All posts by Michael O'Connell

Good Garden Quotations

In the process of our move to our new office, as I was filtering through some books I stumbled up Maria Polushkin Robbins’ book A Gardener’s Bouquet of Quotations, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

A Garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever.

Nothing is more completely the child of art than a garden.
-Sir Walter Scott

I don’t know whether nice people tend to grow roses or growing roses
makes people nice.

-Rowland A. Browne

The great challenge for the garden designer is not to make the garden
look natural, but to make the garden so that the people in it will feel

-Lawrence Halprin

But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want
something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit. Weeds are
people’s idea, not nature’s.


Again rejoicing Nature sees
Her robe assume its vernal hues
leafy locks wave in the breeze,
All freshly steeped in morning

-Robert Burns

As is the garden such is the gardener.
A man’s nature runs either to
herbs or weeds.

-Francis Bacon

The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Unless you take care, the sun will pin you down. Put a hat on that
foolish head of yours when you go out into the fields.

-Farmers Almanac

He who plants a garden, plants happiness.

There is nothing pleasanter than spading when the ground is soft and

-John Steinbeck

What I enjoy is not the fruits alone, but I also enjoy the soil itself,
its nature and its power.


We collect great garden quotes, let us know some of your favorites.

If you are looking for more good quotes try:
Quote Garden




Pressure Washing

As we work to finish a project, we are doing some pressure washing of some existing wood railings, siding, and decking. It is amazing how the luster of wood can be brought back with some Wood Cleaner and a pressure washer.

Pressure washing is a good alternative to replacing old concrete, brick or wood in situations were the material is still sound, but has years of built up dirt, grime and wear. It is often amazing how good a material can look after some cleaning and pressure washing.

We often recommend this on flagstone installations, especially with softer stones, such as Arizona Flagstone, or in shady areas where moss, mildew and dirt may accumulate.


Arizona Flagstone

Arizona flagstone is one of the most common and readily available stone materials (in California and the West at least). It is frequently used for patios and wall veneers. The stone comes in a variety of colors, mostly beige, pinks, reds, and oranges.

Arizona has the advantage of being one of the lowest cost stone materials, however if it is properly installed in irregular sheets it can often cost more than alternative stones materials that are installed in precut pieces. The material looks best when it is broken into inter-fitting pieces, which has an installation process much like a giant jig saw puzzle. Grout lines should be consistent, with small pieces avoided whenever possible to fill the intersections between stones.

Arizona flagstone is easy to work with, because it is quite soft. Dropping the material is often sufficient to break it. This makes cutting and chipping the stone easy, but exposes it to flaking and breaking. The material does respond well to pressure washing, which, depending on the area and exposure of the installation, can help bring the material back to full luster. It will slowly fade and lose color intensity over time.

The material is best used for patio and wall veneers, especially Arizona ledgestone, which makes a very handsome stone wall.

Visit our Stonework Portfolio for more image examples

Lyngso Materials Arizona Page


Rosa Arizona Flagstone Patio & Steps


Sedona Red Arizona Flagstone Walkway & Steps


Classic Oak Arizona Flagstone Patio


Peach Arizona Ledgestone Wall

Scheduling your Irrigation in Hot Weather

As summer’s heat hits throughout the nation, here are a few tips for making sure your plants endure the heat.

If you are watering by hand, especially with plants in pots, make sure to water frequently. Pots will dry out faster than in ground plantings. For sensitive soft stemmed plants, watering twice per day may be required in extreme heat. If you can move potted plants to protected or shaded areas this will help.

When setting your automatic irrigation controller keep in mind a few things:

1- Up the amount of water scheduled during hot periods
This can be done two ways- by either increasing the duration of the watering, or by increasing the frequency of the watering. If you lawn is on for 10 minutes normally, maybe up it to 15 minutes, or alternatively split it into two start times, one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening for 6-7 minutes. Splitting watering into two cycles can improve water absorption into the soil, resulting in less run off and more effective watering.

2- Remember to check your settings
Observation is the key to watering. Once you make changes, make sure to keep an eye on things. It may need a bit more or less water depending on the circumstances. If you have upped the watering time for a hot period, remember to adjust it back down if cooler temperatures return.

Remember if you make changes to an automatic controller to set it back to Run or Automatic if required; a failure to do so will prevent the new settings from running, compounding the problem.

3- Probe the soil
A good way to check to see if plants are getting enough water is to probe the soil, brushing back any mulch around the plant and feeling a couple inches into the soil around the plant. The soil should be damp but not sopping wet. Remember that in situations with clay soils, that these typically have a greater water holding capacity and require less watering time. Another methodology for checking soil moisture is to buy a soil moisture probe.

Find more information:
Be Water Wise
East Bay MUD Newsletters

Bring Your Wood Back to Full Luster

Nothing can detract from woodwork, even a well constructed woodwork, like the gray tarnished look of weathering. There are several products available that can make an old wood look new.

Cleaner-Brighteners: These are effective one step products that both clean deposits and bring back the wood’s natural color and beauty. There are several products available, one example is Behr’s Cleaner-Brightener.

Oxalic Acid: This product is good to remove rust and other types of staining, wood bleeding from tannins (common with redwood), and nail or galvanized bleeding stains. Oxalic acid is often part of cleaner-brightener compounds as mentioned above. This product is also frequently called wood bleach.

These products can also be useful on new fence constructions. Often wood from the lumber yard may have bled, have marks from shipping straps or from being stacked outdoors.

After the wood has been cleaned, it is often a good idea to stain your newly cleaned fence to preserve its color. There are a wide variety of clear and colored stains available to preserve and protect the new wood look of your fence or wood work. Clear stains often look the best, when selecting a colored stain, make sure that the color is not too strong- this can make the fence stand out.

If you prefer the weathered look of wood, it is a good idea to treat your fence or wood to help prevent warping and aging. A good product is Seasonite.

For More Information:

Wood Care Products
Flood Company
Cabot Stains

Local Dealers:
Rafael Lumber

Nearing Completion

We have been working finishing a project up in Sonoma. One of the satisfying parts of completing projects is seeing all the parts of the project come together in a complete and unified whole.

This is especially true of larger scale projects, where a complete transformation is made over an entire property. As I was looking at the before photos of this particular project, I could not believe the difference. The transformative part of the process is always fun to see.

Pool Wall- Before Construction

Pool Wall- After Construction

Nextel Service Update

We have been wrangling with Nextel customer care for the past week. After doing a bit more research we are getting close to making the jump to Verizon. A good resource for those looking for cellular ratings would be the Consumer Reports Survey: the results are not shocking. Verizon was best in our area, and best nationally- Nextel, on the other hand, was rated worst  nationally, with low levels of customer satisfaction. We can echo
that sentiment.


Problems with Nextel

Nextel has been the long time choice of many in the construction industry. Their walkie talkie feature made the beep-beep of Nextel phones common place on jobsites throughout the country. We have been Nextel customers for several years, our plan growing steadily over time to include more and more phones (we were laughing in the office the other day about how we ever got anything done in the days of pagers).

Our problems with Nextel recently started with one phone, (mine) going over its allotted minutes. We called Nextel to try to change the rate plan or add additional purchased minutes. We were curtly informed that they could make the change but it would not take effect until the next billing period. This, however, did not solve our problems, we needed extra minutes this month. The representatives at Nextel however hid behind their policy of no changes once the billing period has started (they no doubt relish the millions of dollars  in overage charges they receive). After trying via email and on the phone to speak to a supervisor, we were again informed that no exception could be made.

That was fine for Nextel, but did not work well to meet our needs. So now we are looking at other cellular carriers, who will actually help us with our wireless service. Imagine if we had been a huge company with hundreds of phones; Nextel’s policy may make their billing easier but it doesn’t help their customers.

After checking around, both Verizon and Cingular do offer pro-rated plans, as did Nextel a few years ago. It’s not that the policy was the problem, it was the impression that they did not care about our business.

Great People

Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the great people that work for you. We are working hard to complete a project and our crews have been great. They are working in 90+ degree heat all week, and they are really working to get the project done. There is never a complaint, and they work hard all day long.

I was out on the project site doing some site and design administration work and I was tired just watching our guys work, the sweat dripping off my face after briefly walking around the project.

Great people are the starting point, from there it is up to management to turn them into great results.

The Price of Steel

While working on a recent project we needed some custom fabricated stainless steel brackets to reinforce some work we were installing. For a few dozen brackets the cost came to over $1,000 for the materials alone. Our metal fabricator out of Chico, R&D Hydraulics, stated that the price of steel has skyrocketed in the past couple of years, costing almost twice what it would have cost. Pressure from the Chinese and other developing markets has driven the cost up.

Our particular incident is a microcosm of larger pressures on businesses reliant on steel. From our metal fabricator to the auto makers of Detroit, companies are scrambling to deal with the high cost of steel. Here is a good article from the Detriot Free Press detailing the problem.

A Guide to Concrete Finishes

July 12, 2005

Concrete is another material where I get frequent questions from clients asking about the range or choices for concrete finishes. The different types of concrete finishes come from different manipulations to the concrete surface and color. Here is a brief rundown of common finish types:

Exposed or Washed Concrete: The concrete (it can be colored or gray) is finished and typically treated with a surface agent. Once the concrete has had a sufficient chance to dry, the top layer of concrete is washed off to reveal the aggregate (sand & gravel). This finish is commonly used on city sidewalks, and makes for a high traction surface.

Close up of Exposed Concrete Surface

Heavier Exposure Concrete Driveway

Colored Concrete: Color concrete is achieved with a color pigment that is added directly into the concrete mixture (integral mix). There are a wide variety of earth toned concrete colors available. At times colored concrete can have some color variations and can fade and discolor over time. Colored concrete can be used with a surface treatment such as the exposed finish as detailed above.

To see available concrete colors visit:
Davis Colors or Scofield Color

Colored Concrete Driveway

Colored concrete can become blotchy depending on a series of factors involving drying exposure, quality of finishing and amount of available moisture in the ground and added to the mix and the time of pouring.

Broom Finish: This is a standard concrete finish where the concrete is troweled to a smooth surfaced and then broomed to create a higher traction surface for outdoor applications. Smooth finished concrete (like a garage floor) should not be used for outdoor applications as it poses a safety risk when wet. Broom finishes are commonly seen in new developments on sidewalks and as a finish for colored concrete.

Broomed Color Concrete Patio

Salt Finish: This finish is often used around swimming pools, or in conjunction with terra cotta tile (think a Santa Barbara city Sidewalk). The concrete is finished smooth and then rock salt is added to the surface. When the concrete has set the rock salt is washed away leaving small pitholes in the concrete that create an interesting finish.

Seeded Aggregate: Concrete is finished and then small colored stones are packed by hand into the concrete surface. When the concrete has dried the top layer of concrete is washed away to reveal the stones. This is a popular finish for driveways. There are a variety of different pebble types that can be used to give different looks to the aggregate finish.

Aggregate Path with Brick Trim

Aggregate finish adjacent to gray brushed concrete finish

Stamped Concrete: Stamped concrete is typically colored concrete applied by with special color and shape molds that give the concrete a different appearance. Typically the stamps imitate stone or tile patterns. Some can offer the look of stone at reduced cost. Stamped concrete is typically done by stamped concrete contractors who specialize in this type of installation. Bomanite is one company that has authorized dealers that install stamped and colored concrete using their particular stamp and color patterns.

Stained Concrete: Concrete staining is a surface treatment, where stains or dyes are applied to the surface of the concrete to improve or change its appearance. There are a lot more options for colors and patterns and textures with stained concrete. This is also something that can be done to existing concrete. Frequently, surface staining is done on interior floors (often in restaurants)

For more information on Concrete Types and Finishing Processes visit:
Concrete Network
A Quikrete Guide to Finishes

Many Choices in New Zealand Flaxes

I was at one of our main wholesale nursery suppliers last week leading clients on a tour for a planting design. One of the things that struck me while I was there was the amazing number of flaxes available.

For those not familiar with New Zealand Flax (Phormium sp.), they are a New Zealand native that are part of the Agave family. They grow best in the US along the coasts- throughout the Pacific Coast, Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast up to Virginia.

New Zealand Flax is a versatile plant for California gardens. It’s grassy strap like leaves help it fit well with a number of styles, especially Mediterranean compositions, and those using ornamental grasses.

Colors range from reds, purples, yellows, oranges and multicolors in sizes 18″ and below to 10′ and larger. Among those we use most are cultivars ‘Dusky Chief,’ ‘Yellow Wave,’ ‘Tom Thumb’ (Dwarf), ‘Jack Spratt’ (Dwarf) and a host of others. Cultivars are from two species Phormium cookianum and Phormium tenax.

Dwarf Tom Thumb Flax mixed with Ornamental Blue Oat Grass

Find good links to images and more information at:
Monterey Bay Nursery Site
San Marcos Growers

Automatic Gates

Wanted to share another local contractor we use for gate automation and entrance gates. We recently collaborated with Sculptural Gates out of Sonoma, California on a Brazilian Hardwood gate for a residence in Kentfield.

They have a great website with lots of gate related information and resources and a spin-off website for broader area sales- Gate Depot. They are a great resource for people interested in installing or purchasing an entrance gate.

Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate- Design and Construction Collaboration with Sculptural Gates, Sonoma CA

An Interesting Japanese Garden

There was an interesting article about Japanese gardens today in the San Francisco chronicle. Osmosis, a Japanese Spa retreat in Sonoma County has some beautiful Japanese gardens created by Osmosis founder Michael Stusser after a garden apprenticeship spent in Kyoto.

For good local examples of Japanese gardens this may be a good place to visit. The garden is only open to spa guests, except when they have special events, such as concerts.

Making an authentic looking Japanese garden is not an easy task. I took a trip to Kyoto in 2001 and after seeing the real thing it is easy to spot imitators. Two of the better examples of Japanese Gardens are the Portland Japanese Gardens, and the San Francisco Japanese Tea House in Golden Gate Park.



Decomposed Granite Types

I received a question today about the types of available decomposed granite (DG). This can be a bit confusing because there are a few different options for DG.

DG is essentially a combination of small granite pieces and granite fines. The fines in the DG make the material well suited for pathways and areas where it can be compacted. Typically we compact our DG installations with a vibrating plate compactor.

DG comes in two basic color ranges, brown and gold. The material is usually installed one of three ways.

1. Decomposed Granite with no additives: The DG is often installed on a compacted base of roadbase gravel and then compacted to make a pathway, seating area, or other application. The DG is typically hard packed but can move and has a sandy consistency (what comes to mind is a French Park with its long sandy alees)

2. DG with stabilizer agent: A stabilizer agent is mixed into the DG which prevents the material from moving around as much and gives it a more hard packed appearance. The material will still form a bit of a sandy layer on the top but it is much better than the untreated DG.

3. DG with Resin or “Poly Pavement”: The DG is mixed with a natural resin which creates a natural asphalt like material. This is the most expensive type of DG installation and we typically use it in high traffic areas, ramps and steps down hillsides, or driveway surfaces. It is frequently used in wineries for access paths and drives. The material will not run, and does not have a sandy consistency like the other types of DG.

While these additives make a great surface, the DG can become eroded if not protected from repeated water erosion. The most frequent culprit here is gutters or downspouts where constant dripping can erode the material.

DG is a great material where the design aesthetics are such where concrete would not work well or where a more rustic and natural look is desired. Both the untreated DG and the stabilizer will get somewhat muddy during rainy periods, so we recommend DG with resin for areas where access is heavy year round.

Below are some examples of the DG types:

Untreated DG Being Compacted

Decomposed Granite with Stabilizer Agent
Decomposed Granite with Resin Additive
Used for Ramp pathway

Are Composite Decks the Best?

There was a great article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about composite decking versus traditional cedar and redwood decks- “All Decked Out”.

Essentially, there are three drawbacks to composite products according to the article. Composite decking products are susceptible to mold, fade over time, and are susceptible to staining as well. The advantage to these materials is less maintenance and a longer useable lifespan.

I would add two other problems with composite decks. First, the composite materials do not have the same structural properties as wood. As a result all the structural framing (and sometimes railings) for the deck will need to be constructed out of regular lumber which will have a shorter lifespan than the decking boards above it. Second, the composite materials, while much improved since their introduction, do not replicate natural wood’s appearance.

One final issue that the article points out: composite decking is not biodegradable. While it is true that composite decking is made of a high percentage of recycled plastic (such as grocery bags) and wood waste (saw dust), once the decking is disposed of after its useful life, it will be sent to the landfill where it will degrade at the same rate as other plastics. Natural wood on the other hand will rot and degrade naturally.

Landscape Transformations- Before & After

One of the great things about the design-build process of landscape construction is we get to take the projects from start to finish. We get to see some great transformations, and have a lot of fun with clients transforming their old yards into beautiful gardens in the process. It may sound like lip service, but few other segments of this or any industry allow that great client interaction. Each project is different and each has it owns challenges, which leads to interesting design and construction solutions for each project we complete.


Garden Web Resources & Links

Below is a list of websites for Reference and for local suppliers in the Marin and Sonoma County, California area (and beyond) for garden related products and services. (Check our newest updates, we update this list frequently!) We make no endorsement or recommendation of the products and services below, these links are informational purposes only.


Automatic and Wood Gates
Gate Depot

Charles Prowell Woodworks
Van Dykes Restorers– Gate and other Restoration Hardware
Horton Brasses– More Gate Hardware
Rocky Mountain Hardware

Barbeque Islands and Outdoor Cooking
Cal Flame- Modular and Prefabricated Barbeque Islands from Cal Spas
OLP– Outdoor Living Products Modular Islands
U-Line– Refrigerators and Outdoor Icemakers
Viking Range– Premium Grills and Refrigerators
Lynx Professional Grills- Premium Grills
Barbeques Galore
Kalamazoo Gourmet Barbeque Islands
DCS- Dynamic Cooking Systems Barbeques
Outdoor Fireplaces
Heat n’ Glo
OLP Modular Fireplaces
CalFire Modular Fireplaces
Rumford Fireplaces

Building Supply
Golden State Lumber
Rafael Lumber
Jackson’s Hardware
Home Depot
OSH- Orchard Hardware
Restoration Hardware

Concrete & Mortar Colors
Davis Colors

Trex Composite Decking
Evergrain Composite Decking
Mataverde Ipe (Brazilian Hardwood) Decking

Feeney Cable Rail -Architectural tensioned railing systems
Master Halco – Metal Fencing
Fencing Link Guide– From USA Architecture
Greenscreen– Architectural metal trellis and modular fencing material
McNichols– Manufacturer of Wire Fence Products
Decor Cable– Cable Railing Systems
Ameristar Metal Fencing

San Francisco Bay Area Gardens, Landscape Architecture & Design articles and photographs from all over the world
Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma
San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboreum, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers– Don’t miss the Japanese Gardens, De Young Museum and others in Golden Gate Park
Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto
Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek
Filoli Estate in San Carlos
UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens
Quarry Hill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen
The Gardens at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek
(thanks to Ruth Bancroft Gardens links page)

Vista Professional Lighting
FX Luminare
Lamps Plus – Low Voltage and Indoor-Outdoor Lighting Products
B-K Lighting

Links to Garden Links
Landscape Contractor National Magazine– Product Search

Irrigation Supply
Ewing Irrigation
Urban Farmer

Outdoor Furniture & Sculpture
Patio World
Gardenside Teak Furniture
Outdoor Decor
Artefact Design and Salvage– at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma

Basalite Pavers
McNear Brick and Block
Calstone Pavers
Stepstone Inc. Modern looking precast concrete stepping stones and pavers

Plant Databases and Information Sources
Cal Flora Plant Database
Floridata -Large Florida Base Plant Database
USDA Plant Information -Gardening and Plant Guides and Information
Plant Ideas-Plant articles and information
Scotts Fertilizer and Lawn Products– Fertilizer and Gardening Information

Plants- Nurseries Informational
Native Sons Nursery– California Native Plant Information and Articles
San Marcos Growers– Plant Database and Useful Information
Monterey Bay Nursery– Large plant Photo Database and information
Monrovia Growers– Plant and Gardening Information
Las Pilitas Nursery– Native Plant Information and Photos
Annies Annuals
Emerisa Gardens

Plants- Retail Nurseries
Sloat Garden Centers
Armstrong Garden Centers

Sprinkler Manufacturers and Information

Stone-Tile Supply
Bay Area Bluestone– Bluestone Supply Shipped from the East Coast
Shamrock Materials
American Soil Products– Great Selection, Terrible Sevice
Wheeler Zamaroni
Lyngso Garden Materials
Arizona Tile
Echeguren Slate– San Francisco

Stone Veneers
El Dorado Stone- Manufactured Stone Veneer
Cultured Stone
Rox Natural Stone Venners

Synthetic Putting Greens/Lawns– See this post
SynLawn Golf
Southwest Greens
Players Turf

Wall Systems
Versa-Lok Retaining Wall Systems– The most used option
Allan Block Retaining Wall Systems
Keystone Retaining Wall Systems

Water Features & Statuary
Fountains Unique
Jandy– More Pool and Water Feature Accessories
Magic Planter: Fountains & Art in Sausalito
Florence & Italian Art Company
Al’s Garden Art
Aquascape Designs: Waterfalls and Liner Systems
Longshadow Planters
Nichols Brothers Stoneworks
A. Silvestri & Co. Statuary– Manufacturer- San Francisco, CA
Stone Forest– Manufacturer- Santa Fe, NM
Absolute Statuary and Fountains– Retailer in Sebastopol, CA

Watering Information
East Bay Municipal Water District– Articles and Watering Information

Wood Care Products– See this post for more info
Cabot Stains

Let us know if you can’t find what you are looking for in this list, or if you have a suggestion for an addition.

More Choices in Wood Decking

We frequently receive questions about what the best material to use for new decking. There are several products out on the market, each with their own benefits and drawbacks:

Redwood, Cedar: These two softwoods are traditionally used for wood decking. They have a nice appearance, but require staining and upkeep to look their best. Because they are softwoods they also weather and eventually rot faster than some alternatives.

Composite Decking: Composite or Plastic Decking is a synthetic product made of a composite of wood particles and plastic. Is requires much less maintenance than traditional softwoods, and is rated for a longer life span. The drawback of the composite decking is its appearance. While new technologies and products are available that are more realistic looking, they still do not fully approach the beauty of natural wood.

Hardwood Decking: Brazilian Walnut (also known as Ipe or Pau Lope) is a tropical hardwood that is several times stronger, denser and heavier than softwoods. It is highly fire resistant and has great structural properties. Unfortunately it is also the most expensive of the three options. The wood has a beautiful appearance stained (like that of a fine interior hardwood floor) but requires continual repeated staining in exposed areas (once per year). If the wood is not stained it can be treated with a wood seasoner (Seasonite) and allowed to turn silvery gray (think weathered teak).

A Decking Article from Bob Villa

-Trex Composite Decking

-Evergrain Composite Decking

-Mataverde Ipe (Brazilian Hardwood) Decking

A Better Way to Treat Aphids

We recently received a call from one of our newly completed landscape projects. They were calling to express concerns that aphids were eating their newly installed landscape plants. As such, they wanted us to spray to stop the infestation.

This reminded me of an interesting book that I read on permaculture, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. In the book he explains, “Insects that feed on plants reproduce at staggering rates, quickly surging to astronomical numbers. But the insects that prey on these pests reproduce more slowly and are far fewer in number.” He goes on to say, “that predators always occur in much smaller numbers than their prey and the predator we are looking for is ladybugs [in the case of aphids]”. The problem with ladybugs is that just about the time the ladybugs reach the numbers necessary to control the aphids, the gardener notices the outbreak and sprays insecticide. This kills most of the aphids and the ladybugs. The fast breeding aphids recover within a few weeks, but the ladybugs that have no food until the aphids are in good supply, remain at critically low numbers. Just when the ladybugs feeding on the small population of aphids begin to breed again, a gardener sees that some aphids are still out there. Fearing another plague he sprays again, really hammering the struggling ladybugs. As Hemenway sumises, “A few rounds of the cycle and the ladybugs are all dead, while some aphids are bound to survive.”

This is why we need to practice patience when spraying insecticides. Sometimes we have to let nature take its course and that means having to tolerate aphids on our roses in order to give the predators a chance to kill the infestation. Sometimes spraying is not the answer, patience is.

Oil Prices & Energy Sustainability

With oil hitting $60 per barrel, one has to hope that eventually we will push for more sustainable energy sources on the small and large scale. The difficult thing to know is where we stand with our current oil based economy.

I have been following this issue closely for the past few months and the predictions give a wide range of possible scenarios. Some experts say that we reached a peak in oil production and that as the lines of supply and demand cross, with no extra production to fill the gap, that we will see a spike in oil prices. A few months back analysts at Goldman Sachs forecast the possibility of $100+ oil in the near future. That would obviously have severe ramifications for the US and world economies.

Conversely, US agencies such as the USGS and EIA (Energy Information Administration) predict oil supplies that will not peak until sometime between 2020-35. This is truly a different forecast than the pessimistic forecasts of the more conservative energy experts.

Unfortunately, it seems the only way we will know any thing conclusive is after we have gone past peak production. What we do not know is if there will be a prolonged plateau instead of a peak, when the peak will happen, and what other energy sources (Natural Gas, Nuclear, Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Wind or Solar) will be able to pick up some or all of the slack.

We do know that US production has peaked (early 1970’s) from around 10 million barrels of production a day to a current production of 5 million barrels. It is from this peak that many forecasters predict the world oil peak (using a model know as Hubbert’s Peak).

This is a very interesting subject for us. Obviously our fixed business costs and stream of work would be adversely impacted by such scenarios as $100 oil in the near future. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

The organization ASPO predicts that oil production will peak around 2007.
Copyright Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Newsletter

Oil Links:
Hubbert’s Peak
Goldman Sachs “Is There Life after $60/bbl?”
Google News Oil Prices

David Allen- Learning Blackbelt Productivity

Here is another great resource that has been influential in our office that has helped us increase effectiveness and efficiency. Author and productivity master David Allen’s books Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything give a great system for organizing everything that needs to get done in a system that works. Allen’s basic tenet- get things out of your head (or your ineffective system) and into systematized processes that work consistently and effectively.

One of the things that differentiates Allen is that the books go beyond the theory of “Getting Things Done,” he walks you through the processes with some great tools. The tools are as simple as a basic tickler file to make sure you don’t forget your dentist appointment on Monday, to more advanced gadgets like his firm’s Getting Things Done Plugin for Microsoft Outlook.

As you can tell we are big fans. Find out more at the David Allen Company website or read David Allen’s blog for more information.

CLCA Awards

I attended the California Landscape Contractor Awards Last night (CLCA) for our region, which includes Marin and Sonoma County. We were fortunate to win an award for a design-build project we completed this last year. There was a lot of tough competition and beautiful projects. See photos of the project below.

Brazilian Hardwood Deck and Cable Railing

Arizona Flagstone Entrance Pathway and Deck

Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate and Arizona Stripstone Wall


Postcards from the Road

Well this is a feat of our mobile technology. I am posting this entry from I-5 on my Blackberry. We made the jump from regular Nextel Phones to Blackberries for our management staff. It has made keeping track of emails and meetings a breeze. It beats the days when we used to haul around a laptop and cell phone with data connection to check mobile email.

We have always been early adopters at our firm. We had some of the first digital cameras for consumers on the market and we were one of the first firms with a website in our industry and area.

It sure shows have computers have advanced from unstable and bug ridden machines, to stable and powerful communications tools.

Charles Prowell Woodworks

Wanted to share a great woodworker I found in an Internet search, Charles Prowell Woodworks out of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. A great website and beautiful detail and artistry (see gate below). We haven’t used them in one of our projects yet, but the next time we have a client who wants a high quality gate or craftsmen fence we will give them a call.
Image from Prowell Woodworks Website

Service Headache

Sometimes it seems like companies are just trying to beat off their customers with a stick. Take for example one of our large stone suppliers. Every time there is an adventure in itself; changing policies, incorrect billing, incompetent and untrained employees. The list goes on and on. We spend tens of thousands of dollars with this vendor every year. What it does do is make us do it look for other outlets for stone products and use the service oriented companies whose price may be a bit higher.

It’s something that we notice with contractors as well. Working with another contractor on a recent project was a frustrating experience. After unanswered calls and missed meetings it wasn’t a hard act to follow to look great in the eyes of our client.

Not to be overly promotional, but this is something we try to stress as a point of difference. With cell phones and Blackberries quick and seamless response has become even easier. I just wish many of the other companies we deal with had the same emphasis.

Great Planning Software

Wanted to share a great planning tool that we use in our office for brainstorming, planning and to-do lists. The software is MindManger by MindJet located locally here in Larkspur The software allows you to quickly brainstorm, lay out visually to do lists and planning. It also works well as it integrates directly into Microsoft Office and Outlook. We use it throughout our company for planning purposes and recommend it for anyone looking for a great planning tool. There is a full feature 21 day trial available on the MindJet website.


I am on my way today to Filoli, or Fight Love and Live. It is a renoun garden on the Peninsula founded by gold mining barons. Filoli is a compound version of owner William Bowers Bourn II motto “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” Find out more about Filoli at their website I will post pictures in our Great Parks and Gardens Section of our portfolio upon our return.