Category Archives: Online Resources

Help! My Plants are Dying

I just received an email today with this very exclamation. It can be scary when plants take a turn for the worse, often for no apparent reason. The first step in troubleshooting is usually checking for over or under irrigation. After that step, things can get tricky. One of the best resources for pest and disease problems afflicting ornamental plants is the UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) database. Here you will find overviews of common pests, diseases and environmental factors of many common landscape plants.

Below is an example of problems that can afflict Strawberry Tree, which was what my client was concerned about.

O’Connell Landscape Featured Projects on Houzz

Houzz is a great website for high quality images for inspiration, to explore materials, or just window shop at some beautiful landscapes and homes.

Here’s a slideshow of some of our featured projects on Houzz


Look for Example Landscapes with Google Maps

Google Maps is the process of updating it’s Street View service with even higher resolution images, making a neat tool even more useful. Google also recently added a birds eye aerial view allowing a 45 degree angle when viewing properties from above. Both of the tools make it easier to view streetscapes, and to find good local examples of plantings, fences, gates and entryways for landscape projects.

Example of a property with driveway a client liked in their neighborhood, viewed from the comfort of street view

Local GIS Mapping Resources

Geographic information systems, GIS, are a really valuable tool for planning projects. Most GIS applications available from local counties and cities are web-based interactive mapping applications that allow you to search for a property parcel and view key information like property boundaries, topo contour lines, utilities, and aerial photos. All the information is scaled and most aerial photos available are orthogonally corrected (corrected to display to scale and not be distorted by the earth’s curvature).

So what’s the utility of GIS in landscape projects? The information can help with laying out site plans, confirming information on existing plans, siting trees, buildings and other key features. Most of the applications available online are intuitive and easy to use.

Marin County
Marin Map (all of Marin County)

County of Marin GIS page

Napa County
Napa County GIS

Sonoma County
Sonoma County PRMD Active Map (for areas in unincorporated Sonoma County)

City of Petaluma GIS Portal

City of Santa Rosa GIS

For More:

GIS Article from Wikipedia
Listing of GIS sites from around the State

Best of the Bay

The Chronicle and City Voter have announced their Bay List best of 2008 list of Bay Area companies in a variety of categories. These “Best Of” are a bit arbitrary and were create based on nomination, but this is an interesting list to browse though to find different local service companies.

Keep Tabs on the Weather Anywhere

We have just updated from our old Blackberry phones to new Palm Treo phones in our office. Of course there is always the hours spent figuring out and troubleshooting new technology equipment, but the Treo has proven to be much more powerful than our old Blackberries.

An especially cool tool for the Treo, that is really handy for project management when we are out at the job site is Treo Alarm. It updates weather information from the National Weather Service and displays the information right through the program on the phone without having to go to another website within the Treo. The alarm can be set to update the weather so that the information is ready when starting the work day. This is a nice feature, especially this time of year, when weather and rain drive what can be accomplished on a landscape project for any given day. This application underscores a key advantage to the Palm, a wealth of available software and accessories.

Versa-Lok Product Gallery

Versa-Lok, makers of stacking concrete retaining walls, have just launched a new section for homeowners and contractors with finished installation images for their various products. This is the type resource I wish more manufacturers would provide online. It makes it easier for our clients to see their products and easier to specify and include them into our designs.

Dry stacking retaining walls are a great cost effective way to create small retaining walls and terraces under 4′ in height for residential projects. As product offerings have advanced from Versa-Lok and other manufacturers, these walls look better and less industrial than when they first came on the market.

Versa-Lok Residential Idea Book

How We Track Local Weather

On a day where I am sitting in my office, warm and dry, while our crews are rained out, I have been tracking the rain progress online. We use a few different websites to track storms, and play amateur meteorologist. Here are some of our favorite sites-– Doppler/Satellite of West Coast to track storm fronts– 10 Day Forecast for North Bay
National Weather Service- North Bay Forecast
CBS5-Channel 5 local news- Weather site with News Videos
KGO7- Channel 7 Accuweather
NWS- Climate Prediction Center- Gives general information on likelihood of normal or above normal rainfall and weather. This is the type of information meteorologists use to make predictions (take with a grain of salt).– Long term forecast that are supposedly 85% accurate using historical and climate modeling. In reality your odds are about as good in Vegas.

What our crews often quip: Weathermen and women are mentirologos (liarists), from the Spanish mentira (to lie) and meterologist.

Interesting Garden Water Features

Doing some browsing recently through some of our links, I found some additional interesting resources of prefabricated water features. Pre-manifactured water features come in all shapes, sizes, design types and materials.

Trevi, a manufacturer based in Las Vegas, has some interesting designs that depart from your classic Italian fare that you see at most garden centers.

A. Silvestri & Co., out of San Francisco, has a wide array of classical Italian and Spanish inspired designs.

Stone Forest, out of Santa Fe, has unique Granite and Stone Custom Fountains.

View our Materials Guide for more Water Feature resources and information

Best Garden-Home Improvement Forums to Visit

I have touched on some of these resources previously, but wanted to list some of the best garden and home improvement forums I have encountered to ask questions or find information. This morning on KQED radio, Michael Krasney had on guests talking about citizen journalism/media and how the internet has changed the way information is disseminated. The same is true of citizen landscape architects, contractors, gardeners that populate online discussion forums. There are often answers in these forum to items so obscure or specific as to be found nowhere else. The mark of a good forum is that the commentators are knowledgeable and that there are lots of postings and ideas being shared. In some of the forums below many of the commentators are contractors or other experts in their field. Always amazing how people are willing to share the expertise and just another example of the power of the internet.

Gardenweb Forums
– The best Gardening Forum
Contractor Talk– for those who want to get technical Gardening Forums
Dave’s Garden Forums
Bob Villa Home Improvement Forum
LawnCafe- Another industry oriented forum
John Bridge Tile Forum
The Gardener’s Forum
Forum from HGTV

Great Gardening Advice from Across the Atlantic

Who better to get some good sound gardening tips than from the UK’s Royal Horticulture Society (most famous for the Chelsea Flower Show). The RHS has a great website that gives tips on common gardening activities from lawn mowing to pruning. While these can be specific to Britain, there is a good store of general information as well.

Useful sections include:
Top Pests
Top Diseases
The Plant Selector
Popular Plants
General Advice Section

For more specific information from societies closer to home check:
American Horticulture Society
National Garden Clubs
All America Rose Selections
The Garden Conservancy
National Gardening Association

Free Viewer for Microsoft Project Files

There are times on large projects where a subcontractor, owner, or other interested party needs to view a Microsoft Project generated schedule, but with no viewer available from Microsoft this can be a problem. While there are 3rd party software applications available, these still cost money after a fixed demo period.

Fortunately, Project Viewer Central, has a free online viewer, that can allow people to view Project files anywhere (as long as they are smaller than 400kb). This is a good tool to view Project files on computers where project is not installed, or for owners or clients who need to view the information. is an excellent resource for some plants that are good performers for residential landscapes. Based in Washington, their recommendations are geared for the Pacific Northwest, but most of the plants would do well in California too.

The website’s mission is: “Designed to help home gardeners identify unbeatable plants for their Pacific Northwest gardens, you will find well over 300 Great Plant Picks with helpful information and pictures.

The program is targeted at gardeners in the maritime Pacific Northwest. This includes gardens north of Eugene, Oregon; south of Vancouver, British Columbia; and west of the Cascade and Coast mountains.”

The .pdf sheets offer a great and easy rundown of their selections.
Sample of a plant sheet for one our favorites Carex ‘Ice Dance’

Synthetic Putting Greens Guide

From time to time we receive inquiries from customers about installing synthetic back yard putting greens. These systems have gained popularity in recent years, and advances in product technology means that these surfaces look and feel less like the AstroTurf at the local miniature golf and more like real grass. Synthetic grass is becoming increasingly popular for athletic fields, which saves on maintenance and water costs, while not being destroyed during the wet season.

The synthetic turf is installed much the same way that a paver patio is installed. A compacted gravel sub-base is prepared, followed by a layer of sand and then the installation of the synthetic turf which is rolled out in sections, seamed together, secured and cut. The cost for the material varies, but is typically around $5 per square foot. Because the process is similar to paver installation, the cost is also analogous.

There are different types of turf available (polypropylene, polyephelyne, nylon), each best suited to different applications. Nylon tends to be best for putting, while polypropylene works better for receiving longer golf shots.

There are a wide variety of products and companies available, including:

SynLawn Golf
Southwest Greens
Players Turf

Home Improvement & DIY Info-

Before there was HGTV, there was Bob Villa, the one man home improvement brand. The Bob Villa Website has good general information on a variety of subjects including garden care and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects.

Good places to search are:
-The Articles Library
-Lawn & Garden Articles
-The Design Tools- which can help you start to think about a project
-Ask a Question section with User Forum

DIY sites abound and that is one of the great aspects of the internet- abundant, accessible, and increasingly reliable information. Another good DIY site to try is the DIYnetwork and of course HGTV.

Varied and Interesting Garden Info at

Browsing around various garden and design related sites, put together by garden scholar Tom Turner has excellent information relevant for gardeners and landscape architects alike.

The site map gives a good overview of the breadth of information available, from bios on famous garden designers, essays on gardens and parks, to a section on garden history, among may sections.

The site is a good resource for those looking for photographs, travel information on gardens, design principles, and garden history.

Looking Back at Our Website

In my wanderings online I stumbled across a very interesting tool for viewing older versions of websites. Internet Archive, a non-profit internet indexing and library site, has a “Wayback Machine,” that allows you to view old versions of websites in its database.

It was interesting to follow the progression of both the design and content of our website from its start in 1997-8 to today and see the evolution of its content. This could also be a good tool to find articles or information that has been reorganized or has disappeared from a site, or that would be stuck in an archive or Lexus-nexus that would require payment to view. The original Google page is particularly amusing. Garden Care Information

In my surfing looking for details on maintenance of a particular plant, I came across an excellent general garden care website from On the site they have good overviews and step by step instuctions for fertilizing, lawn and shrub care, pest problems, pruning, and other common garden questions.

The rest of the site has good information for do-it-yourself instructions for a number of other topics.

GardenDesignOnline Blog

Looking where our links come from, I wanted to give a nod to GardenDesignOnline, a nice blog of garden related information. Check the blog’s author, Jane Berger’s list of garden/landscape design blogs and resources (top notch!)

It is amazing how much time and dedication people put into blogs, they really can serve as an excellent information resource.

Finding that Hard to Find Tool

As contractors we are sometimes faced with the problem of finding the right tool to complete a specialized task. This can sometimes be a challange, as tools for a particular commercial application are not always readily available locally. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of tool suppliers that stock tools you may not even know existed for that specialized applciation-

Northern Tool Company


White Cap Construction Supply

DeFusco Industrial Supply

Western Tool Supply

Reid Tool Supply

The Blue Book of Building and Construction

Deer Resistant Plant Lists

When planting outside “the garden walls,” it is a good idea to consult a listing of deer resistant plants (see our past post about the difference between deer resistant and deer proof). With this in mind, here are some good online resources of plants used in California landscapes that fare better against deer.

California Natives – List compiled by Mostly Natives Nursery

Native Plant List– Las Pilitas Nursery- with fire info as well

Online Resources by State -From


Deer List– Gardenweb Forums

Deer in the Urban Landscape

Deer Resistant Plants- Central Texas Gardener

Cedarworks- Cedar Play Structure Design

I have had the fun task on a recent project to design a play structure for a client’s young daughter. They selected a Cedarworks play structure, and as we design and outfit the set I am very impressed with the options and design tools the manufacturer provides.

There are several modules to choose from, ranging from basic swings and climbing rigs to the “Cedarsaurus,” mega playcenter. From a design perspective one very helpful tool was the 3-D set designer. There was limited space available for the set and I was able to custom design the elements to fit the space available.

Now we will have to wait and see what the finished product will look like. Below is a rendering and plan outputted by the web design application-



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.