Five years later, this project in West Petaluma is still one of our favorite installations. Not only are the clients on this project delightful, but the end result of this front and back makeover was beautiful. Here is a video and images from this 2016 installation.
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
|Arbutus unedo||Strawberry Tree|
|Cercis occidentalis||Western Redbud|
|Feijoa sellowiana||Pineapple Guava|
|Pistacia chinensis||Chinese Pistache|
|Prunus laurocerasus||English Laurel|
|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|
|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|
|Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’||Emerald Gaiety Euonymus|
|Podocarpus gracilior||Fern Pine|
|Podocarpus henkelii||Long- Leafed Yellowwood|
|Polystichum munitum||Western Sword Fern|
Spring is the time to plant veggies. There is still time for cool season crops like lettuce, and as the danger of frost subsides, summer crops like tomatoes and squash arrive. In this video we show three ways to use drip irrigation to water above ground Corten Planter Boxes by Nice Planter.
Here is a portfolio of some of our vegetable box installations:
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:
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…
We don’t use a lot of subcontractors on our projects. We are jacks of all trades and do most of the hardscape, woodwork, softscape and sitework in house. That being said, there are places where a good subcontractor is essential. Do you really want landscapers finishing your concrete? Building your brick pizza over? Don’t think so.
When we do use subcontractors, we prefer good ones (read not cheap). We don’t want to have to chase down a contractor who is a day late and dollar short. Scott over at Essential Craftsman explains the importance of subs beautifully in this video.
California natives are versatile garden anchors, which are well adapted to our climate and wildlife. Here are 9 of our favorites that fit in almost any landscape scheme- whether it is to provide color, texture, or mass, these plants can do it all!
Photos from our awesome Plantmaster Online Database.
Our Favorite CA Natives
|Cercis occidentalis||Western Redbud|
|Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’||Manzanita Emerald Carpet|
|Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’||Julia Phelps California Lilac|
|Salvia clevelandii||Cleveland Blue Sage|
|Epilobium californica ‘Everett’s Choice’||Ghostly Red California Fuchsia|
|Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’||Elk Blue California Gray Rush|
|Penstemon het. ‘Margarita B.O.P.”||Margarita Bop Foothill Penstemon|
|Deschampsia ces. ‘Northern Lights’||Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass|
|Muhlenbergia rigens||Deer Grass|
We completed this garden in Cotati in 2016, and have returned a couple of times for some follow-up projects. A couple years back we extended a driveway for the homeowners. This past summer we tuned up the bluestone seating areas in the back yard. Here is a post install video of the landscape, which has matured nicely since it was installed.
The plan for this traditional home in West Petaluma near downtown is starting with a virtual clean slate. The front yard features a new expanded driveway, entry, and fence; the back starts over with a rear patio and entertaining area are among the highlights. Use of brick and concrete will tie together old and new elements.
I had the pleasure of revisiting one of our past installations in preparation for some additional fencing and gate work we are going to do on the property. This landscape has really grown in since it was first installed two years ago and looks great.
Here is another dramatic transformation of a site off Atherton Avenue in Novato. We took this country property and developed a hardscape and planting plan to full utilize the front yard.
Before Installation- Existing Planting Review
We have been using YouTube video recaps as a productive tool to communicate with clients for a while now. This before and after series of videos really underscores the transformation we made to the property with a front and back yard installation.
Before Video- Initial work scope recap
After Video- Installation of front and back yards
For many modern homes the back yard can feel like a fishbowl. Higher density housing often means more eyes peering from neighboring second story windows. In these situations plant screening becomes a great way to create privacy. The challenge here becomes selecting the right plants that screen, but don’t turn into monster trees over time.
Small scale evergreens are the solution, but what are some good selections? Many times these plants are either trees proper, or large shrubs that can be used as a tall hedge or trained as a small tree (standardized to a single trunk). Here are some of our favorites shared via our Plantmaster online database.
View these in the cool Plantmaster Presentation Modes
Small Scale Evergreen Trees
|Arbutus ‘Marina’||Marina Strawberry Tree|
|Feijoa sellowiana||Pineapple Guava|
|Ilex X altaclarensis ‘Wilsonii’||Wilson Holly|
|Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’||Little Gem Dwarf Southern Magnolia|
|Olea europaea ‘Wilsoni’||Wilson Fruitless Olive|
|Prunus caroliniana||Carolina Laurel Cherry|
|Laurus nobilis ‘Saratoga’||Saratoga Sweet Bay|
|Pittosporum tenuifolium||Blackstem Pittosporum|
|Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’||Schipka Cherry Laurel|
|Rhamnus alaternus||Italian Buckthorn|
|Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’||Variegated Italian Buckthorn|
|Podocarpus gracilior||Fern Pine|
Here are images from a project we wrapped up this past spring of an installation in Corte Madera. Deer and access were and issue for the large uphill property. We created a secure perimeter with an new driveway entry gate, deer and entry fencing This really opened up the property and made it feel larger and more usable.
Here are some images from a project we completed in 2017 of a Modern Farm House in the country on the West side of Petaluma. The design featured large masses of ornamental grasses, which as they have grown in totally changed the look of the large entrance and circular driveway.
Working in home improvement contracting can be very interesting. As a contractor you get to work with clients to build something that will improve and enhance their home. It’s typically something that people are excited about, and that makes the work rewarding and fun.
As with any trade that deals directly with the public, it can also at times be extremely frustrating. It’s at these moments that I think of the classic 1948 film, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, starring legends Carey Grant and Myrna Loy. The Blandings, tired of apartment life in New York City, move to the country to build their dream house. Whoever wrote some of these scenes felt my frustrations.
My favorite two scenes (see clips below) are when Mrs. Blandings picks paint colors and when the Blandings are helping their architect design their dream home. In 1948, their custom home budget was $10,000! That might get you a patio now-a-days – Enjoy!
Contractors get a bad rap. Sometimes however this reputation is deserved. We are working on a project in Marin that needs extensive demo, grading, and excavation. On the client’s behalf we are soliciting bids for the work. We meet on-site with one prospective company.
“When can you get me numbers?” I ask.
“Two days” says the excavator.
I think to myself this is either an efficient estimator or he is putting me on. A week rolls by, no response. A second week comes and goes. I decide to reach out:
“Just touching base on our site visit from a couple weeks back. Let me know if you have any questions or need anything additional from us in putting together an estimate.”
I get back this reply:
“We appreciate having been given the opportunity bid this job. However, we are not bidding any new projects at this time. We are in contract with many other jobs and do not have the man power to take on any others at this time. Therefore, we are regrettably not in a position to submit a proposal.”
This type of bush league business practice is the reason for contractor’s bad reputation with the public. Clearly they were too busy to be bothered, and we are on to do business with a more professional outfit.
It is always fun to visit a project a while after installation and see the transformation as the garden starts to fill in and mature. This project in Tiburon was a complete transformation of a front and back yard. It benefited from the great Tiburon climate, with its mild bay-side influence. We installed all new plantings, walkways, rear patios, retaining walls, extensive fencing and driveway for this remodel project. Enjoy!
Another year of interesting projects is in the books. 2018 was a year of delightful clients, marked by surpassing twenty 5-star reviews on Houzz. Here you will find projects from Petaluma, San Rafael, and Santa Rosa- Enjoy!
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.
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.
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: httpv://youtu.be/oAHPoVW3tNU
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!
Updated for 2021
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 higher 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 different cart system components 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.
Firemagic: Offers a line of cart based solutions
Stoll Industries: Offers both off the shelf and custom modular unit options.
BBQ Guys: The online retailer offers a variety of island options at varying qualities and price points.
Below are a couple of our recent custom island installations featuring bluestone countertops and stone veneered masonry islands.
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: