Completed Project- East Petaluma Oasis

This project in Petaluma started with a yard that was in need of a clean slate and new vision. We created a design scheme that incorporated multiple use areas- a new patio, a firepit area and a vegetable garden, all tied together with a beautiful redwood pergola. Several accents, including boulders, a new fountain and low voltage lighting tied the front and rear yards and brought the whole project together.

Our experience with O’Connell Landscape from beginning to end was exceptional. Michael came to our house, listened to our thoughts and ideas and came up with the perfect design for our front and back yards. He took our ugly, weed infested yards and created an oasis. Michael and his crew were very professional and super easy to work with. Any questions or concerns were addressed in a very timely manner. We can not express how much we love our new ”Shangri La”!
-Melanie & Russ, Petaluma

Our Favorite Deciduous Small Scale Trees

Recently we featured our favorite evergreen small trees. Here are their compliments in all their fall foliage and spring bloom beauty- trees that make nice accents and don’t get huge. All images come from our Plantmaster database.

Plantmaster Interactive View

Small Scale Deciduous Trees

Botanical Common
Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’ Crimson Queen Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Viridis’ Laceleaf Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ Coral Bark Japanese Maple
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ Forest Pansy Redbud
Cornus florida Flowering Dogwood
Lagerstroemia ‘Muskogee’ Muskogee Lavender Crape Myrtle
Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’ Natchez Crape Myrtle
Magnolia ‘Yellow Bird’ Yellow Bird Magnolia
Pistacia chinensis Chinese Pistache
Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ Chanticleer Columnar Callery Pear
Crimson Queen Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’ | Crimson Queen Japanese Maple

Laceleaf Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Viridis’ | Laceleaf Japanese Maple

Coral Bark Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ | Coral Bark Japanese Maple

Forest Pansy Redbud

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ | Forest Pansy Redbud

Flowering Dogwood

Cornus florida | Flowering Dogwood

Muskogee Lavender Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia ‘Muskogee’ | Muskogee Lavender Crape Myrtle

Natchez Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’ | Natchez Crape Myrtle

Yellow Bird Magnolia

Magnolia ‘Yellow Bird’ | Yellow Bird Magnolia

Chinese Pistache

Pistacia chinensis | Chinese Pistache

Chanticleer Columnar Callery Pear

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ | Chanticleer Columnar Callery Pear

Our Favorite Ornamental Grasses

In our last post we highlighted our favorite Small Scale Evergreen Trees, using our awesome Plantmaster Database. This time we wanted to share some favorite grasses. Truth be told, these selections include “grass like” plants, such as sedges and reeds, as well as true grasses. Many of these grasses are evergreen (indicated with – (EG), providing year round appeal. Grasses are a great component of any planting design, providing a break in texture, form, and color. They range in size from the small Mondo Grass (less than a foot), to towering Miscanthus which may be 6′ or more. These plant genera also host many other interesting and nice cultivars to explore.

Plantmaster interactive view

Favorite Ornamental Grasses

Botanical Common
Chondropetalum tectorum Cape Rush (EG)
Calamagrostis X acu. ‘Karl Foerster’ Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass
Carex divulsa Berkeley Sedge (EG)
Deschampsia ces. ‘Northern Lights’ Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass (EG)
Festuca ‘Siskyou Blue’ Siskyou Blue Fescue (EG)
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ Japanese Forest Grass, Hakone Grass
Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’ Platinum Beauty™ Lomandra (EG)
Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’ Dwarf Mat Rush (EG)
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ Morning Light Silver Grass
Miscanthus transmorrisonensis Evergreen Miscanthus (EG)
Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Pink Flamingo’ Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass (EG)
Muhlenbergia rigens Deer Grass (EG)
Ophiopogon japonicus Mondo Grass, Lily Grass (EG)
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ Black Mondo Grass (EG)
Pennisetum alo. ‘Hamelin’ Hamelin Dwarf Fountain Grass
Sesleria autumnalis Autumn Moor Grass (EG)
Stipa ichu Peruvian Feather Grass (EG)


Cape Rush

Chondropetalum tectorum | Cape Rush


Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis X acu. ‘Karl Foerster’ | Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass

Berkeley Sedge

Carex divulsa | Berkeley Sedge

Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass

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

Siskyou Blue Fescue

Festuca ‘Siskyou Blue’ | Siskyou Blue Fescue

Japanese Forest Grass, Hakone Grass

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ | Japanese Forest Grass, Hakone Grass

Platinum Beauty™ Lomandra

Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’ | Platinum Beauty™ Lomandra

Dwarf Mat Rush

Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’ | Dwarf Mat Rush

Morning Light Silver Grass

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ | Morning Light Silver Grass

Evergreen Eulalia

Miscanthus transmorrisonensis | Evergreen Eulalia

Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass

Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Pink Flamingo’ | Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass

Deer Grass

Muhlenbergia rigens | Deer Grass

Mondo Grass, Lily Grass

Ophiopogon japonicus | Mondo Grass, Lily Grass

Black Mondo Grass

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ | Black Mondo Grass

Hamelin Dwarf Fountain Grass

Pennisetum alo. ‘Hamelin’ | Hamelin Dwarf Fountain Grass

Autumn Moor Grass

Sesleria autumnalis | Autumn Moor Grass

Peruvian Feather Grass

Stipa ichu | Peruvian Feather Grass

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

Completed Project Kentfield

This project was a complete demo and renovation of a deep lot on Sir Francis Drake Blvd in Kentfield. The design redeveloped the front of the yard with a privacy fence, driveway gate and auto court, providing a much need break with the street. In the back a large patio, deck, and softscape areas were detailed to transform and make the area more usable and kid friendly.

Michael and his team recently completed a complete renovation of our outdoor landscaping. We did extensive use of pavers, woodwork, lighting, drainage and of course planting. Michael is clearly very knowledgeable about landscaping and provided excellent advice on design and implementation. We are very happy with the quality of his work and his very reasonable pricing. Highly recommended!

-Loren, Kentfield

Should You Install Weed Fabric for Your New Landscape

Nothing is worse than a newly installed landscape that is quickly overcome with weeds with the arrival of the spring rains. One potential solution is to install weed fabric under mulched areas to reduce weed growth. Weed fabric is typically a spun polycloth that allows water to pass, but limits weeds. We don’t typically install weed fabric on our projects, but it has its uses and applications.

Here are some Pros and Cons of weed fabric:

Pro: Reduces weed growth
Con: Small weeds can grow on top of the cloth

Pro: Reduces need for hand weeding or herbicide.
Con: While not very expensive, the cost of weed cloth can add up over large areas. Weeds will grow next to plant crowns where fabric windows are cut for plant installation.

Pro: Can help control weed prone areas like rural installations
Con: Can pop-up over mulch with time and must be cut to install new plants

Pro: Segregates gravel mulches from soil
Con: Adds expense, but this is one of weed fabrics best applications

Alternatives: Good alternatives to traditional weed cloths or fabrics are increasing the depth of mulch layer or using a sheet mulch cardboard to reduce weed germination.

Davey has a good blog post with some additional pro’s and con’s

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.


Custom Gate Project- Corte Madera

We just wrapped up this custom gate installation in Corte Madera. The homeowners wanted a nice architectural gate to match their remodel and front landscape. We installed a heavy timber gate framed with 4×4’s, 6×6 posts and powdercoated black hardware and wire panel inserts.

We reached out to O’Connell Landscape to bid on a large landscaping project for our home in Marin. They were the only firm willing/experienced enough to provide us with line item estimated costs, which was incredibly helpful in deciding how to move forward. When we decided to implement our project in phases, Michael was flexible and worked us into their schedule with only a short wait. We were so impressed with their work — it surpassed our (high) expectations in look, function and quality. They were mindful of every detail and it shows. When we had to make adjustments, they didn’t hit us with change orders and additional costs. They started and finished the project on time, were here every day, provided progress updates, and were generally so professional and pleasant to work with. We’ve worked with many contractors for our landscape and home, and these guys are as good as it gets! We look forward to working with them again on future projects.

-Dana McRay, Corte Madera

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.

Completed Project- West Petaluma Back Yard

This back yard near downtown in West Petaluma had seen better days. The client wanted a complete refresh that would better use the ample flat space with a patio, vegetable garden and potting area, tied together with a water feature and lawn. The result was a much more engaging and usable space that created a new outdoor room off the residence.

Working with O’Connell Landscape has been a pleasure, they turned my once ugly back yard into a beautiful oasis where I could enjoy it for many years to to come. O’Connell Landscape has a wonderful dedicated hard-working crew and it was a pleasure working with them as well . I would definitely recommend this company to turn your yard from dreams into reality and to have a beautiful yard that you always wanted.

-Robin Matsumoto, Petaluma

2 Years After Installation

Before Photo and Post Installation

Completed Project- Santa Rosa

This project in Santa Rosa was the first phase of a two phase front and back yard installation. The back yard had been neglected and the clients who had recently purchased the home wanted to freshen up the space and make it more usable. We renovated some existing elements, adding to an existing patio space with the addition of a paver patio, installed a new vegetable garden, replanted, and upgraded some rear landings. Working with the owner we assisted to install a kit pergola that was the focal point of the new yard.

We hired O’Connell Landscape to re-design our backyard and improve drainage. Because they are a design-build company, the scheduling worked out perfectly. Once the design was completed we were able to start construction. Michael, the designer, was easy to work with and came up with a beautiful creative design. Best of all he was receptive to our input and the final result is even better than I had hoped for. His team was very organized and tidy while working on our property.
The whole experience was great. We already have plans for the front yard.

Completed Project- Petaluma Modern Front Yard

We took this existing small front yard in Midtown Petaluma and redeveloped it to create a modern courtyard design. Elements included a stained horizontal board fence, bluestone stepping stones with steel edging and Mexican pebbles, and low water use plantings and succulents. The result was a dramatic front yard make-over.

Completed Project- Peacock Gap

This completed project was a complete re-landscape of a front yard and rear pool area on a half acre off Peacock Gap Golf Course in San Rafael. We developed an all new front planting scheme, and new stone patios and usage areas in the back yard, highlighted by an Aqualens Fountain.

Michael O’Connell presented a very thorough design plan, continued to work with us and provide explanations as the project evolved, and his team maintained a clean job-site. We would hire him again in the future.

-Greg & Peggy Duick

From the Drawing Board- Santa Rosa Master Plan

We are working on a two stage master plan for a residence near Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. The back yard development that will be installed as phase 1 focuses on improving flow and usable areas throughout the space. The front yard plan, which is still in development, removes a large lawn and replaces it will a natural dry stream bed and low water use plantings.

2018 CLCA Award Winner

We were fortunate enough to win another award this year at the regional CLCA (California Landscape Contractor’s Association) Achievement Awards. This project in Petaluma won first place in the one of the design-build categories.

The installation features new landscaping for front and back yards for this new home on the East side of town.

Completed Project- D Street Petaluma

This project in West Petaluma was a refresh of a garden installation that was about 10 years old. We installed a new dry stream bed and connecting path, added privacy lattice, driveway access gate, and redeveloped all the planting beds.

We asked Michael to update our existing landscape and add some new elements. We had a fairly vague idea of what we wanted but Michael was able to create a design that brought to life exactly what we wanted. His design seamlessly blended the new elements with the refurbished existing elements and resulted in serene front and back yard areas that contain interesting focal points everywhere you look. The new elements are absolutely lovely and the work done to the existing elements made these look like new again. The dry creek bed and blue flagstone pathway he designed are just perfect. Michael’s crew have been with him for 10+ years and are all extremely knowledgeable, professional and reliable, especially Ubaldo, who executed Michael’s design beautifully. Michael took time to go over all the details, kept us informed on status and provided timely change orders as items were added to the wish list. All in all, Michael and his crew made the process fun and we couldn’t be happier with the results. We highly recommend O’Connell Landscape to anyone looking for a stress-free process and beautiful results in a timely manner.
-Marie Girolo, Petaluma

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.

O'Connell Landscape Blog