Greg Baker: A Natural Inclination
By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter
SANTA ROSA — Greg Baker’s first clue that he had a future as a landscaping professional was that he was the only kid he knew who actually enjoyed doing yard work. “When I was growing up, my parents had a three-quarter acre lot where I spent a good part of each weekend working on landscaping projects with my dad,” he recounts. “I remember my friends all complaining about how much they hated doing yard work, but I really didn’t mind it—in fact, I actually kind of liked it.”
By the time he was in middle school, Greg’s natural inclination for landscape work had led to an entrepreneurial opportunity. “When I was 12, I put an ad in the local newspaper advertising yard work services,” he says. “I would ride my bike over to customers’ houses to water their plants, mow their lawns and perform various sorts of gardening work. In the fall, I would grow pumpkins and sell them on the corner, which was something I really enjoyed as well.”
Following high school, Greg enrolled at his local community college as a nursery production major, with the hope of eventually opening his own nursery. However, it wasn’t long before his entrepreneurial penchant resulted in a slight change of direction. “About a year into college, I found myself in need of a job,” he says. “I never really liked working for other people, so I decided to hang up my proverbial shingle and began advertising my services as a gardener/landscaper. I was so successful that I ended up switching my major from nursery production to landscape construction.”
Today, as owner of Valley Oak Landscaping, Inc., Greg explains how his favorite things about his job have evolved over time. “In the early years, my favorite part was actually doing the work and seeing the product of my labor,” he says. “Today, I’d say it’s the residual gratification I get from long-term relationships, both with my employees and my customers. For instance, I have guys who’ve been with me so long that their kids are now starting to work for the company. Likewise, it’s neat when a customer tells me we landscaped their parents’ house because that means our good reputation has trickled down to a younger generation.”
A lifetime resident of Sonoma County, Greg expresses his appreciation for the region’s many desirable characteristics. “From the great weather to the wine country, Sonoma County has a lot to offer,” he affirms. “When you tell someone where you’re from and they respond that it’s their favorite vacation spot, it reminds you that you live in a special place.”
Outside of work, Greg enjoys a variety of activities, from exploring the outdoors to attending wine country events like concerts and barrel tastings. “I live near Annadel State Park, where I spend a fair amount of time hiking and mountain biking,” he says. “No matter what time of year it is, there are always beautiful scenic views.” Greg also enjoys spending time with his two grown children, Madeline and Justin. “My daughter and I enjoy going to the movies and taking cruises together, whereas my son is more outdoorsy, so we connect through activities like fishing and hunting.”
In regard to his professional career, Greg espouses the importance of personal integrity. “I think that if you’re honest and hardworking, your customers will respect and trust you,” he says. “My goal has always been to do things to the best of my ability and follow through with what I promise to deliver, and I think that’s something my customers really appreciate.”
When asked what his future retirement might look like, Greg says he’d take off for some extensive travel. “After my dad retired, he spent a lot of time traveling, taking as much as three or four months at any given destination. He said this approach allowed him to really get a feel for a place, because he wasn’t in a rush to see everything. I’d like to do the same thing after I retire.”
Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Green tea.
Q: What’s your favorite season?
A: Fall. I like the way the air feels and all the beautiful colors.
Q: If you could travel to another country, where would you go?
A: Probably France. I almost went there a few years ago, but I ended up spending too much time in Italy.
Q: What’s your favorite local restaurant?
A: Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
A: Turn on the fire, cozy up under a blanket and watch a good movie.