The Difference Between Landscapers

From mom and pop operations to large national companies, there are a million different types of landscapers.  Because education and training is not a prerequisite the degree of knowledge and professionalism varies from company to company.

A landscape installation is a major investment and the new landscape’s lifespan depends on how it is maintained. Managing the care of trees, shrubs, annual color, turf, soil and irrigation require skilled workers who understand proper pruning, mowing, edging, pests and a host of other issues.  Proper insurance, licenses and commercial grade equipment are a prerequisite for a majority of commercial and many residential properties.

It requires knowledge and experience with plants and all the myriad of factors that impact their health and vigor.  Within the industry are experts who specialize in its different facets: irrigation, horticulture, design, aboraculture and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Whether a residence or large corporate campus, talent, education, experience and resources make a big difference in preserving your landscape.  We promote Landscape Industry Certification – it’s your best insurance for protecting the integrity of your landscape.


Mow and Blow

When meeting with a prospective client we have often heard these complaints. 
“Our contractor is a mow and blow operation.”
“They don’t seem to lack the knowledge of plants”. “Bad pruning”. “Dry patches in our lawn”, or “some plants appear to be not getting water.”

Fair Pricing is Sustainable

We’ve also heard this – “When we hired our current landscape contractor we hired them because the price was low.  Now we understand ‘you get what you pay for’”.  But sometimes low price continues to drive decisions.  There is always a company willing to discount their rate.  But low price and good quality work are not sustainable.  Low price means one of three factors: the people doing the work are insufficiently compensated, they lack knowledge/skill, or the scope of work is being compromised.  We believe in charging a fair price for high quality professional work.  It benefits the worker, the client and the environment. 

SLV Path2

The Components of a Professional Landscaping Service – Attributes of a Qualified Landscape Maintenance Service

Develops a clear scope of work

It takes a high level of skill and experience to develop a professional scope of work.  For landscape maintenance – location, plant types, trees, irrigation, environmental factors and traffic are considerations when developing a scope.   It’s a valuable road-map that should stand on its own.  A prospective client is able to compare – apples to apples – between multiple bidders.  And, when the landscaper is hired the client knows what to expect.

Is Licensed

C27 License

A valid contractor’s license is required for installing gardens, irrigation systems or hardscape – if the value is $500 or more.
Other licensing includes Liability insurance, Workers’ Compensation, pesticide applicator’s license and business licensing are all required for our commercial work.

Landscape Industry Certified

The landscape industry’s certification program is the best measure of skills, knowledge and experience from a theoretical and practical perspective.  Our managers have a range of different certifications that demonstrate their competency in horticultural practices, maintenance and irrigation.  The logo “Landscape Industry Certified” is a powerful distinction. It means that employees have taken their experience and skills to the next level of professionalism.  And, like any profession, there is an ongoing re-certification process.

Horticultural knowledge

Understanding how environmental conditions, light, soil and water impact the health of an infinite number of plants can be complex.  It requires training and experience.  One example: a stressed plant that looks like it’s not getting water may have an issue that is completely unrelated. 

Commitment to In-house Training and Green Industry Involvement

Gardeners’ Guild, as do other professional landscape companies, offers in-house training. Our subjects include horticulture topics, irrigation and state of the art products, IPM (Integrated Pest Management*) as well as different aspects of communications and leadership.

Over the years Gardeners’ Guild has been involved in the green industry helping to shape its testing programs, curriculum.  We have also been active in municipal water districts and IPM program.


Has Staff with Irrigation and Water Management Expertise and Certifications

The drought reshaped our thinking about water.  New regulations and an ever increasing array of irrigation products require our landscapers to be water experts. 

Irrigation professionals should know how to design, install, use, test and repair a system.  He or she must also be continuously updated in the various products in order to recommend the most appropriate one.  New technology also requires client education. Gardeners’ Guild has a commitment to regular training on the latest products and trends so we can be an important resource for  clients. We also keep up to date on rebates in order to assist on how to leverage them.

Gardeners’ Guild Promotes these Important Certifications:

CLIA (Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor) professional
A CLIA is authorized to conduct a water audit on a property. They supervise the collection of site data. Based on their findings they can recommend an irrigation schedule for effective water management.

QWEL (Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper)
Gardeners’ Guild managers are QWEL certified. QWEL is recognized by EPA’s Water Sense and gives our managers specialized expertise in water management, efficient irrigation, system design and audit.

CLT – Irrigation
Landscape Industry Certified Irrigation Technicians are qualified to install, maintain and repair irrigation systems.


Experienced Practitioner of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Using the least toxic practices is the increasingly preferred method of dealing with weeds and other pests in the landscape. Gardeners’ Guild has incorporated these practices since the 1980s.  We also have a licensed and certified full service IPM division.  Keeping up to date on local ordinances and trends is critical and we are involved through  organizations such as SF Department of the Environment, IPM Technical Advisory Committee, PAPA (Pesticide Applicators Professional Association) and San Francisco IPM Task Force .  Sometimes a pesticide application is necessary, a pesticide applicator’s license is required.

Ecological Practices
These go hand in hand with the above.  As the San Francisco bay area’s awareness of climate changes proliferates, the demand for landscape contractors using ecologically friendly practices has grown.  Gardeners’ Guild has been a pioneer in developing its own green landscape management program called LivingSolutions.  A new (or really old) way of thinking – healthy soil makes healthy plants. It requires continuous training, but the results are worth it. 

GGI Project – Mountain View Cemetery Oakland

It’s called pervious (concrete) paving and it’s got the attention of an increasing number of designers and property developers.  Why? Because it can save money and it’s better for the environment than standard concrete paving.  In fact, it’s among the EPA’s Best Management Practices.

What it is  An innovative technology that consists of a porous concrete surface used primarily for driveways and parking lots.

What it does

It enables rainwater to drain directly into the soil, naturally filtering it, before running off.  Conventional concrete paving is impervious in which uneven surfaces cause puddling and storm water pollution.  See illustration below.


Properties of Pervious Paving

Water, cement material, with little or no sand,  together forms a paste that is applied to crushed stone. The result is a highly porous surface.  Illustration on the right shows the difference between pervious paving and conventional.


The Benefits

Saves Money

  • Due to its superior durability, strength and long life span
  • Property developers and managers spend fewer dollars on stormwater management systems and irrigation systems
  • Can also minimize sewer system usage and avoid municipal stormwater impact fees

Environmental Benefits

  • Recharges groundwater
  • Reduces stormwater runoff;
  • Water filtering treatment; can infiltrate 70%-80% of annual rainfall.
  • Low impact development
  • LEED credits – see below

LEED Credits Available for Pervious Paving

Pervious paving (also referred to as porous paving, pervious concrete) satisfies several LEED categories including: water efficiency, materials and resources and innovation in design. 

There are specific credits that apply.  Below is a few.  Please ask Gardeners’ Guild for more information and see below for our pervious paving project in Oakland.

  • LEED Credit SS-C7.1 – Heat Island Effect – Non-Roof
  • LEED Credit WE C1.1 Water Efficient Landscaping
  • LEED Credits MR-C4.1 and MR-C4.2 Recycled Content

Oakland Cemetery Elects Pervious Paving

Close up – Mountain View Pervious Paving

I drove out to Mountain View Cemetery last week to take some photos of a porous paving project Gardeners’ Guild completed about six months ago.  I took some photos and spoke to Craig Nuchols, the Building and Grounds Supervisor.  He graciously gave me access to the parking lot, newly paved with the porous concrete material.  I asked him what he thought.  He was pleased with the results.  “It’s doing the job its supposed to do”, he said.  The heavy rains this past season was the best way to test their investment.  Unlike impervious concrete in which rain puddles in cracks and any uneven surface, the rainfall neatly percolated through. 
See more photos of our construction work






Every year journalists in the industry forecast what is new for the next year.  What I saw when digging around (no pun intended) were subtle offshoots of similar themes over the past few years.  This post tries to make sense of what experts are forecasting and why homeowners and property managers should be interested.

Trends in Commercial Landscaping

Outdoor Meeting Areas

More work getting done outdoors.  The trend – landscaped meeting areas  that include hardscape, plantings and comfortable furnishings including WIFI – are big differentiators.  It’s an employee’s market.  Job seekers want more flexibility and a work environment that suits their healthy lifestyle which means having the option to work, exercise or meet on site.  Examples of this trend are tech companies, including Facebook. Their new nine acre rooftop park boasts a half mile walking loop and 400 trees.

Low Maintenance /Water Conserving Landscaping / LEED

This, while not new, is starting to look like the norm in landscaping designs. Property Managers have become educated to the benefits of rain sensors, smart irrigation controllers and drip irrigation where appropriate.

LEED has recently purchased SITES (Sustainable a rating system for sustainable landscape design started 2009. Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) says “Landscapes knit together the fabric of our communities, and sustainable landscapes are critical in their ability to reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. SITES is an important addition to our toolkit, and GBCI appreciates this opportunity to support this additional contribution to healthy, thriving communities and neighborhoods.” This is a new opportunity property developers and managers.

Multi-Family Residences

The construction boom in San Francisco and other urban and suburban continues.abated. San Francisco, (3rd in the nation for ultra “high net worth” residents) is building about the most prestigious condominiums catering to the affluent residents with amenities such as beautifully landscaped outdoor living areas that include an entertainment, games, outdoor grills.  Each more luxurious than the next.  This trend is fueled in part by job growth in high-tech and bio-tech industries.

The target market for these are Millennials, GenXrs and to a lesser, but growing extent, baby boomers.

  • 54% of milennials rent versus buy* as many prefer living in urban walk-able areas.*
  • More baby boomers are selling their homes and either rent in more urban areas or assisted living communities.*
*Source: Urban Land Institute & Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey

Commercial Property Outdoor Signage

6 Spyglass After Photos PDF

Gardeners’ Guild Project

 An article in “Turf Design/Build” website talks about traditional stone and column entryways being replaced with color panels with raised layers of glass and steel.  You cannot say plants with out adding the suffix “drought tolerant”. There are a host of creative solutions to differentiate your property without spending your entire budget.  Boulders, succulents, mulching perennials and other permanent plantings offer color, texture and beauty.



Residential Garden Trends

Ecologically friendly landscapes

Factors that are driving this trend include the drought, higher percentage of homeowners with dogs.  In fact a study of San Francisco residents counts 120,000 dogs.   Both San Francisco and Marin County are gradually moving toward reducing the use of pesticides.  The Marin I.J. says that the county may initiate an educational campaign against Roundup aimed at homeowners who use the product.

Some sustainable elements include:

  • Rainwater/greywater harvesting
  • Native / adapted drought tolerant plants
  • Permeable paving

Gardens that Rejuvenate

cohodes - saxon holt 006

Gardeners’ Guild Project



People are increasingly overworked and are looking at gardens for Zen like experiences that include music, lights and water.  Textural elements include statues, water fountains and planters.  More people are growing their own food.




Yes –  this word is being used.  Changing demographics; growing number of dog owners who demand a pet friendly garden.  They are particular about plant types and will eliminate any that may be harmful.

Outdoor Kitchens

A Spectacular Landscape Transformation

Gardeners’ Guild Project


This is not new, but it is expanding.  Our warming climate is one factor.

Three top design elements include:

  •   Fire pits/fireplaces
  •   Lighting
  •   Wireless/internet connectivity



  • American Society of Landscape Architects
  • Lawn & Landscape Magazine
  • HGTV
  • Marin Independent Journal