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
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.
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.
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.
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%.
For those not familiar with Houzz, it’s a home design website with lots of good images of high end projects both inside and out. We have loaded our full portfolio on Houzz, and use its Ideabook feature to show clients precedent images and examples of our work. It’s a great collaborative tool and free to join.
We just purchased a new Nikon digital camera for our office to shoot our projects (and of course as a fun toy).
The quality is amazing, and the wait is over. A professional quality camera (one that would have been the finest available at many thousands of dollars just a few years ago) is available with a couple of lenses for around $800. We picked up a Nikon D3200 DSLR.
Resist the temptation to upgrade to something more expensive. Unless you are going to shoot weddings on the weekends on the side, or paper your office in 24″x36″ photos, you don’t need fancier features or more pixels. The camera will just be outdated in a year or two anyway.
For more of my shots, see my new photo blog– done as a lark to get me to take more and better photos.
The hardscape for this project in Petaluma needed to be completely redeveloped. This plan helps establish a new more modern design aesthetic for the residence. Large floating concrete slabs are utilized for the front entry; while a new back concrete patio and connected small barbeque area integrate the same layout and theme.
We are in the conceptual design development phase for this project in Mill Valley. The project is a master plan to integrate a new entrance and driveway, improved access and usability of the front and side yards, and retaining walls and plantings for a lower slope area.
We have started the planting phase of this large project in Kentfield. Pictured are planting layouts of some of the shade garden areas featuring Rhodys, Hydrangeas, Liriope, and Geranium groundcover.
After a recent ongoing customer service headache with AT&T, the website Dial a Human, featured on Channel 7 on Your Side, jumped out as a good resource. It gives the numbers to press to shortcut the interminable phone trees that are the hallmarks of most customer support.
Your call is very important to us, that is why we have optimized our system to delay you getting to speak to a real person. That real person will be in India and won’t have the training or ability to help you anyway, please continue to hold, while holding please enter your account number, so that when the agent comes to the line, we will ask you to restate your account number…
We are working on this large and flat back yard project in Corte Madera. The project will incorporate a new patio seat wall and large deck to transform the formerly unused yard.
Our blog and Facebook pages have now been linked. Making it even easier to follow the latest on our blog Turned Earth.
We have uploaded and reorganized our design portfolio examples. Take a look at construction drawings, installation details, elevations and conceptual and master layout plans at our design portfolio.
The Droid has a spiffy app for posting straight to a WordPress blog. You can even directly upload photos.
This is the time of year for aphids and other pests to be causing problems with roses, annuals and perennial plants. Rather than spray a chemical pesticide we have been using Fish Oil based Organocide. It carries no restrictions on the label (caution, warning, danger, indications) and is suitable for organic production of fruits and vegetables. You may have to apply it a bit more frequently, and it may smell a bit fishy, but it works quite well. It has it’s limitations, but works quite well if properly applied (always read and follow application instructions). Safer Soap is another good option for a less toxic option for pest control.
For More: See Harmony Farm Supply’s Website of Pest Control Options
While making some updated video slideshows for our website I ran into a problem- finding a nice soundtrack that I didn’t have to pay royalties for. After all, classical compositions from before 1923 are in the public domain right? Sure, but their recordings are not. Fortunately there’s Musopen.com, a website that has .mp3 and sheet music of public domain performances. A great concept and one that will hopefully continue to grow!
We were discussing this a bit in the office today, while reviewing and debating the latest daily events at our company and thought it was worth sharing. Sometimes you just have to step back from the hectic busyness of each day and take a moment to express gratitude for what we have and the times we live in. A few things to be grateful for:
- We live in one of the most prosperous, freest societies on the planet
- We are living in the golden age of man kind. Witness to the greatest technological innovation in history, dwarfing all previous periods in richness, scale, and complexity. All while benefiting from being the longest lived, healthiest people to ever live.
- We have unlimited information at our fingertips at an instant. Your smartphone can access information that would dwarf the Library of Alexandria.
- A too large portion of the world lives on $1-2 per day. Has limited access to clean water, lives in poverty, lacks education, and is subject to all manners of disease that most of us do not even have to consider.
It seems like at times all people have an all to great capacity to take things for granted. To use one accomplishment as stepping stone for larger, greater accomplishment. Take a step back, a deep breath, and use your perspective to express some gratitude for all that we have. The poet Derek Mahan expressed this beautifully in his poem Everything is Going to Be All Right:
Everything Is Going to Be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
This intimate back yard on the west side of Petaluma was an underused lawn area and deck with poor ground clearance and usability. The solution was to install a new permeable paver patio area, with matching block seat wall. Instead of using a permeable paver, a traditional paver was used, but downspouts and catch basins are directed into a permeable gravel field below the pavers, insead of the usual paver foundation of impermeable baserock.
This project in Belvedere was completed earlier this year and has already started to grow in nicely. The clients wanted a space that created a stronger front entry, seating area, and a solution that pushed back the exsting hillside to create more space. The Bluestone Patio is complimented by a Rox Pro stone veneer that picks up the geometry and color of the bluestone.
There’s no better “green” lawn mower than an old fashion reel mower. Trouble is, reel mowers can be a lot of extra effor and take extra sharpening of the blades to be effective. New designs are helping to address some of these shortcomings. Fiskars new Momentum Reel Mower helps to solve this problem by incorporating a flywheel, meaning less effort to push the mower through the grass, and better blades that need to be sharpened less often.
We are happy to announce Turned Earth’s 400th post! For the last 5 years we have been blogging about landscape issues and our ongoing work. We look forward to continued exploration, reflection, and provocation!
I just spent the weekend meeting with vendors planning an upcoming event. What fun to be on the other side of the table during the consultation process and see the presentation and portfolio elements, which elements worked and which didn’t.
We have been bidding on a lot of projects lately. On some of those projects we win the bid, and on others we don’t, that’s the nature of the process. One interesting aspect of estimating process as a whole is what I call estimate etiquette. There are two parts to estimate etiquette, that of the contractor and that of the client. Like any aspects of courtesy these are subject to interpretation and depend on the context applied.
In general good etiquette by the contractor means being punctual for meetings, creating a detailed and pertinent estimate, and delivering it in a timely manner. Good etiquette by the client means respecting the time and effort bidding contractors put into estimates on their projects (which can be substantial), and updating clients as to the status of the project and their final decision moving forward.
For our estimates in general, these are done at no charge. They usually include an in personal on-site consultation and subsequent proposal presentation with the creation of a detailed estimate, and often supplementary materials information, specifications or conceptual designs. Client responses to the estimate can vary, but clients are usually either responsive and update the bidding contractors on the status of their project, or they fall off the face of the earth and do not only not update the contractor, but don’t respond to follow-ups via phone, email, carrier pigeon, etc.
Now, all this being said, we aren’t always perfect in the process of soliciting estimates for our projects with sub-contractors. The purpose of emphasizing good estimate etiquette is to help encourage some common courtesy and professionalism on both sides of the estimate process.
We just changed our blog software from Movable Type to WordPress. What a difference! WordPress is faster, more user friendly, open source and popular- all great features for a blog platform. For the non-professional web developer Movable Type wasn’t the right fit for us.
The best part of Wordpess is the photo management. Unlike Movable Type you can upload multiple images and organize them in galleries.