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DIAMOND CERTIFIED EXPERT CONTRIBUTORS IN THE Bay Area – Landscape – Contractor CATEGORY

Rich Kerri is a 33-year veteran of the landscaping industry and owner of Kerri Landscape Services, a Diamond Certified company since 2009. He can be reached at (925) 567-3965 or by email.

Rich Kerri

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Rich Kerri: Alfresco Architect

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

LIVERMORE — Rich Kerri originally wanted to design buildings for a living, but he eventually found he was better suited for designing landscapes. “All through junior high and high school, I planned on becoming an architect,” he recounts. “I even took drawing classes to get ahead of the game. At one point, I started doing landscaping work as a summer job. I found that I enjoyed working outdoors and seeing the results of my work firsthand. Over time, I realized it might be a better option for me to learn about horticulture and landscape design than go through all the math courses required to be an architect. Ultimately, I decided to go that route, and it has worked out great!”

Today, as owner of Kerri Landscape Services, Rich says his favorite part of his job is watching projects go from conception to completion. “I really like seeing an idea come to life. It usually starts as a pencil drawing and then gradually becomes something real and tangible, so it’s always fulfilling to see the finished product.”

A resident of Livermore (where he lives with his wife and business partner, Debbie) Rich expresses his appreciation for the Bay Area’s temperate weather and diverse topography. “Besides working outdoors, I do a lot of outdoor activities in my free time. Living in the Bay Area, the great weather and diverse landscape afford me the opportunity to pursue a lot of different things, which makes life a lot more fun.”

When he’s not hard at work, Rich says he’s usually hard at play. “I work long days so I can take big days off. I really like motorsports, whether it’s boating in the delta or riding ATVs in the desert. Basically, if it has a motor, I’ll play with it.” Besides going big with his hobbies, Rich also likes to go big with traveling. “My wife and I make it a point to travel regularly. We went to Germany last year and just recently got back from a safari in Africa.” In addition to sports and travel, Rich enjoys spending time with his two grown children, Katie and Clay, both of whom live in San Francisco.

In regard to his professional career, Rich espouses the importance of keeping customers satisfied. “Our company byline is, ‘The ultimate in customer satisfaction,’ and we make sure our work and service reflect that,” he explains. “We always try to give homeowners the best value for their money. Even if we have to cut into our margin, we’d rather lose money than leave a client feeling short-changed.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, Rich says he’d get started on his to-do list. “I’m not the kind of guy who can just sit around, so I’d need to find something to keep myself occupied. To start, I’d probably finish some projects around my house and do some maintenance on my vehicles. Between my property and my toys, I have quite a few things to keep me busy.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What was your first car?
A: A 1965 Ford pickup.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of food?
A: Mexican.

Q: What’s your favorite Bay Area brewery?
A: Altamont Beer Works in Livermore.

Q: What kinds of movies do you like?
A: Action movies and Westerns.

Q: Who’s your favorite Western movie actor?
A: John Wayne.

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The Benefits of Bark Mulch

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LIVERMORE — If you’re looking for an economical way to improve the look and performance of your garden or landscape, consider adding a new layer of bark mulch. Bark mulch offers several functional benefits, including: Water retention Mulch decreases evaporation, which… Read more

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Video: Benefits of Bark Mulch

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LIVERMORE — Host, Sarah Rutan: If you’re looking for an economical way to improve your garden’s looks and performance, consider the benefits of bark mulch. Today we’re… Read more

Vic Cvijanovic is a 32-year veteran of the landscaping industry and owner of Pacific Landscaping, a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (925) 526-5983 or by email.

Vic Cvijanovic

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Vic Cvijanovic: Landscape of Opportunity

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

WALNUT CREEK — Originally from the former Yugoslavia, Vic Cvijanovic brought his family to the United States because he was lured by the prospect of a better life. He found the “Land of Opportunity” to be true to its namesake, but it was ultimately his own work ethic and determination that earned him the prosperity he sought. “After coming here with my wife and two children, I needed a way to support my family, so I took a job doing landscaping,” he recounts. “As time went on, I found I didn’t agree with the way the company did things—particularly their low standard of quality. To carve my own professional niche, I started doing small jobs on the side, and eventually I was able to start my own business.”

Today, as owner of Pacific Landscaping, Vic says he continues to appreciate the same attributes that initially attracted him to the landscaping field. “When I first started in this industry, I really liked the creativity involved, and I still have a passion for it today. I find it very fulfilling to work with my customers and help them achieve their dreams and expectations for their landscapes.”

As a resident of Walnut Creek (where he lives with his wife, Tinka), Vic expresses his appreciation for life in the Bay Area. “If there is paradise on this Earth, this is the closest thing to it,” he says. “The weather is wonderful, the people are great and there are almost unlimited opportunities to make something of your life.”

Outside of work, Vic engages in a variety of pastimes, from skiing at Lake Tahoe to vising family in Europe. He also enjoys spending time with his immediate family, particularly since he recently became a grandfather. “My kids are both grown up, but we still do lots of family activities together,” he affirms. “My wife and I now have a beautiful baby granddaughter, so that’s been a real joy for us.” Vic also likes reading, attending church and working on his business. “I’m very passionate about my work, so I invest a lot of time into developing my company.”

In his life and career, Vic espouses the importance of doing what you love, as well as the value of self-sovereignty. “I work hard, sometimes 14 or more hours a day, but at the same time, I also enjoy life,” he says. “After all, this is something I choose to do. Since I create my own schedule, I’m able to run my business and live my life how I want to. It’s a good feeling to have that kind of control over things.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, Vic says he would continue to stay involved with his profession. “I don’t think much about retirement because I enjoy what I do. Even if I sold my company, I would still want to do something in the field of landscaping, like consulting or design.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I think few authors were able to penetrate the human soul like Dostoyevsky.

Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Coffee.

Q: What’s your favorite season?
A: Fall—it reminds me of my childhood and the beginning of the school year. Plus, I like the smell of the air, the changing weather and the rain.

Q: Are you an early bird or a night owl?
A: An early bird. I love to wake up early and get a lot accomplished.

Q: What’s your favorite snack?
A: Little mortadella and salami sandwiches—I used to eat them a lot as a child.

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Winter Drainage Tips

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WALNUT CREEK — Due to the rainy weather, one of the biggest concerns during the winter is proper drainage. To prevent water and/or structural damage to your home, you should inspect two key areas before the season begins: Gutters The single most… Read more

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Video: Addressing Drainage Concerns

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WALNUT CREEK — Host, Sarah Rutan: To avoid a drainage disaster, you’ll need to inspect some key areas of your home before the rainy season sets in. Today… Read more

Dave Graham is a 36-year veteran of the landscaping industry and owner of Atlas Landscapes, a Diamond Certified company since 2008. He can be reached at (415) 742-1953 or by email.

Dave Graham

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Dave Graham: Exterior Ingenuity

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

MILL VALLEY — After 35 years in the landscaping industry, Dave Graham knows a thing or two about growth—both horticultural and professional. “My father was a builder, so my roots are in construction, but I later developed an interest in the landscaping field,” he says. “After studying horticulture and arboriculture, I started a tree service company with my brother. However, I found that tree work didn’t satisfy my creative side, so I transitioned into designing and building landscapes.”

In 1985, Dave left his home country of Ireland and came to the United States, where he obtained his landscape contractor’s license and started his own business. But he wasn’t content to stop there—he went on to earn an arborist certification and a general contractor’s license. “I’ve always loved learning, so it just made sense to keep growing my knowledge base,” he says. “Plus, the more licenses and certifications I earn, the more I’m able to do professionally.”

Today, as owner of Atlas Landscapes, Dave says he continues to find fulfillment in exercising his exterior ingenuity. “I love talking to people about their gardens and outdoor spaces and getting them excited about the possibilities. Plus, the work we do really stands the test of time, so it’s satisfying to know it’s going to be around long after I leave this planet.”

A resident of Mill Valley (where he lives with his son, Sebastian), Dave expresses his appreciation for the lush and diverse Bay Area landscape. “There’s a wide variety of microclimates in the Bay Area, and it took me a few years to become familiar with them all. The types of plants that thrive in each region differ greatly, so it really keeps me on my toes.”

Outside of work, Dave likes staying physically and mentally active. “I do a lot of hiking, yoga and meditation—typical Bay Area stuff,” he laughs. “I also study taekwondo. I find that practicing yoga and martial arts keeps my brain sharp and helps me stay young.” Additionally, Dave likes spending time with his son. “Sebastian and I like going on bike rides, and we go hiking together at least once a week. We’re really lucky to live in an area where there are so many great trails and parks.”

In regard to a professional philosophy, Dave says it’s important to have a passion for your livelihood. “When you really enjoy and take pride in what you do, that’s when you do your best work. That’s why I think it’s vital to be passionate about your job and give it 100 percent every time.”

When asked what his future retirement might look like, Dave says he’ll pursue a few activities that don’t currently fit in his calendar. “I’m a pretty creative person, and I loved to paint when I was younger, so I’d like to get back into that. I’d also like to do some volunteer work in the community, as well as some traveling.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Tea. I drink green tea every day.

Q: What’s your favorite tree?
A: The Purpleleaf Plum tree. It typically flowers around the 15th of February and serves as an indication that winter has passed and summer is on its way. So, that’s something I look for every year.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
A: Sit by the fire and read a book.

Q: Do you have a favorite book?
A: I read a lot of poetry, and one book I’ve been reading my whole life is “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. It’s full of great wisdom, and I think it’s kind of timeless.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: I collect Shona sculptures, which are made of African stone.

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The Benefits of an Outdoor Fireplace

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MILL VALLEY — Fireplaces date back to ancient times, when people would sit around the fire and tell stories. Today, fewer and fewer homes have indoor fireplaces (especially in California, which has strict environmental regulations), but outdoor fireplaces are growing in popularity.… Read more

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Video: Benefits of an Outdoor Fireplace

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MILL VALLEY — Host, Sarah Rutan: If you’re looking for a way to improve your outdoor living space, it’s worthwhile to consider the addition of a stone fireplace.… Read more

Alan Kostelnik is owner of Gardens of the Wine Country, a Diamond Certified company since 2003. He can be reached at (707) 925-2964 or by email.

Alan Kostelnik

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Alan Kostelnik: Wine Country Landscape Professional

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

SANTA ROSA – Alan Kostelnik hasn’t always worked in the landscaping industry—in fact, he started his career as an educator, but it wasn’t long until he found himself at an impasse. “I had been working as a high school teacher for a few years when I realized it wasn’t for me,” he explains. In what was initially to be a temporary transition, Alan traded his ruler for a shovel, his blackboard for topsoil and the inside of the classroom for the fresh air of residential landscapes. As it turned out, this provisional detour eventually became a permanent direction. “I had some previous experience in landscape work during my college years, so I decided to put together a small gardening business as a temporary means of making a living until I figured out what to do next. In time, I found I had an aptitude for the landscaping business, and I really enjoyed it.” After he decided to make landscaping a career, Alan returned to school to receive a more formal education in important industry aspects like horticulture and landscape design and installation.

Prior to his watershed transition, Alan lived in Detroit, Michigan, where he was born and raised. A frequent visitor to the Bay Area during his college years, his growing affinity for the local weather and culture prompted him to relocate permanently. “The company I worked for in Michigan had an office in San Francisco, so I applied for a transfer,” he remembers. “Six months later, they called and offered me a job.” Later, when Alan’s teaching career dried up, he discovered that the Bay Area offered an ideal setting for landscape work. “The weather in Michigan simply didn’t compare to that of the Bay Area. Also, Sonoma County was in development stages at the time, so there was a lot of business to be had.” Nearly 40 years later, Gardens of the Wine Country’s business continues to thrive in its picturesque environment. “I still love the Bay Area vibe,” says Alan. “It’s a beautiful place and I feel blessed to live and work here.”

When describing one of the major aspects of his profession, Alan invokes the old adage of “you get what you pay for.” “Professional design and installation are crucial to landscaping, so if you’re only paying attention to saving money, you’ll be sorry down the road,” he says. “In my 40 years in business, I’ve seen customers make the same mistake over and over again: shopping for price rather than expertise and quality. The invariable result is a job that has to be redone in a few years because it wasn’t done right the first time.”

Outside of work, Alan enjoys golfing, hiking, wine tasting and photography. He also follows professional sports like basketball, baseball and football, rooting for both the local Bay Area teams and those in his hometown of Detroit. When asked about the first thing he would do if he could retire tomorrow, Alan has everything planned out. “I would take a long trip through Tibet, Burma, Bhutan and India. Then I would come home for a few weeks, visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, come home for a few more weeks, and take a trip to South Africa. After that, I’d take a few river cruises through Central America and Europe. And after thatI guess we’ll see!”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What are your favorite sports teams?
A: The Giants, the 49ers and the Warriors, as well as my hometown teams, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Lions.

Q: What websites do you visit every day?
A: The Huffington Post, the New York Times and Facebook.

Q: Do you have a favorite tree?
A: I like the Burgundy-leafed Japanese Maple, the Mayten tree, the Oak and the olive tree.

Q: What’s your favorite local winery?
A: Kunde.

Q: What’s your favorite movie genre?
A: I like dramas that have twisted, complicated plotlines, but I also like comedies and films based on reality.

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How to Protect Your Garden from Local Wildlife

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SANTA ROSA — In addition to watering, one of the most important aspects of maintaining a garden is protecting it from the local wildlife. While this can be a challenging endeavor, there are several simple ways to deter harmful animals… Read more

Droughts and Drip Irrigation

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SANTA ROSA — To be good citizens, Governor Jerry Brown has asked us to cut back on our water usage by 20 percent. It’s a fact that we won’t save that 20 percent by running our dishwashers, washing machines or… Read more

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Video: Simple Remedies To Protect Your Plants

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SANTA ROSA — Host, Sarah Rutan: If you have a garden around your home, you’ll not only want to protect them from the elements but… Read more

Linda Gottuso-Guay is vice president of Manzanita Landscape Construction, Inc., a Diamond Certified company since 2004. She can be reached at (707) 602-7947 or by email.

Linda Gottuso-Guay

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Linda Gottuso-Guay: A Natural Gift

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

SANTA ROSA — When asked how she got into landscaping, Linda Gottuso-Guay credits both an innate ability and an uncommon opportunity. “I really believe part of it is genetic,” she says. “I come from a family of farmers on my mother’s side, and my father was a great artist and musician, so I was gifted with a passion for both nature and art. Later, when I met my husband, James, he recognized the natural talent I had. He was a structural engineer, and after we got married, we decided to put our talents together and form a landscaping business. Between his knowledge of construction and my artistic eye, we make a great team. We’ve been working together for more than 40 years, and now our daughter and her husband have joined us in the business, so it has become a real family affair.”

Today, as vice president of Manzanita Landscape Construction, Inc., Linda says she enjoys the process of arranging plants to both practical and artistic effect. “With the sheer diversity of plants available, knowing how to arrange them is crucial. I enjoy taking all the different elements and making them work together to create beautiful and functional outdoor spaces.”

When she’s not remodeling landscapes, Linda can often be found working on her own home and property in Santa Rosa. “Over the years, James and I have made a lot of custom touches to our home,” she says. “I’m always redoing the interior or the landscape—that’s the designer in me, I can’t help it.” Linda also enjoys cooking at home and spending time with friends and family. “Many of our past clients have become good friends, so if we go out to dinner or host a party, it’s usually with them. We feel very blessed to have these long-term relationships.”

When asked what she’d do if she were to retire tomorrow, Linda says she’d divide her efforts between travel and philanthropy. “My husband and I have an RV, and we would love to take it out for a month at a time and tour the country. Assuming I had the money, I would also like to be involved in philanthropy. I love animals—I used to raise therapy dogs—and I would definitely be interested in supporting a cause like ending animal abuse.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What’s your favorite kind of food?
A: I’m Italian, so Italian food, of course.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Plants. I’m a plantaholic.

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?
A: It’s a tie between Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Q: What was your favorite Halloween costume as a child?
A: A cat.

Q: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
A: There are a few. One is the snow skis my parents bought for me when I was a child. They didn’t have a lot of money, so that was very special. As an adult, I’d have to say the best gift was my children. I’ll also include the love notes my husband has written me over the years—I’ve kept them all.

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Cause for Hope: Understanding the Landscape Recovery Process Following the North Bay Fires

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SANTA ROSA — In addition to the lost homes and businesses, large portions of the landscapes in Napa and Sonoma Counties were destroyed by the recent North Bay fires, including both private and public areas. However, despite the current desolate… Read more

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Video: Landscaping After the North Bay Fires

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SANTA ROSA — Host, Sarah Rutan: If your landscape was damaged by the recent North Bay Fires, you’ll want to get a professional’s insight on what to do… Read more

Greg Baker is a 41-year veteran of the landscaping industry and owner of Valley Oak Landscaping, Inc., a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (707) 207-6829 or by email.

Greg Baker

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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.”

Ask Me Anything!

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.

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Protecting Your Drip Irrigation System

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SANTA ROSA — In response to the drought conditions that California is currently facing, many Bay Area residents are converting their existing water sprinkler systems to drip irrigation. While this is a great water-saving measure, a critical yet often overlooked… Read more

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Video: Helpful Tips for your Drip System

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SANTA ROSA — Host, Sarah Rutan: If you have a drip irrigation system on your property, you may benefit from a few helpful tips. Today we’re in Santa… Read more

Jerry Allison is a 42-year veteran of the landscaping industry and president of Jerry Allison Landscaping, Inc., a Diamond Certified company since 2013. He can be reached at (831) 275-0999 or by email.

Jerry Allison

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Jerry Allison: A Natural Development

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

WATSONVILLE — When Jerry Allison got his first proper landscaping job in 1974, he wasn’t new to the field; rather, it was something he’d long been acquainted with. “I’ve been doing landscaping work since I was a kid,” he remembers. “When I was 10 years old, I used to mow and edge my neighbors’ lawns, and I spent my high school years gardening to make extra money, so it was something that just came naturally to me.” Given his innate inclinations, it didn’t take long for Jerry to progress in the industry—after working at a plant nursery for two years, he got his contractor’s license and started his own landscaping business.

Today, as president of Jerry Allison Landscaping, Inc., Jerry says his favorite part of his job is bringing his clients’ projects from conception to completion. “I enjoy the process of taking something I’ve envisioned in my mind and making it a reality. That was always the most exciting aspect of the job for me, and it continues to be today.”

Having lived in a variety of locations during his childhood (mainly due to the itinerant nature of his father’s military career), when Jerry moved to Santa Cruz in 1974, he intended to stay put. Four decades later, he considers the city and its associated county an ideal environment for a landscaping professional to succeed. “There are a lot of amazing opportunities here in terms of landscaping projects, so it’s a great place to be doing what I do. Plus, this area has a lot of different soil types, which keeps things interesting and challenging.”

Outside of work, Jerry spends the bulk of his free time with his wife, Cecile, and their family. “My stepson, Scot, was the best man at our wedding, and today he works for my company as office manager and bookkeeper,” he says. “Cecile and I also have a daughter, Calla, and a grandson, Braden, who live in Southern California, so we visit them pretty regularly.” Jerry also makes it a point to stay physically active. “I swim two to three times a week and do a lot of biking with my wife. We recently agreed to do a triathlon with my daughter, so we’ve been doing a lot of swimming, running and biking in preparation.”

In his life and career, Jerry espouses the virtues of biting off more than you can chew. “Before I was a landscape contractor, I worked as a river guide,” he recounts. “When I started that job, I didn’t know what I was doing—in fact, during the first year, my coworkers called me the ‘rock magnet.’ But eventually, I learned the ropes and got really good at it. Ever since then, that’s pretty much how I’ve pursued everything: by jumping in, giving it my best effort and figuring things out as I go.”

When asked what his future retirement might look like, Jerry says he’ll have no trouble finding ways to stay busy. “I have a hard time not doing anything. For example, the first time I took time off after starting my business, Cecile and I went to Hawaii for what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation. The guy who lived next door to our rental house was in the process of building a rock wall, and I ended up helping him work on it because it looked more fun than just sitting around at the beach.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Have you ever read a book more than once?
A: “The Catcher in the Rye.” I first read it in high school, and I picked it up again recently and really enjoyed it.

Q: What’s your favorite tree?
A: The Dawn Redwood. During a trip to New Zealand, I went to a park and found a Dawn Redwood that had been planted on the exact date that I was born, which, coincidentally, is International Arbor Day. It’s had a special place in my heart ever since.

Q: If you had a theme song, what would it be?
A: “Gettin’ By” by Jerry Jeff Walker. When I was a river guide, I used to bring my guitar along and regale my passengers by singing songs, and that was kind of my theme.

Q: What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?
A: Chocolate-covered crickets.

Q: What’s your favorite newspaper comic strip?
A: “Lio.”

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The New Paradigm of Landscape Irrigation

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WATSONVILLE — After four years of drought in California, forecasts of a wet winter mean relief may finally be in sight. While the ongoing lack of rain has taken a toll on the state’s landscape production and water supply, it’s had at… Read more

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Video: The New Paradigm of Landscape Irrigation

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WATSONVILLE — Host, Sarah Rutan: Some people think things will simply return to normal after the California drought is over, but when it comes to landscape irrigation, what’s… Read more

Stephen Wood is Responsible Managing Officer of EW Landscape, Inc., a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (650) 720-5995 or by email.

Stephen Wood

diamond certified contributor profile and expert article

Stephen Wood: Open Range

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Program Reporter

MENLO PARK — Following college graduation, Stephen Wood had found himself in an occupational cul de sac, working as the assistant manager of a coffee shop. Thanks to a long-time acquaintance, however, he was given an opportunity that opened the door to a lifelong career. “In high school, I dated a young lady and got to be pretty good friends with her father, who was one of the first commercial landscape contractors in the Bay Area,” he recalls. “He and I had stayed in touch over the years, and one day he made me an offer to come work for him, which was by far a better opportunity than anything else I had going.”

Stephen spent the next twelve years gaining experience as a landscaping professional, before striking out on his own in 1989. Today, as owner of EW Landscape, he says his favorite part of his job is devising ways to make his customers’ landscapes more water-wise. “From the mechanics of moving water to modern innovations in devices and techniques, I find irrigation fascinating. Plus, as we head into the fourth year of the current drought in California, it’s become a major environmental concern, so I get a lot of satisfaction from improving irrigation efficiency on my customers’ properties.”

A resident of Menlo Park (where he lives with his wife, Lois), Stephen considers the Bay Area an ideal place to be in the landscaping business. “In the Bay Area, you might say landscaping is a ‘24/7’ job, because you can plant nearly any time of the year,” he says. “For us, business is ongoing, whereas, in other parts of the country, landscapers are out of work three or four months out of the year due to winter conditions.”

Outside of work, Steve likes to spend the bulk of his time outdoors, exploring the natural beauty of Northern California. “I really enjoy the outdoors, and California is one of those places where you can access a lot of amazing areas within a relatively short distance,” he says. “I’m into hiking and camping, as well as water rafting and ocean kayaking. One thing that’s still on my bucket list is to go rafting through the Grand Canyon.” Stephen also likes to spend time with his grown son, Tyler, who works in the tech industry.

In regard to his professional career, Stephen believes it’s important to go above and beyond to ensure accuracy. “When it comes to estimates, I’ve seen what a lot of my competitors do, which consists largely of guesswork. In contrast, my estimates are usually six to seven pages long, detailing each and every line item for each category of work we’re doing. In addition to ensuring accurate pricing, I think this adds to our customers’ confidence in us.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he could retire tomorrow, Stephen says he’d migrate to a new setting. “There are places outside of California where it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg just to make the bills, which would be nice for a change. I’d love to live somewhere like New Mexico or Montana, and do what I’ve dreamed about since I was five years old: be a cowboy.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person?
A: Dog person.

Q: What is your favorite season of the year and why?
A: Fall, for the colors.

Q: If you could travel to any country in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I’d like to go back to England. My family lived in London for about a year when I was young, and the English struck me as a people with a very rich, detailed history.

Q: What was your favorite toy as a child?
A: A rope.

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?
A: Thanksgiving—none of the gift giving, but all of the family.

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Repurposing Wine Bottles for Landscape Irrigation

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MENLO PARK — After enjoying a bottle of wine, you probably discard the empty bottle into the recycling bin. However, did you know that empty bottle can be used to irrigate a plant on your landscape? Here’s how it works: Fill the… Read more

How to Raise a Water-Wise Lawn

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MENLO PARK  — As California heads into its fourth year of drought, many residents are employing alternative landscaping methods in an effort to minimize water usage. While most would assume this includes giving up one’s front or backyard lawn, this isn’t… Read more

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Video: Repurposing Wine Bottles for Landscape Irrigation

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MENLO PARK — Host, Saran Rutan: If you’re a gardening enthusiast who also enjoys wine, you’ll be interested to learn about an innovative, water-saving use for your old… Read more

Francisco Cortes is president of Green Environment Landscape, Inc., a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (408) 372-7932 or by email.

Francisco Cortes

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Francisco Cortes: Always Growing

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

WATSONVILLE — After embarking on a career in landscaping, Francisco Cortes charted a professional path marked by continual growth and development. “Before I got into landscaping, I was working in a warehouse and wanted a job where I could work outside,” he remembers. “A friend suggested becoming a landscaper, and after looking into it, I decided to give it a shot. I really enjoyed landscaping work and decided to take some college courses to learn about landscape design and irrigation. Several years later, I became interested in hardscaping, so I joined the California Landscape Contractors Association so I could learn more about that aspect. Basically, the past 30 years have been a continual process of learning, developing my skills and expanding my company’s capabilities.”

Today, as owner of Green Environment Landscape, Inc., Francisco says his favorite part of his job is hardscaping. “I enjoy hardscaping work because you’re always doing something new and different, which brings a fresh set of challenges. Plus, clients are always excited to see the job progress, so it’s very rewarding when we show them the final product.”

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Francisco immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s and today resides in Santa Cruz County. Outside of work, he maintains an active lifestyle. “I enjoy working out at the gym, going for walks along the beach and singing mariachi music with friends.” Francisco also enjoys spending quality time with his son and two daughters.

When asked about a professional philosophy, Francisco believes in the ethic of continual self-improvement. “My goal with each project is to do better and learn something new,” he explains. “I’m the kind of person who’s never satisfied with the bare minimum—I’m always looking for ways to improve upon things, whether it’s a project I’m working on or just developing my own skills. That’s why I see every new day as a fresh opportunity to learn, grow and become better at what I love to do.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What was your first job?

A: I was a field worker. I picked lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and celery. That’s where I first learned to love working outside.

Q: What’s your favorite season?

A: Summer, because I get to spend more time at the beach.

Q: What’s your favorite local restaurant?

A: Jalisco Restaurant in Watsonville.

Q: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

A: Father’s Day postcards from my kids. They’ve been sending me these postcards for years and I’ve kept them all. I love that I can look at them anytime and they take me back.

Q: What’s your favorite dessert?

A: Carrot cake.

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3 Tips to Conserve Water in Your Yard

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WATSONVILLE — When it comes to irrigating your yard, small steps and smart practices can go a long way toward conserving water. Consider the following tips: Water less often for longer intervals. Many people water their lawns and gardens every day, but… Read more

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Video: 3 Ways to Save Water in Your Yard

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WATSONVILLE — Host, Sarah Rutan: When it comes to landscape irrigation, small changes in methodology can add up to significant water savings. Today we’re in Watsonville with Diamond… Read more

Laural Roaldson is a 22-year veteran of the landscaping industry and owner of Laural Landscapes, Inc., a Diamond Certified company. She can be reached at (925) 350-6444 or by email.

Laural Roaldson

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Laural Roaldson: Wilderness Calling

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

WALNUT CREEK — While it took some time for Laural Roaldson to realize her true calling, it was nevertheless something she’d known all along in her heart. “I grew up in the woods of Virginia, and I’ve always felt at home amidst nature,” she says. “Early in adulthood, I got a job in the corporate sector, but over time, I felt a growing sense of disconnectedness. Eventually, I left to pursue a career in landscaping.” Years later, Laural launched a second foray into the corporate world, only to find the same results as before. “I felt so unfulfilled; it was like the universe was telling me, ‘No, you don’t belong here.’ I knew I had to get back to what made me happy, so I decided to return to the landscaping industry for good.”

Today, as owner of Laural Landscapes, Inc., Laural says her favorite part of her job is the spiritual satisfaction she receives from cultivating the land. “When I’m focused on working with plants and figuring out what the land wants, I feel content…at peace. There’s a connection I experience with the Earth that grounds me and reminds me of who I am.”

Laural came to the Bay Area in 1998 and resides today in Concord. Outside of work, she engages in a variety of active and artistic pastimes. “I love performance art like live music and theater, but I like going to the movies, too,” she says. “I also enjoy music. I like to sing, and I’ve written a few songs.” Additionally, Laural enjoys activities like camping, swimming and spending time with her daughter, Amy, who is currently a business major at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

In regard to her professional career, Laural believes landscape design should be a client-centered mode of expression. “When I design a landscape, I want to make sure it reflects the customer’s tastes and personality,” she explains. “In our increasingly fast-paced, detached culture, nature is an avenue for people to reconnect with themselves, which is why it’s crucial for your landscape to be representative of your self—a place where you can feel comfortable, relaxed and at home.”

When asked the first thing she’d do if she were to retire tomorrow, Laural says she’d take her wilderness calling to the next level. “I would buy a piece of land that was rich in flora and fauna and turn it into a wildlife sanctuary. Ideally, it would be a place where certain endangered species could be introduced and allowed to flourish.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
A: I’d like to go to South or Central America, just to see a rainforest in person.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of tree?
A: That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say the valley oak, just because of how big, old and enchanting they are.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
A: Watch a movie…or the rain itself.

Q: What’s your favorite local restaurant?
A: Swagat Indian Cuisine in Concord.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Plants!

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5 Considerations for Plant Selection

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WALNUT CREEK — One of the biggest challenges for any gardener is deciding which plants to install. Sifting through all the choices can be an overwhelming task, especially in the Bay Area, where the mild climate affords myriad planting possibilities. To simplify… Read more

A Natural Way to Block Weeds

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WALNUT CREEK – There are a few ways to inhibit weed growth in your garden, but just like other areas of landscape cultivation, the best methods are organic. One such method is called sheet mulching, which effectively blocks weeds without relying… Read more

The Five D’s of Tree Pruning

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WALNUT CREEK – Knowing how to prune a tree is important, but it’s equally important to know what to prune. The simplest way to approach this is to look for branches that fall into one of the following categories: dead, dying,… Read more

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Video: 5 Considerations for Plant Selection

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WALNUT CREEK — Host, Sarah Rutan: When choosing plants to put in your garden, it’s helpful to have criteria on which to base your selection. Today we’re in… Read more

Roger Van Alst is president of Black Diamond Paver Stones & Landscape, Inc., a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (877) 312-4128 or by email.

Roger Van Alst

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Roger Van Alst: Paving a Road to Success

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

SAN JOSE — After graduating from Stetson University with a marketing and business degree, Roger Van Alst began a career that would take him around the world and back again. “After a long time managing home improvement companies in both the United States and Australia, I decided it was time to have my own business and acquired Black Diamond Paver Stones & Landscape in 2004,” he says. “When I was devising my business model, I pulled together the best techniques and ideas I’d encountered from my past experience while disposing of those I didn’t care for. A decade later, Black Diamond has grown from a small mom-and-pop operation to a multimillion-dollar company.”

When asked what drew him to hardscapes over other aspects of home improvement, Roger says it was the unique opportunity to improve people’s lives by enhancing their outdoor environments. “In California, we’re able to use our outdoor living spaces nine months out of the year, so they’re basically an extension of the home. I find that transforming customers’ outdoor environments often enriches their lifestyles, so the impact of our work really goes beyond the physical product.”

Originally from New Jersey, Roger settled in the Bay Area in 2000 following a five-year stint living in Australia. Today, as a resident of San Jose (where he lives with his wife, Tiffany, and son, Samuel), Roger says he appreciates the diversity of the local landscape. “I love being in a location that’s close to the mountains, ocean and city. It’s pretty marvelous that you can be waterskiing one afternoon and snow skiing the next. San Jose is also a neat place to be in business because of all the industry and technology.”

Outside of work, Roger engages in a variety of active pastimes, including skiing and boating. “During the winter, I moonlight as a ski instructor at Squaw Valley, which is something I’ve been doing since high school,” he says. “My family and I also like to go boating and waterskiing at the California Delta.” In addition to these outdoor pursuits, Roger likes collecting antique model trains and vintage cars.

In regard to his professional career, Roger espouses the centrality of customer satisfaction. “One of our mottos is, ‘Never leave a customer behind,’” he explains. “To us, customer satisfaction is no joke, and it’s never OK for a customer to be disappointed with our work, regardless of the circumstances. We’ll spend as much time, money and energy as necessary to make sure the client is happy by the project’s end.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he could retire tomorrow, Roger says he’d hit the slopes. “In addition to doing more skiing, I would do instructing on a full-time basis. I’d also like to start mentoring young entrepreneurs to help them succeed in their business endeavors.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person?
A: A cat person.

Q: What’s your favorite local restaurant?
A: Almaden Sushi in Almaden.

Q: What’s your favorite movie genre?
A: Action/adventure.

Q: Who’s your favorite actor?
A: Bruce Willis. My favorite film of his is “The Fifth Element.”

Q: Pancakes or waffles?
A: Pancakes.

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The Benefits of Polymeric Jointing Sand

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SAN JOSE — When installing a paving stone fixture, one option to consider is the application of polymeric jointing sand. Unlike regular jointing sand, this product is instilled with a glue-like substance that goes in dry but is activated by moisture,… Read more

How to Minimize Landscape Water Consumption

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SAN JOSE — Most people don’t realize that the average residential lawn consumes more water than the combined usage of the entire household. That’s why many Californians have decided to remove their thirsty lawns altogether and replace them with more water-wise options.… Read more

The Benefits of Paver Sealing

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SAN JOSE — Whether you have an older paving installation or are putting in a new one, it’s worthwhile to consider the benefits of having it professionally sealed. Since paving stones naturally fade over time, applying a sealer helps preserve their original… Read more

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Video: Benefits of Polymeric Sand

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SAN JOSE — Host, Sarah Rutan: When installing new pavers, one additional measureworth considering is the application of polymeric sand. Today we’re in San Jose with Diamond Certified… Read more

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