We are working on wrapping up a large installation of Peacock Gap golf course in San Rafael. One of the signatures of this newly renovated back yard is this Aqualens Fountain. We installed this with new dry laid flagstone squares and seat wall. The result is a modern and striking accent to the focal axis of a swimming pool area.
It is always fun to visit a garden that we installed several years ago and see how the design vision and plants have matured over time. This project in Novato was a large multifaceted installation completed in 2013. The different areas have really come together as the plantings have matured.
We build a lot of gates and fences and see a lot of poorly constructed garden gates. Gates that drag, don’t close, and don’t latch can be on of the most frustrating things in the garden. Below are a couple of videos showing how not to build a gate, and a properly constructed gate.
A few tips:
-Big posts, big piers: Larger 4×6 or 6×6 posts will provide more stability and decay resistance over time. Larger piers will make sure your gate has a good foundation. A really solid pier would be 18″ diameter and at least 1/3 the height of the post with gravel at the base of the pier for drainage.
-Frame it right: For a carpenters gate, the framing should always be installed vertically. Typically 2x4s are used. The 4 inch dimension should always be vertically (i.e. perpendicular to the ground). Box framing a gate with the 2 inch dimension vertical is easier, but holds up much worse over time. It also doesn’t look as good.
-Not too heavy or too wide: When framing a gate, make sure to not oversize the framing too much. A heavy gate will be more likely to sag. For that same reason don’t make you garden gate too wide. We typically limit our standard gates to 48 inches. Once you start get wider metal reinforcement or additional support is required.
-Pick the right lumber: Gates should be made out of high quality decay resistant lumber. In California that usually means Redwood or sometimes Cedar. Posts can be either pressure treated lumber or Redwood.
-Choose a good hardware: It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a quality latch will make all the difference on your gate. We like paddle style latches for the easiest operation. Lokk Latches or the swanky Rocky Mountain Hardware are good options for different needs. Same goes for hinges, standard hinges are fine, just make sure they are heavy duty and can bear the gate’s weight well.
This recently completed project was a front and back yard installation for a new home on the East Side of Petaluma. The site was a blank slate and we worked with the owner to create a new entertaining space in the back yard with strong Mediterranean influences. A new travertine patio and seat wall are highlights, with the center piece of a Jade water feature. A secondary seating area of Arizona flagstone with creeping thyme balances and softens the other half of the yard. The planting scheme was low maintenance focused with Fruitless Olives, Lavender, and Roses being highlights.
O’Connell Landscape is the best!
Working with Michael and his team made the entire landscaping experience positive and productive – and one that resulted in landscaping that was completed within deadline and is exactly what I had hoped for – and more.
My new home had nothing but clay dirt in the back with a few grasses planted by the building contractor in front. It has now been transformed into a warm and welcoming Tuscan landscape both in front and in back.
Throughout the design process, Michael was patient with my questions regarding hardscape materials, design, colors, and plantings. He was excellent at listening to what I wanted and incorporating those concepts into a realistic design. He was also extremely cognizant of costs and budget issues – I always knew the cost of any of my “ideas” – in other words, at the end of the day, there were no budgetary surprises.
Rueben and his crew are expert and knowledgeable at all that they do. They are diligent, experienced, hardworking, and competent. They were never intrusive or disruptive to the goings on in our household, and always cleaned up before leaving the project each day.
Michael managed the entire process throughout the life of the project, regularly checking in with Rueben and his crew on-site, all the while maintaining excellent communication with me. He was extremely helpful when it came to selection of materials and a garden fountain, always providing samples and identifying vendors that carried materials that were of interest to me. When the project was complete, Michael prepared and reviewed with me, a booklet listing all the plantings and materials used as well as complete garden care specific to my landscaping.
Working with Michael, beginning with design, to material and planting decisions, and throughout the actual build-out, was a seamless process and a huge plus.
My landscaping is beautiful – and it was an absolute pleasure working with Michael.
The old landscape in this Petaluma back yard had become severely overgrown and had been cobbled together over the years. The first step here was a good clean-up to remove all the excess vegetation. This exposed some extensive rock walls, which we rebuilt and complimented with new paver patios, walkways, seating area and vegetable garden boxes.
Thank you so very much for transforming our jungle of a back yard into a lovely, peaceful space. Your ability to modify what we had and attention to detail as you designed and built the new space was tremendous, and we know we will enjoy it for years to come. Please extend our thanks to your team- their work was exceptional.
Amy and Thad Kenner
Recently I was browsing the website of Petaluma based MAD architecture and noticed their nice redesign of the Petaluma Library. Then something else jumped out, the front of the library looked nothing like the photo in the portfolio. This is a rather stark example of the need for on-going maintenance and reinvestment, especially in public spaces. In this example 1 grass out of 100 survived between the completed photo and the current photo.
Incidentally, Daily Acts is in the process of a community based landscape project to help redevelop the landscape around the library coming up later in March.
This half acre residence in San Rafael has good fundamentals, but the landscape has suffered from neglect and lackluster design. We are working on a redesign that would incorporate a stronger more coherent plant palate, bolder masses and visual lines, and improved focal points for the front yard. In the back yard, the lower pool deck is undersized, so we are developing a plan for an expanded seating area, combined with a fountain for interested and improved plantings.
This project on the Western edge of Petaluma took a large modern farm house and integrated a distinctive more modern planting plan to compliment the house. A large circular driveway dominated the front of the house and the outdated plantings there had seen better days. We designed a planting scheme focusing on ornamental grasses with accents of Olive Trees, Cork Oak, and Arbutus to transform the look of the front. New gravel walkways gave structure and framed the phase 1 implementation.
Michael is a true professional. He and his team are incredibly responsible, organized, detailed, honest, timely, and responsive. We hired O’Connell landscape to transform over two acres of farm property that had been left to waste for over a decade. The results exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to working with them again on future projects. Highly recommended.
– Joe Flannery, Petaluma
Santa Barbara has such a unique style. With its more tropical plant palette and strong Spanish influences, it can be refreshing to draw some inspirations of Southern California into our landscapes. Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens in downtown Santa Barbara features some interesting elements- decomposed granite pathways, stonework and boulders, ponds and open grassy areas as well as sections of plants that could be applied to a Northern California setting.
With our new website we’re reposting our great gardens and parks portfolios to our blog in a series of posts. Enjoy!
Change orders have a bad reputation and sometimes for good reason. Many contractors don’t create comprehensive plans or agreements for their work scope, only to come back later with dreaded change orders. That being said change orders are often necessary to finalize details, allotments or other aspects of the initial agreement, or to add on to the project scope.
We have completed large projects with zero change orders, and conversely done small projects that clients ‘change ordered’ into large multi-phase installations. What was previously a challenge for us was collecting signed paperwork change orders. While online electronic signature platforms have been around for a long time, we were still doing things the old fashion way since we don’t process that many contract documents.
This past year we finally made the switch to Adobe Sign. We wanted a simple, inexpensive, and intuitive solution that would streamline the change order process. The Adobe platform fit the bill. It also allows clients to keep tabs and approve changes via smartphone or desktop. Now change orders are made easy.
There is a very short answer- yes. All concrete cracks, it is an intrinsic characteristic of the material. We design our concrete installations using scoring and other preventative measures so that the natural cracking follows the bottom of the cut scoring joints (which is why we score concrete). You can think of this the same way that a folded or perforated piece of paper tears in a predicable way along the fold’s path.
In about 1 out of 10 jobs we get some stress cracking through the middle of the slab. These are typically hairline cracks, which don’t effect the structural integrity of the slab, but don’t look great either. I like to give this due diligence warning because sometimes clients are surprised or upset with this cracking, which is not a defect. We do all we can to reduce these issues using good baserock prep, steel reinforcement, professional finishers, and good quality concrete material.
Here is a good short video for more on concrete cracking:
This new home in Petaluma features a Mediterranean influenced design with a Travertine patio, curved seatwall and fountain. A smaller yard like this affords opportunities to focus on developing discrete areas and details.
Another year has flown by and with it a lot of interesting projects are in the books. Here you will find our gallery of highlights of work installed this year, including projects in Tiburon, Mill Valley and Petaluma- enjoy!
I just received an email today with this very exclamation. It can be scary when plants take a turn for the worse, often for no apparent reason. The first step in troubleshooting is usually checking for over or under irrigation. After that step, things can get tricky. One of the best resources for pest and disease problems afflicting ornamental plants is the UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) database. Here you will find overviews of common pests, diseases and environmental factors of many common landscape plants.
Below is an example of problems that can afflict Strawberry Tree, which was what my client was concerned about.
The project featured a complete renovation of the front and back yard- a new driveway, entry, rear patio, synthetic turf, all new fencing and new plantings highlighted this new installation.
We have started to use YouTube videos more and more as quick and informal client communication tools. This works great to walkthrough jobsite questions or in this case a low tech review of a planting plan concept for a client on business travel in Hong Kong. Enjoy!
We won another award in this year’s CLCA North Coast Chapter Award program. This project in Petaluma won for the Medium Design-Build installation category.
Building an outdoor kitchen presents as many options and challenges as constructing a conventional kitchen. Unfortunately, this can also bring outdoor kitchens into the same budget range as a regular kitchen.
One potential solution is to use prefabricated modular island units and components to reduce costs, in place of expensive custom built islands and masonry.
It used to be that there weren’t a lot a good options of modular units. Choices were simple low cost stucco boxes with limited choice and customization options. However as outdoor kitchens have grown in popularity so have the choices. There are scores of options, but here are a few different manufacturers of high end modular islands:
Danver Outdoor Kitchens: Danver (also sold as Jordan Brown Kitchens) offers the most choice and cabinet options of any modular system. With customizable cabinets and a full range of appliances there is a solution for almost any desired configuration.
Challenger Designs: Offers several different modular island designs with a clean modern look.
Gensun: In addition to a full line of outdoor furniture, Gensun also has some interesting islands, with a full range of colors and detailing options.
DCS: Appliance maker DCS offers their Liberty Island as a modular outdoor kitchen solution. Their system does not offer much customization, but you can get a full kitchen island at a competitive price including appliances.
Below are a couple of our recent custom island installations featuring bluestone countertops and stone veneered masonry islands.
Here is a follow-up to a previous design post of a new entry way in Mill Valley. The entry featured an open pitched roof Redwood arbor with custom dual gates to match the existing and new fencing. Hardware for the gate was a twist lever from Rocky Mountain Hardware (the best for gates), with lighting from Barn Light Electric.
The design for this project in Mill Valley stemmed from storm damage that wiped out an existing entry way and fence. The design solution was a distinctive entry arbor that the owner wanted to highlight the entryway and replace the existing elements.
We are working design development for this back yard project in Tiburon. The clients had an existing landscape plan that needed to simplified and improved for usability for two small children.
The solution was to regrade the site to make more unified spaces, removing some of the existing walls and grading from the existing plans. The result is a clean design with finished concrete and connecting walkways and a rear lawn play space with perimeter plantings and privacy fencing and screening.
In this political climate we thought it was important to add two new holidays to our work calendar in 2017. We will be giving our employees the day off to celebrate the life and legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. In that spirit, here is an excerpt from Dr. King’s final speech:
2016 was another successful year of landscape installations with lots of interesting and varied projects. We were fortunate to have great clients to work with last year. Enjoy the gallery of project highlights below. Cheers to 2017!
As a company we have always believed in providing stable, long term employment with good benefits. This year we have employees who have been with us for over 10, 20, and 30 year time-frames, including since our start in 1987.
To that end we have made a commitment to a base wage for our workers of $15 per hour. Unfortunately, given the high cost of living in the Bay Area, even this amount is less than ideal.
We thought it was important as a company to affirm this commitment to our workers and express support for the Fight for $15 movement. This is especially true in light of the current political environment and pronouncements by organizations such as the CLCA (California Landscape Contractor’s Assocation) and Farmer’s and Ag Associations that are anti-employee. We don’t buy the anti-minimum wage arguments that these wage floors are a bad thing. Substandard wages only force an increased burden on social services.
This project in Petaluma by Helen Putnam Park was fun transformation of an existing large lot landscape. The homeowners had purchased the home new about 10 years ago, but the existing landscape was showing its age and didn’t fit their needs. We were brought in to look at the project with an existing landscape designers plans. While the plans were nicely detailed, they were too elaborate to be built to a reasonable budget. We worked with the client to develop a scaled back plan, which leveraged many of the initial design ideas, but in a way that was simpler and more elegant, while reducing cost.
The design featured several elements including large concrete patios and stepping stones, grass area, vegetable garden and shade pergola and seat well. Accents of zonable low voltage lighting, succulent garden with fountain, and firepit area filled out the design. We also regraded the property to level and better use the large lot footprint. The result was a nicely transformed and more usable space.
If we had to pick one word to describe O’Connell Landscaping, it would be EXCEPTIONAL.
We met Michael O’Connell when we were putting a design to bid from a different landscape designer. In working up the bid, Michael realized that the work as envisioned by the original designer could not possibly be completed within our budget. Rather than just submitting the bid like the other contractors, he took the extra step to tell us that he’d be happy to work with us on a new design that would better suit our needs and budgets.
Thus, began our wonderful experience with Michael and O’Connell Landscaping.
During the design phase of the project, Michael broke down every element of the original plan and quickly guided us through a decision-making process to prioritize what was important to us, what types of materials would work for us, and how those choices impacted our budget. I was amazed at how quickly Michael was able to narrow down the often-dizzying array of options and through a series of questionnaires and design reviews lead us to a final plan that included ALL of the major design elements from our original plan at a price that met our budget.
The construction phase of the project was equally efficient and enjoyable. The O’Connell construction crew was wonderful—very respectful of our property, our neighbors, and our family—and completed the project on-time and on budget. Ruben, the lead on the project and a master at the art of using a Bobcat, has been with O’Connell for more than 30 years, a further testament to the quality business Michael O’Connell operates. Both Ruben’s and Ubaldo’s experience and skill definitely showed through in our finished project—expertly framed pergolas, beautifully crafted seat walls, exceptionally constructed fences and gates. Michael’s choice of sub-contractors was equally exceptional, with three colored-concrete patios that have literally caused our guests to gasp at their quality. Michael was frequently on-site during the course of our 20-week project, reviewing progress, answering questions, and otherwise making us feel that we were his company’s top priority.
To say that the finished product exceeded our wildest hopes would be an understatement—an absolutely remarkable transformation of our backyard and an absolutely wonderful experience with O’Connell Landscaping.
We couldn’t recommend his company more strongly.
-Jim and Amy Schwappach, Petaluma
We are working on a couple of interesting projects in Larkspur and Petaluma right now. The Larkspur project focuses on a new back yard to create a more usable patio and entertaining space. It features a large bluestone patio and outdoor kitchen.
The Petaluma project is a larger yard that integrates new concrete patios, a large painted pergola, seat wall and stone accents.
We won two awards at this year’s CLCA North Coast Chapter Award Program. The first project was a completed front and back yard installation in Petaluma. The second was a rustic front and back yard in Cotati. Both projects shared some interesting elements, including new fencing, water features, and vegetable garden areas. See some current photos below of both projects.
2016 CLCA Medium Installation Award Winner- Cotati
2016 CLCA Design Build Award Winner- Petaluma
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