Category Archives: General Commentary

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

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…


Working with Subcontractors

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.

Nine Favorite California Native Plants

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

Botanical Common
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


Western Redbud

Cercis occidentalis | Western Redbud


Manzanita Emerald Carpet

Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’ | Manzanita Emerald Carpet

Julia Phelps California Lilac

Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ | Julia Phelps California Lilac

Cleveland Blue Sage

Salvia clevelandii | Cleveland Blue Sage


Ghostly Red California Fuchsia

Epilobium californica ‘Everett’s Choice’ | Ghostly Red California Fuchsia

Elk Blue California Gray Rush

Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’ | Elk Blue California Gray Rush

Margarita Bop Foothill Penstemon

Penstemon het. ‘Margarita B.O.P.” | Margarita Bop Foothill Penstemon


Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass

Deschampsia ces. ‘Northern Lights’ | Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass

Deer Grass

Muhlenbergia rigens | Deer Grass

West Petaluma Yard- 2 Years Later

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.

Our Favorite Small Scale Evergreen Trees

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

Botanical Common
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


Marina Strawberry Tree

Arbutus ‘Marina’ | Marina Strawberry Tree

Pineapple Guava

Feijoa sellowiana | Pineapple Guava

Wilson Holly

Ilex X altaclarensis ‘Wilsonii’ | Wilson Holly

Little Gem Dwarf Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ | Little Gem Dwarf Southern Magnolia

Wilson Fruitless Olive

Olea europaea ‘Wilsoni’ | Wilson Fruitless Olive

Carolina Laurel Cherry

Prunus caroliniana | Carolina Laurel Cherry


Saratoga Sweet Bay

Laurus nobilis ‘Saratoga’ | Saratoga Sweet Bay

Blackstem Pittosporum

Pittosporum tenuifolium | Blackstem Pittosporum

Schipka Cherry Laurel

Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’ | Schipka Cherry Laurel

Italian Buckthorn

Rhamnus alaternus | Italian Buckthorn

Variegated Italian Buckthorn

Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’ | Variegated Italian Buckthorn

Fern Pine

Podocarpus gracilior | Fern Pine

Feeling Like Mr. Blandings

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!


Why People Dislike Contractors

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.


Tiburon Hilltop Project Video

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!

2018 Project Highlights

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!


Building a Deer Exclusion Fence

We recently completed a bit of a different project for us, a quarter mile of agricultural fence designed for deer exclusion of a 3 acre area. We build a lot of wood and welded wire fences, but not being as familiar with the construction of these types of fences we did a lot of research on proper construction techniques for deer fencing. Here are some of the tools, techniques, and tips we learned along the way.

What we installed
-1500′ of 8′ fencing- 6′ of netting plus a smooth wire. We used 75″ tall Bekeart Solidlock Pro 20 Fixed Knot 12.5 Gauge Fence (17-75-6), combined with a high smooth tensile wire to top the fence
-5 HN corner braces with kicker posts using 2 3/8″ OD schedule 40 posts with galvanized schedule 20 cross bracing
-Corners joined using Fence Bullets instead of welding
-Wire tied to posts using Gripple T-Clips, wire joined using medium Gripple Plus connectors
-10′ T posts (1.33 weight) installed at 15′ spacing
-Gate corners built using 6×8 pressure treated crossed braced members set in concrete
-Gates: 16’x7′ Martin Farm Supply Deer Gates

Specialty Tools Used
-Dewalt Abrasive Saw to cut pipe, generator, air compressor
-High tensile wire pliers

Instructional Resources
There is a lot of good information out there from a few different sources. These were the most helpful:
Stay Tuff Fencing Installation Manual (for wood braced systems, but easily adapted for metal corners)

Building an ag fence is different from other types of fencing. There are some specialized tools that make the work much easier. These are often special order materials that you can’t find at your local Home Depot or even Tractor Supply:
-Post Pounder: While you can drive metal T-posts and pipe corners with a standard post pounder, there is an easier way. There are lots of options out on the market, but we chose to purchase a Man Saver Post Pounder to assist in driving posts. The Man Saver is a pneumatic pounder that can work with a fairly small air compressor in the field. After trying a smaller size twin tank unit, we swapped this for a larger but still mobile 8cfm Devilbiss compressor paired with a 5500 watt generator to run the Man Saver. We used 2 3/8″ schedule 40 galvanized posts for our fence corner bracing. The Man Saver lived up to its name, it was very handy in driving the posts. We were working in heavy clay soil driving corners to between 4-5′ in depth. The Man Saver did a great job in the softer layer up until about 3′ and then struggled in some harder sections where we finished the posts with a manual pounder. Given the size, weight, and cost of the Man Saver, these were acceptable trade-offs. We ended up doing all the T-posts by hand. These we 10′ posts driven to 3′ and it was easier to level and faster to install by hand than to set up and level the Man Saver 12′ in the air for each post. For shorter traditional 6′ T-posts the Man Saver would be dynamite. Two main tips in using the unit, keep it oiled (their accessory kit and in-line oiler is a must) and switch to the hard soil/ground counterweight if you encounter problems with the unit not cycling correctly in heavy ground.
-Corner connections: We knew we wanted to use pipe braces for their longevity and ease of driving, but wanted to avoid the time and expense of welding the corners. We settled on using Bullet Fence connectors based out of Oklahoma. These sleeves improve on traditional chain-link fence style cup and strap connectors by having two bolts, one connect a strap to the post and and the other to connect the sleeve around the brace pipe. This sleeve is the novel part of the design that helps prevent movement and separation common in traditional brace bands. Installation is simple but a bit time consuming using open ended wrenches. We installed 34 brace assemblies and by the end we had gotten very good at installing the bullets and very tired of open end wrench work. We used a Husky ratcheting wrench, which made the work a bit easier.  Time will tell if these braces will outperform their chain-link counterparts, but from the installation and design it should be a good brace.
-Stretcher Bars: You may be tempted to try to build a stretched wire fence without using appropriate stretcher bars. There are many YouTube videos showing novel and frankly dumb ways of stretching fence. The tension is part of the beauty of a high tensile field fence system. We used two Kencove 8′ stretcher bars combined with 3 Kencove Boundary Strainers. For short runs we did end pulls, straining the wire from the corner and then connecting with Gripple T-Clips.

Sources: Finding good Ag Fence Supplies can sometimes be a challenge. We reviewed different wire types (e.g. Redbrand vs. Bekaert), and different sources for tools and accessories. We liked Bekaert fixed knot the best in terms of quality, wire size options, gauge, and price. We used to following vendors for this Northern California project:
Kencove Fence Supply (national supplier)- best price we found on good quality tools. They shipped UPS Freight for free.

Building Gates- The BAD and the Good

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.

The Shelf Life of Landscaping

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.

Petaluma Library Right After Renovation

Petaluma Library Now

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.

Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, Santa Barbara

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!

Making Change Orders Easier

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.

A past project that was executed via 16 change orders


Will My Concrete Crack?

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://

Modular Outdoor BBQ Options

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.

BBQ Island and Green Egg Smoker- Petaluma

Custom BBQ Island- Larkspur

Two New Holidays for 2017

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: