Our Favorite Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples are one of our most used small scale trees and accent for good reason. They are easy to grow, have great texture and fall color, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They range from 5′ to 30′ in size. There are four basic leaf types of these pretty trees:

-Palmate Leaf: These have a broad maple leaf like a palm, much like the Canadian flag.
-Dissect Leaf: These have a finely cut leaf, which is more intricate
-Red Leafed: Different hues of red and purple in both palmate and dissect varieties
-Green Leafed: These can often take a bit more direct sun than their red leafed counterparts

Japanese Maples are versatile, and make a great eye catching accent in the garden, especially in the fall. Many have sculptural or colored bark in the winter, so even when dormant, they still have a unique presence. These trees are usually in the moderate water use category for our climate in the Bay Area, but they don’t need to be over used, a few can make a statement. Many prefer a little shade especially in the hot afternoons, but many will adapt to even full sun, although their leaves may burn.

Here are 8 of our favorite easy to find maple species from our awesome Plantmaster Database. You can see more of these in the Plantmaster Interactive View.


Can You Pour “Dry” Concrete?

In constructing new fences, we are often slower than fence companies in our build-out. We take our time with woodwork, making sure our piers, connections, fence panels and gates will last. One technique that some fence builders will use is to dry set their posts. Essentially, they dump in sacks of dry ready mix and wet them in the post hole. They will tell you there is no difference in this method and wet mixing the concrete in a mixer or wheel barrow and pouring it in the hole. This type of technique and other time savers is how they can build faster and cheaper than we can. We have always been skeptical of dry setting fence post piers, but never had directly compared the two methods.

This video from Bart Komar at the YouTube channel the Komar Project compared wet and dry pours and their overall durability. It was no surprise than dry pouring concrete is not as hard or durable as a properly mixed batch.


Selecting the Right Bark Mulch

There are many options for wood chips or bark to mulch planting beds. Which one is the best or the right fit for your project? In this video we walk through the options from our local supplier Sonomarin Materials in Petaluma.

Bark Advantages
-Reduce evaporation
-Build soil
-Reduce weeds
-Hide and protect drip irrigation
-Create a uniform look

Bark Types Shown
-Dyed chips: Shadow and Mahogany
-Yellow Chips: Golden Nugget, Blond Chips and Playground Chip
-Economy Mulches: Blended Mulch and Arbor Mulch
-Red/Brown Barks: Walk-on Blend, Shredded Redwood, Mini and Small Fir Bark

Novato Country Garden Revisited

I recently stopped by an install in Novato that we completed in 2020. In fact, this job was interrupted by the March 2020 pandemic shutdown and then the final details were completed two months later as restrictions were eased.

We completely re-did this front entry and side yard. One of the focal points was a huge enclosed vegetable garden that utilized ten large galvanized planters. In the past 3 years the garden has really filled in. The client’s green thumb shows as the boxes are bursting with veggies and flowers. A dry stream bed has completely knitted in with ornamental grasses and perennial color. See this garden when it was just installed.

Three Years After Installation

Completed Project- Novato Front Yard

This project in Novato near Marin Country Club took an older landscape with overgrown elements and transformed it into a modern spatially efficient new space. The existing front yard suffered without an entry way to front, an old driveway, and failing retaining walls in the back yard. We installed new floating concrete steps for the entry, replaced the driveway with new Calstone pavers and installed a new block wall to open utility space in the side yard. The result was a clean and thorough make over.

Post Installation Video

Before and After Images

East Petaluma Back Yard Reboot

This project in Petaluma was an update of an older back yard in need of a facelift to make it more usable and replace some tired elements.

We installed a new porcelain bluestone patio, overlaid bluestone over existing concrete paths and steps, installed a new lawn with subsurface irrigation, built two large redwood planter boxes, and installed accent lighting and a fountain.

We had a great experience working with Michael and his team at O’Connell Landscape. We engaged O’Connell Landscape to renovate our front and backyard and couldn’t recommend the Company enough. From the outset, Michael’s approach was organized and detailed with proposal, planning, and execution. We appreciated his communication cadence and found the whole process to be very transparent. Michael’s crew were easy to work with and we appreciated their attention to detail. The final product far exceeded our expectations. We would work again with O’Connell Landscape in a heartbeat.

-Leah Blue, Petaluma

Completed Project- San Rafael Eichler

Sometimes new projects are just fun. That was the case with this install in San Rafael. I had gone to school with one of the homeowners, and they were excited and ready for the whole process. We started with a huge ugly concrete patio in the rear of this San Rafael Eichler. The goal was a more modern and kid friendly back yard. We designed a layout that incorporated beautiful Kronos Bluestone tile, combined with a renovated drainage system, synthetic turf, new planter boxes, and connecting paths. The work made the view from the large rear windows transformed.

Working with O’Connell Landscape to complete our back yard renovation was an incredible experience through and through. Michael and his team were prompt, professional, and thoughtful about every detail. Michael has such a creative eye for design and his masterpiece came to life beautifully. We needed EVERYTHING done, from drainage to root removal to hard scapes to artificial turf and garden installation. They proved to be experts with it all. I can’t rate them high enough. You won’t be disappointed!

Shanee & Josh, San Rafael

Completed Project- Novato

This project stared with a beautiful but unrefined setting right on Novato creek. Years of overgrowth and neglect minimized the property’s potential and beautiful natural setting. We developed a design incorporating a new back yard patio and firepit, natural stone water feature, dry laid retaining walls, new drainage, and flagstone pathways. The result is an inviting yard that welcomes you into a the unique creekside property.

Working with O’Connell Landscape was the best experience I have ever had working with a residential contractor. They completely exceeded my expectations in terms of the design, the experience and the result. After moving to a home on Novato Creek, we wanted to reclaim our yard from a jungle of ivy and untended plantings, level it out, improve the drainage, and create a beautiful, useable yard.

We wanted the project to include a patio, fire pit, sitting wall, paths, attractive retaining wail, and fountain. O’Connell gave us a design that incorporated all of our ideas, and worked with us to bring it into our budget. Once the job started and we inevitably wanted some changes, they gave us immediate feedback on the exact cost so we could make informed decisions.

As the job went on, I realized that they had incorporated small design elements that made the yard even more beautiful than I had imagined. They worked on the yard consistently, never abandoning it to work on other projects, and got it done before Christmas, which I had hoped for but not expected. After the job they walked us through the yard to provide information on running the systems and maintaining the plants, and gave us written information and a video.

Micheal O’Connell was easy to reach, very responsive, and the team was great. I can recommend them with no reservations.

-Alexa Foster

Completed Project- Petaluma Bluestone Tile

This project in West Petaluma was looking for a facelift for some old concrete and tile. The previous owners had installed Southwestern tones in the existing concrete and orange tile, whereas the client was looking for a different look. We retrofitted the existing rear terrace, patio, and front courtyard with new Kronos Bluestone tile and a phased landscape (to comply with water restrictions) to match. The result was a completely transformed look and front entry.

When I contemplated re-doing my worn out yard I knew I needed a firm that could manage a complete design-build project. Michael O’Connell of O’Connell Landscape exceeded all of my expectations.

Michael is a pleasure to work with; talented, responsible, honest, attentive to detail and completely trustworthy.

Michael used technology from the outset, filming my complete yard and emailing me a visual, verbal commentary of the planned work on each section of my property. (Who does that?!). He deftly managed my project from the initial consultation through ongoing work until completion. He has an eye for design and a command of all materials, organic and inorganic and the knowledge to bring a project through to completion and on budget.

His crew is highly skilled, also attentive to detail, and pleasant to have around.

Michael performed a miracle with my yard! I can whole-heartedly recommend Michael and O’Connell Landscape.

-Jean, Petaluma

Completed Project- Petaluma Compound

This project in central Petaluma was a referral from the client’s sister, whose project we had completed a few years earlier. The site was a multi-home family compound with some significant family history. The existing yard had become outdated and the homeowner was looking for more usable space for entertaining, while have something low maintenance. We developed a plan that incorporated a large paver patio, custom stone seat wall and steps, secondary seating area with Yardistry pergola, water feature, vegetable boxes, lights and connecting paths.

I had a very vague concept of what I wanted for my backyard re-do. Michael O’Connell, with O’Connell Landscape, met with me several times to get an idea as to my future plans with my yard. He came up with a plan that outlined what I wanted, was within the budget I set, and perfectly matched the surrounding areas of our family property. Prior to the commencement of work, Michael and I met several times to review the plans to ensure a smooth start to the project.

During the project, Ruben and Ubaldo were there every day! They were friendly and answered all my questions. The attention to detail was amazing to watch as the work progressed.

My project took 3 months, and it was seamless. My yard is beautiful, and I feel I’ve added another room to my house.

I recommend O’Connell Landscaping to anyone who is looking for a trustworthy, friendly, and detail-oriented company.

-Natale Dougerty, Petaluma

Questioning Lawns

A thing of the past?

Dan Zak, writing in the Washington Post had a great article this week about America’s love of lawns. Still in drought parched California we get clients unaware of current drought restrictions and turf installation bans. Many folks want a lush patch of grass where their dogs and kids can play. The reality is one decent sized lawn can use the same amount of water as an entire household. My dad’s gardens (on well water) are a great example- just one lawn zone used 10,000 gallons of water a month in the central valley heat, in excess of my home’s (with pool) total usage.

Here’s a good quote from Dan Zak’s article:

Lawns, still, somehow.

The planet has accelerated its revolt against us and still we tend our lawns, one part of Earth we can control. Society falters, resources dwindle and, still, lawns.

Lawns: burned out, blond and dead, in the air fryer of August. Lawns: emerald green — no, alien green — and kept that way by maniacal vigilance and an elaborate system of pipes and potions, organic and otherwise, in defiance of ecology. And for what? To have, in this chaos, dominion over something? (Lawn and order?) To drape a veil of verdancy over a world gone to seed? To feel equal or superior to Ron, across the street, whose lawn always looks like the 18th at Pebble Beach?

We’ve been sweeping our anxieties under these green comfort blankets for quite some time. A “smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban home,” wrote Frank J. Scott in 1870, around the time of the first lawn mower patent, in a book titled “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds of Small Extent” (Chapter XIII: The Lawn).

In California, a mediterranean climate, things will be ever drier. Stately Oaks and timeless Bristle-cone Pine are dying at increasing rates.

Low water use plants with a few accents of vegetables or a Japanese maple here or there are the new reality. And still, in Petaluma, we see lush green front lawns with stage 4 water restrictions mandating two days per week watering. Eventually things will change, if only because we have no choice.

Turned Earth Turns 600!

18 years of blogging and 600 posts later we continue to publish Turned Earth as a window into our landscape projects, a venue for our rants, and platform for hokey YouTube videos of our projects. It’s a great way to keep our website fresh and to share the type of work we do. Thanks to all that read us!

And now our most popular hokey YouTube- How to build a gate

Exaktime- Squeezing Small Business

An Exaktime Brochure from 2008. Look at that antique Palm Pilot!
Keeping track of employee time cards is one of the challenges faced by many construction companies. Fortunately, good tools have been available for quite some time to assist in streamlining this paperwork. For almost 15 years we have used Exaktime software to allow employees to enter their time and sync it with the office. That’s so long that in 2008 the crews entered their time on a shared Palm Pilot. In the years since, with the advent of the iPhone and cloud, the software went online, making it easier and more instantaneous.

Great, another business challenge solved! That was true until Exaktime, the independent company based in Southern California, was purchased by Arcoro. Two things happened, our small business account was too small, and our yearly fees were too affordable for Arcoro.

Last year we were caught flat footed, Arcoro’s yearly renewal would be almost 300% more expensive, from around $550 yearly to $1,500. We protested, management reviewed. They would deign to renew us at the bargain rate of $1,000.

This year another renewal, and a return to a $1,500 yearly fee.  Enter ClockShark an Exaktime competitor based in Chico, CA. We met with a sales rep and found that ClockShark was a better system with more features for us than the old software. The bonus, all this at a cost less than half that of Arcoro/Exaktime.

We again protested the rate increase to Arcoro this year, their response:

Yardzen Partner Program- The $6,650 Fee

Yardzen is an online landscape design service that markets to both homeowners and landscape contractors. They are part of a growing online landscape design service segment, with competitors such as ShrubHub and Tilly. Like other disrupters such as AirBnB and Uber, Yardzen seeks to be an all-digital platform to design and build landscapes. While Yardzen designs are affordable, for some clients there may be a hidden fee in the service’s partner program. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first a little background on the company and their services.

Over the past several years we have bid a few Yardzen designs provided by potential customers seeking bids. Yardzen design costs currently range from $650 to $2,400 depending on the design package. Here are a few impressions of their designs:

Yardzen’s strength is in their 3D renderings, which are quite good. The designs we have seen (half a dozen or so) tend to be similar- modern looks, with somewhat generic elements. Designs are conceptual, they don’t get into finer detail drawings. In plans we have bid, their understanding of site topography, grading, and drainage is often lacking.

A main reason for these issues is Yardzen never visits the property or meets face to face with the client. Their work is all done using digital using photos, aerial photography and other digital resources.  All the technical work of fine grading, construction detailing, irrigation, permits and compliance fall on the owner and landscape contractor building the project.

Yardzen has grown rapidly, according to a sales rep we spoke with, from 30 employees to over 75 within the last couple of years with 200-300 independent contractor designers. Their designers are from all over the world, a quick LinkedIn search will show Yardzen designers offshored in central and eastern Europe and Asia.

So back to Yardzen partner program and the hidden $6,650 fee. We were repeatedly approached by Yardzen to join their partner program. This is an opportunity for Yardzen to make additional revenue from each design project. The partner program is a referral program for landscapers and costs nothing for the landscaper to get leads- a fact they heralded to us in repeated email solicitations. Once a landscaper signs the partner agreement and then contracts with a Yardzen client, Yardzen takes a 7% fee, dubbed a “revenue share” according to the 2021 agreement we were provided in the solicitation to join. So, a large project of say $95,000 would run $6,650 in this revenue sharing agreement. Fees drop to a 5% share of projects over $100,000 in size. This includes any and all work a contractor would do for a Yardzen partner program client. To put it mildly, these fees strike us a quite high for the service of mutual referral of client and contractor.

Do you think the partner landscaper is going to absorb a 5-7% fee in an industry where a 10-15% net profit is common? In all likelihood, those costs will get passed on to the client as part of the contractor’s overhead and will make the project that much more expensive for the customer.

Shortly after posting about the partner program, we were contacted by Yardzen’s COO. This post has been updated in response.

More on Yardzen
From Modern Living Sonoma Real Estate
From Water and Earth Landscape Design
Yardzen’s Overview of the Partner Process

Completed Project- Santa Rosa

For this front yard project in Santa Rosa, the challenge was to take a tired front lawn and boxwood hedge and turn it into something more captivating and low water use.

To accomplish this we removed an old concrete pathway and installed a new curving paver entry walkway with inlaid boulders from an adjacent dry stream bed. At the entry a new Bluestone porch with space for seating was installed.  Plantings focused low maintenance  selections that dramatically cut water use. In an effort to mitigate effects of the on-going drought, we limited the planting footprint of the property to key areas.

The result was a front yard that has drawn raves in the neighborhood and will continue to mature and grow into something special.

We used O’Connell Landscape to reimagine our front yard. This was our second project with the O’Connell team. 

One of the main attractions of using O’Connell Landscape is that they are a design build firm. This is much less hassle than dealing with two separate firms. Another advantage of working with a design build firm is being able to quickly accommodate design changes and the unexpected. 

The design phase is made easier because not only does Michael have wonderful creative ideas but he welcomes your input as well. He also will gently tell you if your ideas are unworkable or could be improved upon. 

OCL provides detailed quotes. Working with Michael we were able to figure how much to do in this phase. Additionally, the change orders were minimal. 

The OCL build team are true craftsmen in all aspects of landscaping, including grading, paver installation, concrete and planting.  The build phase clicked along like clock work and was finished when projected. 

Professionalism and excellent communications are evident throughout. Michael keeps his team and the client up to date. You always know where you are schedule and budget wise. When completed you receive a booklet on all your systems (e.g., water, lights) and how to care for the plants. 

In summary the project finished on time and in budget. It was professionally executed. We are delighted with the outcome.

-Sylvia & Jim, Santa Rosa

Design, Before & After Images

Drought Resistant Plantings from this Project
From our Awesome Plantmaster Database

Redwood Prices 2018 vs 2022

New Redwood Pergola

The pandemic, supply chain issues, high consumer demand, and inflation have affected the price of just about everything. Fuel costs have soared. Diesel in California has hovered near seven dollars at the beginning of 2022. Lumber prices were one of the first items to spike during the pandemic, and redwood lumber prices had been high and volatile before the pandemic. As we were updating some estimating and pricing for fencing, pergolas and other woodwork we compared past pricing with current vendor pricing. Here is an overview of five commonly used redwood lumber sizes and their price change.

Lumber Price Per Foot
Con Heart Redwood 2018 Price 2022 Price Total Change
1×6 Redwood Fence Board $1.50 $2.15 43%
2×4 Redwood Rails $2.20 $2.87 30%
2×6 Redwood Cap $3.30 $4.30 30%
4×6 Redwood Fence Post $4.80 $8.84 84%
6×6 Pergola Post $7.40 $14.27 93%

Looking at the table above, the post prices for larger dimensional redwood are what really stand out, with the cost of a 6×6 post almost doubling in 4 years. While other lumber prices have fallen from their pandemic peaks the likely combination of reduced redwood supply, higher demand, fires and other stresses have contributed to continued high prices.

Taking Stock of the Drought and Water Restrictions    

A View of the Mt. Tam Watershed

As the drought stretches into another year, water restrictions remain in place for Marin and Sonoma County. Despite a promising start to the rainy season in the fall, a historic dry January and February leave many water supplies severely constrained. Here is a look at some of the current water restrictions and their impact on new landscape projects.

Sonoma County

Petaluma: The City gets its water from Sonoma County Water Agency, and has set up restrictions on outdoor watering. With the city’s stage 4 restrictions currently irrigation is only allowed Tuesday and Saturday evenings with an objective to reduce water use by 30%. Additionally, and important for new landscape installs, no planting is allowed for those customers that use municipal water supplies. We had several projects where we needed to defer plantings until the restrictions were lifted. Read more on the City of Petaluma Drought Page 

Santa Rosa: Has also established a 20% use reduction goal. There are no restrictions on watering days, other than night time watering is required. There are no restrictions on new plantings. More at the City of Santa Rosa Drought Page

Marin County

Novato: Novato is separate from Southern Marin County and is served by North Marin Water District. Current restrictions were established in October. Watering is only allowed 3 days per week, with a conservation goal of 20% reduction. Hand watering and drip irrigation is currently exempt. There is no specific prohibition on new plantings. However new plantings would need to establish under the required restrictions and any future conservation requirements, which are likely. Read more at North Marin Water District. NMWD also has surcharges in place to encourage conservation- more here

Southern Marin: San Rafael to Sausalito are served by Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD). MMWD is an interesting case, as it’s reservoirs empty first and fill first, with high rainfall events in the Mt. Tamalpais watershed. Restrictions were loosened after the districts reservoirs filled to near capacity. Watering is allowed two days per week (not assigned). More information at MMWD

Unless we have a miracle end of March and April, storage conditions will only get worse and restrictions will increase. Adaptive strategies like removing turf, high water use plants, overhead irrigation, and other higher water use elements are critical to meeting the required water conservation measures. A water audit of use per irrigation zone in a great way to get an idea of how much water each area of your garden uses. Updating your controller to a weather adaptive smart controller that you can review, turn on, and edit via smart phone and computer is another great tool. Synthetic turf, very low and low water use plants, and native plants are key to creating successful landscape installations in what will be a drier and hotter California.

Now Hiring

Landscape Construction- Hiring Laborers and Crew Leaders
(Español abajo)


O’Connell Landscape, a full service design/build landscape construction company is looking for landscape construction crew members and landscape construction crew leaders for our residential projects in Marin and Southern Sonoma County.

This is a full time, year round field position.

This posting will be deleted once the position is filled, if this posting is still active the job position is still available.

Duties Include:
-Active participation in landscape construction (field position, physical labor required)
-Installation of patios, fences, lawns, plantings, irrigation systems, etc.

Experience Required:
1-5 or more years past experience in Landscape Construction

-Clean California Drivers License
-Bilingual English/Spanish
-Field position: Physical labor required and ability to lift 80 lbs.

Benefits and Compensation
-$20-30 per hour depending on experience
-8 Paid holidays, 1 week vacation time
-Performance based bonuses
-Health coverage

Job Applications:
You can apply online at: https://oclandscape.com/ocblog/ninja-forms/3fap8/
Or send resumes via email or fax; or call us for more information. View our website for examples of the scope of work required.

We are a family owned and operated company, with a long term work force that has been with us for decades. We believe that good employees are a foundation to our success. As such, we try to cultivate a good work environment, believe that our employees’ families come first, and treat our employees with respect.

Michael O’Connell
O’Connell Landscape
Phone: (415) 462-9729 extension 2 – (texts ok)
Fax: (415) 462-8932
O’Connell Landscape, una compañía de construcción de jardines, está buscando miembros del equipo de construcción de paisajes y líderes de equipos de construcción de paisajes para nuestros proyectos residenciales en Marin y el sur del condado de Sonoma.

Esta es una posición tiempo completo, durante todo el año.

Esta publicación se eliminará una vez que se ocupe el puesto, si esta publicación aún está activa, el puesto de trabajo aún está disponible.

Los deberes incluyen:
-Participación activa en la construcción del paisaje (posición de campo, trabajo físico requerido)
-Instalación de patios, cercas, zecate, plantas, sistemas de riego, etc.

Experiencia requerida:
Experiencia de 1 a 5 años o más en construcción de jardines

-Limpie la licencia de conducir de California
-Inglés / español bilingüe- una gran ventaja

Beneficios y compensación
-$20-30 por hora dependiendo de la experiencia.
-8 dias pagos feriados, una semana de tiempo de vacaciones
-Bonos basados en el rendimiento
-Cobertura de salud

Solicitudes de empleo:
Se puede applicar: https://oclandscape.com/ocblog/ninja-forms/3fap8/

Envíe currículums por correo electrónico o fax a la siguiente dirección o llámenos para obtener más información. Visite nuestro sitio web para ver ejemplos del alcance del trabajo requerido.

Somos una empresa operada y de propiedad familiar, con una fuerza laboral a largo plazo que ha estado con nosotros durante décadas. Creemos que los buenos empleados son la base de nuestro éxito. Tratamos de cultivar un buen ambiente de trabajo, creemos que las familias de nuestros empleados son lo primero y tratamos a nuestros empleados con respeto.

Michael O’Connell
O’Connell Landscape
Phone: (415) 462-9729 Extensión 2 (habalmos español, textos ok)
Fax: (415) 462-8932

Completed Project- Cherry Valley Garden Reboot

This project in the Cherry Valley neighborhood of Petaluma had been landscaped years before, but was in need of some upgrades to both plantings and hardscape to improve the design and connection of the spaces. We installed new plantings in multiple areas, with upgraded bluestone stepping stones and decomposed granite walkways. The result was the final piece of the puzzle to make the remodeled house and fencing knit together.

Completed Project- Novato Front Stone Work

During the past couple of years of the pandemic we have done many projects for past clients who wanted to do additional phases of work or tune up an element or area of the their yard. This project in Novato is a front yard for a back yard we completed almost 20 years ago.

The yard here was a flat front lawn, dominated by a large Mulberry tree. A common issue, a lack of front entry walkway, resulted in the driveway serving as the only entryway. We tiered this yard with a low natural stone retaining wall using Stone Universe natural stone panels. The entry way featured precut Stone Universe quartzitic flagstone on both the entry walk and porch. Two large fruitless olives were installed with a DG walkway off the driveway.

The result is a lower maintenance yard that really turns heads.

Great New Porcelain Bluestone Options

The world of paving and flooring keeps making technical leaps forward. Most people are familiar with a new generation of interior manufactured flooring that looks better than older materials and is more durable. The same advances have been happening outdoors as well, with a variety of new porcelain paving materials. Some of the best looking porcelain pavers we have seen recently have replicated one of our most used and favorite materials- Pennsylvania Bluestone. The amazing thing about these products is that they actually image real bluestone to then create a facsimile of the material. Advantages include better material consistency, lower cost, and stain resistance.

Kronos Full Range Bluestone Porcelain Tile from a recent install

In this video visit to one of our local suppliers, Bay Area Bluestone, we review porcelain Bluestone options from Kronos and Landmark.

Intimate and Modern East Petaluma Installation

This renovation in Petaluma took an existing landscape and gave it a modern refresh. We installed new woodwork, including trellises and a Pacific Woodworks Gate, saw cut an existing concrete path to make it a modern focal point, and redid the back yard with patio, bluestone and synthetic turf. The result is a new landscape that integrates and updates the existing elements well.

Working with Michael at O’Connell Landscape (OCL) was an absolute pleasure. He was extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the work, collaborative, always managed our expectations, and used technology (website photo surveys, online forms, etc.) to roll thru the design process efficiently. OCL may not be the least expensive option out there, but if you want extremely professional work with an eye for quality control and responsiveness, you will find it here. He was able to make our vision into a reality that extended our usable space outdoors. We will definitely be working with OCL again!

-Matt Johnson, Petaluma

Our Favorite Fire Safe Plants

We were recently contacted by Marin Living Magazine for a story they are putting together on innovative ways to incorporate fire safe landscape practices. With the drought this year and California’s ever increasing fire danger, it’s an important subject.

A good fire safe landscape scheme is one that mitigates risk by using appropriate plantings, defensible space, smart design (especially next to buildings), and appropriate construction materials. One great resource  is Fire Safe Marin and their list of fire resistant plantings.

Here are some our favorite choices for fire safe plantings from the Marin list via our awesome Plantmaster database online software.

See this in the interactive Plantmaster Presentation View

Fire Safe Plants

Botanical Common
Arbutus unedo Strawberry Tree
Cercis occidentalis Western Redbud
Feijoa sellowiana Pineapple Guava
Pistacia chinensis Chinese Pistache
Prunus laurocerasus English Laurel
Punica granatum Pomegranate
Rhus lancea African Sumac
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ Dwarf Strawberry Tree
Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ Dwarf Deep Red Barberry
Buxus ‘Green Beauty’ Green Beauty Boxwood
Camellia japonica Japanese Camellia
Camellia sasanqua Sasanqua Camellia
Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’ Golden Breath Of Heaven
Coprosma x kirkii Creeping Mirror Plant
Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ Bowles Mauve Wallflower
Euonymus japonicus Japanese Euonymus
Lantana montevidensis ‘White’ White Trailing Lantana
Liriope gigantea Giant Lily Turf
Punica granatum ‘Nana’ Dwarf Pomegranate
Ground cover
Achillea hybrids Yarrow Hybrids
Coreopsis auriculata Eared Coreopsis
Epilobium canum ‘Calistoga’ Calistoga California Fuchsia
Erigeron glaucus Blue Beach Aster, Seaside Daisy
Heuchera maxima Island Alum Root
Iberis sempervirens ‘Little Gem’ Little Gem Evergreen Candytuft
Lantana montevidensis Trailing Lantana
Trachelospermum jasminoides Star Jasmine
Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’ Lily of the Nile, Storm cloud
Agapanthus ‘Tinkerbell’ Dwarf Blue Lily of the Nile
Epilobium canum ‘Bert’s Bluff’ Bert’s Bluff California Fuchsia
Hemerocallis hybrids Daylily hybrids
Kniphofia ‘Poco Red’ Poco Red Hot Poker
Lavandula species Lavender varieties
Thymus praecox arcticus ‘Elfin’ Elfin Creeping Thyme
Tulbaghia violacea Society Garlic
Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’ Silver Lace Society Garlic
Festuca rubra Creeping Red Fescue, Red Fescue
Broadleaf Evergreen
Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ Emerald Gaiety Euonymus
Podocarpus gracilior Fern Pine
Podocarpus henkelii Long- Leafed Yellowwood
Polystichum munitum Western Sword Fern

Fire Safe Plants- All Images by Plantmaster



The Pitfalls of Free Estimates

We offer free estimates for new landscape projects. Like anything free, these estimates are a loss leader to get new work, each consultation and estimate can take 1-5 hours or more of our time, equaling about $200-500 and up.

One frustrating thing about this process is that many people take this time for granted, or are not responsive when we send out our estimates. A colleague of mine summed up his feelings on the matter- “You were worth several hours of my time, surely, I am worth 5-10 minutes of yours.”

This too has long been a pet peeve of mine (see this post from 2010). Yet, sometimes people to acknowledge the work we put in. Last year a prospective client gave me a $250 restaurant gift certificate for my time, even though we didn’t win the job. Yesterday, I got this delightful note following a consultation:

A delightful client email

East Petaluma Country Garden

This large corner lot in East Petaluma started with a blank slate, save a prominent chicken coop that was to be one of the anchors of the new garden’s design. We focused here on a creating an open and low maintenance yard that would be good for entertaining and would knit with recent renovations of the old farmhouse on site.

We installed a large paver patio, which in future phases will feature a pergola and outdoor barbecue. Off the patio is a large synthetic grass area with a seating circle for a firepit. We integrated these elements with hog panel fencing, low maintenance mediterranean plantings and several fruit trees. At the entry a second area of turf was installed with a tiered fountain that provides white noise.

I cannot recommend Michael O’Connell and his team enough. All of the work was done with the utmost integrity from start to finish. He was meticulous, organized, and knew exactly what I needed for my property. His depth and breadth of knowledge of agriculture, landscape, and carpentry is impressive. The transformation of my property was incredible. I started with a dirt lot and now I have an oasis I can relax in and enjoy every day. While he may not be the cheapest, he was worth every cent. I highly recommend you to contact him for landscaping.
-Anna DiGrande, Petaluma


Video- After Installation

Video- During Installation


Large Installation Projects

We install projects of all sizes, from small intimate spaces, up to estate size landscapes. This diversity of experience gives us a practical design sense, which is more than just ‘throwing money’ at a project. Rather we can leverage those landscape elements that will generate the most value. Here is a Houzz portfolio of some of our larger installations in Marin and Sonoma Counties, enjoy…


O'Connell Landscape Blog