceptable trade-offs. We ended up doing all the T-posts by hand. These we 10′ posts driven to 3′ and it was easier to level and faster to install by hand than to set up and level the Man Saver 12′ in the air for each post. For shorter traditional 6′ T-posts the Man Saver would be dynamite. Two main tips in using the unit, keep it oiled (their accessory kit and in-line oiler is a must) and switch to the hard soil/ground counterweight if you encounter problems with the unit not cycling correctly in heavy ground.
-Corner connections: We knew we wanted to use pipe braces for their longevity and ease of driving, but wanted to avoid the time and expense of welding the corners. We settled on using Bullet Fence connectors based out of Oklahoma. These sleeves improve on traditional chain-link fence style cup and strap connectors by having two bolts, one connect a strap to the post and and the other to connect the sleeve around the brace pipe. This sleeve is the novel part of the design that helps prevent movement and separation common in traditional brace bands. Installation is simple but a bit time consuming using open ended wrenches. We installed 34 brace assemblies and by the end we had gotten very good at installing the bullets and very tired of open end wrench work. We used a Husky ratcheting wrench, which made the work a bit easier. Time will tell if these braces will outperform their chain-link counterparts, but from the installation and design it should be a good brace.
-Stretcher Bars: You may be tempted to try to build a stretched wire fence without using appropriate stretcher bars. There are many YouTube videos showing novel and frankly dumb ways of stretching fence. The tension is part of the beauty of a high tensile field fence system. We used two Kencove 8′ stretcher bars combined with 3 Kencove Boundary Strainers. For short runs we did end pulls, straining the wire from the corner and then connecting with Gripple T-Clips.
Sources: Finding good Ag Fence Supplies can sometimes be a challenge. We reviewed different wire types (e.g. Redbrand vs. Bekaert), and different sources for tools and accessories. We liked Bekaert fixed knot the best in terms of quality, wire size options, gauge, and price. We used to following vendors for this Northern California project:
–Kencove Fence Supply (national supplier)- best price we found on good quality tools. They shipped UPS Freight for free.