Diamond Certified Companies are Rated Highest in Quality and Helpful Expertise.

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Diamond certified companies are top rated and guaranteed

Why Trust Diamond Certified Landscape Designers & Consultants Rated Highest in Quality?

Photo: Atlas Landscapes (2011)

You are the customer. If your goal is to choose a landscape designers & consultants that will deliver high customer satisfaction and quality, you’ll feel confident in choosing a Diamond Certified landscaper. Each has been rated Highest in Quality in the most accurate ratings process anywhere. And you’re always backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee. Here’s why the Diamond Certified ratings and certification process will help you find a top-rated landscaping designers & consultants and is unparalleled in its accuracy, rigor and usefulness:

1) Accuracy: All research is performed by live telephone interviews that verify only real customers are surveyed, so you’ll never be fooled by fake reviews.

2) Statistical Reliability: A large random sample of past customers is surveyed on an ongoing basis so the research results you see truly reflect a Diamond Certified company’s top-rated status.

3) Full Disclosure: By clicking the name of a company above you’ll see the exact rating results in charts and read verbatim survey responses as well as researched articles on each qualified company.

4) Guaranteed: Your purchase is backed up with mediation and the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee, so you can choose with confidence.

Click on the name of a Diamond Certified company above to read ratings results, researched articles and verbatim customer survey responses to help you make an informed decision.

More than 200,000 customers of local companies have been interviewed in live telephone calls, and only companies that score Highest in Quality in customer satisfaction–a 90+ on a 100 scale–as well as pass all of the credential-based ratings earn Diamond Certified. By requiring such a high score to qualify, the Diamond Certified program eliminates mediocre and poorly performing companies. Read detailed information about the ratings and certification process.

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DIAMOND CERTIFIED EXPERT CONTRIBUTORS IN THE Marin County – Landscape – Designers & Consultants CATEGORY

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

diamond certified contributor profile and expert article

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


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

Expert Video Tip

Video: Benefits of an Outdoor Fireplace

Complete Video Transcription:

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




INDUSTRY INFORMATION - Marin County – Landscape – Designers & Consultants

Bel Marin Keys
Belvedere Tiburon
Black Point
Corte Madera
Dillon Beach
Forest Knolls
Kent Woodlands
Lucas Valley
Marin City
Mill Valley
Mission Rafael
Muir Beach
Muir Woods
Point Reyes Station
San Anselmo
San Geronimo
San Marin
San Quentin
San Rafael
Santa Venetia
Sleepy Hollow
Stinson Beach
Strawberry Point
Tamalpais Valley
Terra Linda


ANLA American Nursery & Landscape Association (http://www.anla.org/)
APLD Association of Professional Landscape Designers (http://www.apld.org)
BBB Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.com/)
DCA California Department of Consumer Affairs (www.dca.ca.gov)
Diamond Certified (www.diamondcertified.org)
ELA Ecological Landscaping Association (http://www.ecolandscping.org/)
IA Irrigation Association (www.irrigation.org)
IALE International Association of Landscape Ecology (http://www.landscape-ecology.org/)
LDA Landscape Design Association (www.ldaonline.org)
NLAE Nursery & Landscape Association Executives of North America (http://www.nlae.org/)
PLANET The Professional Landcare Network (www.landcarenetwork.org)
WNLA Western Nursery and Landscape Association (www.wnla.org)

Know What You Want
What to ask yourself before selecting a Marin County landscape designer

The first step towards designing a better landscape for your outdoor space is to understand exactly why you are seeking professional help with your yard. You have to know why you want to change your landscape before a professional landscape designer can begin the transformation through a detailed design.

Being honest with yourself about the state of your budget for any outdoor project will also be very helpful in starting a defined search for a Marin CountyMarin County landscape designer. As with any home-improvement project, a budget must be tentative and allow for setbacks or complications, but you must have a number in mind before you begin.

To truly be ready to answer the question of “how much,” you will need to clarify what exactly needs to happen with your space, how much of your landscape you are going to tackle and the basic idea of what you want the transformation to look like. You don’t have to come up with a design (that is why you are hiring a professional), but you do need to have some small idea as to what you are looking for so that you know how to plan, especially when it comes to creating a budget.

In order to help you create a tentative plan and budget, take a look at the questions below. If you answer them honestly for yourself, you will be well on your way to beginning the real process of hiring a good landscape designer in Marin County, including from any of the cities of San Rafael, Mill Valley, Larkspur, Tiburon and FairfaxNovato, San Anselmo, Corte Madera, Sausalito, Ross and Belevedere.

  1. Do I want a Diamond Certified landscaping designer that is rated best in quality and backed by the Diamond Certified Guarantee?
  2. Am I looking to make my outdoor space more user-friendly for pets and/or children?
  3. Am I looking to do more in my outdoor space (cooking, entertaining, etc.)?
  4. Do I have any idea what style I am looking for (English garden, new age tranquility, etc.) or do I need professional help with that step as well?
  5. What features am I interested in (water fountains, rock gardens, waterfalls, built-in barbecuing space, etc.)?
  6. What materials do I like best (granite, stone, wood, etc.)?
  7. How big of an area (in square feet) am I looking to revamp?
  8. What is the current state of my outdoor space (rough dirt and rock, basic grass, terraced, etc.)?
  9. How much am I willing and/or able to spend on this landscaping project?
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What To Ask In Person
Questions to personally ask a Marin County landscape designer

Now that you’ve talked with a number of Marin County landscape designers over the phone, it is time to get out into your community, whether you’re in the larger cities of San Rafael, Mill Valley, Larkspur, Tiburon and Fairfax or the smaller towns of Bolinas, Dogtown, Marshall, San Geronimo and Woodacre, and visit with a select group of designers in person. This face-to-face interview should provide you with the material you’ll need to hire the landscape designer that you feel most comfortable with and therefore get the best results from.

  1. How do you charge for your landscape designs?
  2. Can I see proof of any professional credentials or association memberships?
  3. May I review your portfolio?
  4. Can you provide me with at least 10 current references of projects that are similar to the one I’ve described?
  5. Describe in as much detail as possible how you go about understanding my landscaping wishes and needs and synthesizing them into your professional design.
  6. Tell me about your philosophy of landscape and design.
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  • What To Ask References
    Questions for references of landscape designers in Marin County

    Searching for a trustworthy landscape designer in Marin County can turn into an arduous process, especially when you can’t be sure that the one you end up deciding on will give you the best results. There is a way to have confidence in your choice, however. Choose a Diamond Certified Marin County landscape designer!

    Here’s why it’s best to choose a Diamond Certified landscape designer: because all certified designers have been approved through an in-depth ratings process that most other professionals can’t pass. If you want quality from a landscape designer in Marin County, you can have confidence choosing a Diamond Certified designer. Diamond Certified reports are available online for all certified landscape designers. And you’ll never be fooled by fake reviews. That’s because all research is performed in live telephone interviews of actual customers.

    If you can’t find a Diamond Certified landscape designer within reach, you’ll have to do some research on your own. If you do, it’s wise to call some references provided by your landscape designer. Keep in mind, though, those references provided to you by the designer or his/her company are not equal in value to the large random sample of customers surveyed during the Diamond Certified ratings process. That’s because references given to customers from companies are hand-picked instead of randomly selected from all their customers. So the contractors will likely give you a few customers to call that they know are satisfied.

    If you do call references on your own, specifically ask for a list of the company’s 10 most recent customers. This will help avoid them giving you the names of only customers they know were satisfied.

    1. Did this designer provide open and timely communication throughout your project?
    2. Did you feel it was easy to address concerns and questions with this designer?
    3. Did you feel a comfortable level of involvement in the design process? Did you feel as though your thoughts, feelings and ideas were important and validated?
    4. Did this designer keep ahead of delays as much as possible and give good warning if a delay was unavoidable?
    5. Was the design completed within the time frame and your agreed-upon budget?
    6. Were you satisfied with their service? Would you/have you recommended this designer?
    7. Would you hire this designer again?
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  • Review Your Options
    Knowing Your Opinions to Better Share with a Marin County Landscape Designer

    The Diamond Certified symbol has been awarded to companies that scored Highest in Quality in an accurate ratings process.

    Every landscape design begins with a consultation between designer and customer. In order to get the most out of your first visit with your chosen Marin County landscape designer, broadly answer the following questions about your outdoor space and ideas for transformation.

    1. How am I looking to utilize my outdoor space?
    2. What are my landscaping goals?
    3. Is there anything about my current space that I would like to leave the same?
    4. What is the architectural style of my home?
    5. Am I planning to make any significant additions to my home or outbuildings?
    6. Which way does my house face? How much sun does the area receive?
    7. Do I know about any water, soil or irrigation issues?
    8. Do I have some favorite plants or plants that I can’t stand?
    9. What kind of style am I looking for (Zen, groomed, informal or formal, natural, etc.)?
    10. What are my tastes in landscaping as far as color, texture, space, materials, etc. are concerned?
    11. How much maintenance am I willing and/or able to do? Do I enjoy gardening or do I hope a garden will take care of itself?
    12. Do I have adequate outdoor lighting?
    13. Do I have a plan for watering or should a design include a sprinkler system?
    14. What is the estimated amount I am willing and/or able to spend on design and installation?
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  • How To Work With
    Initial Interactions with Marin County Landscape Designers

    During that first phone call or visit to your Marin County landscape designer, you will be asking questions to attempt to ascertain whether or not you feel you could work comfortably with the individual to come up with a design for your outdoor space. You’ll be making snap judgments about their work experience, their interpersonal communication skills and their philosophy of landscaping.

    But you also have to remember that the designer will be asking you salient questions that will help him/her to determine whether or not you know enough about the process to be a client they can help or that they want to take on. They are essentially interviewing you to make sure that neither of you waste your time or resources.

    This does not mean that you have to be nervous to call or visit a landscape designer. On the contrary, you should be grateful that they are willing to interview you in addition to your discovery of their personality and talents. This can ensure that you really need their services and not simply those of a contractor or gardener. You should be ready and willing to honestly answer any questions they might have as well as to share your vision while remaining open to their professional opinions.

    You’re not the only one who can decide whether or not you and a Marin County landscape designer are the right fit for each other. A trained designer with field experience can usually judge whether the client-professional relationship is going to succeed from that very first interaction and can be a great help to you as you make your decision.

    The Landscape Design Process

    Now that you’ve selected your Marin County landscape designer, it is good to have a clue as to what happens next. While not every designer works the same, there are basic fundamentals to designing a landscape that should show up in the design process. They are as follows:

    1. First Consultation: This meeting happens at your outdoor space and allows the designer to take a broad overview of the challenges and possibilities of your project. From this meeting, a tentative proposal for design and a budget should be able to be drafted.
    2. Questionnaire: Most designers will have a series of detailed questions that they want you to spend a little time with to help them with starting the design of your dreams. They want to be as clear as they can be when beginning the detailed drawings.
    3. Plan Development: The plan begins with deciding where all major elements are going to be located (things like water features, walkways, major garden plots, etc.).
    4. Planting Plan: Just what it sounds like—this part of the plan has to do with every living thing included in the final plan, including placement, type and quantity.
    5. Master Plan Development: The final and complete design including all elements (hard and soft scape) as well as estimated installation time and cost predictions. This is what you will take to different contractors for bids on the actual installation of the landscape.

    Most designers will be able to help you find trustworthy landscape contractors in your area, including the cities of Almonte, Black Point, Ignacio, San Quentin and Terra Linda. If not, remember Diamond Certified is here to help you with that step as well.

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  • Be a Good Customer
    How Can You Be a Good Marin County Landscape Designer Patron

    It’s the landscape designer’s responsibility to design quality landscapes using the best possible techniques. But you play a big part in the success of your landscape designer, too. Here are a few simple steps you can take to be a good customer when hiring a Marin County landscape designer.

    1. Be clear and upfront with the designer. Let them know what you want from your design, the long-term outcome you’re expecting and specific ways they can satisfy your expectations.
    2. Remember, a friendly smile goes a long way!
    3. Before you hire a landscape designer in Marin County, restate your expectations and goals, and reiterate to the landscape design representative your understanding of the agreement. Most problems with local landscape designers occur because of a breakdown in communication. By being clear about your expectations and theirs, you can avoid most conflicts.
    4. Ask your landscape designer if you should call to check on the progress or if he/she will call you with updates.
    5. Be sure your service representative has a phone number where they can reach you at all times while they’re designing. The work will move along more smoothly if your landscape designer can reach you for any necessary updates, questions or work authorizations.
    6. When your designer contacts you, return calls promptly to keep the design on schedule.
    7. Pay for the landscape design work promptly.

    Why would you want to be a good customer? Landscape designers in Marin County appreciate customers who are straightforward, honest and easy to work with. Your good customer behavior sets the tone from your end and creates an environment favorable to a good relationship. Things may very well go smoother and any problems may be more easily resolved.

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Written Warranties
Making Payments to a Marin County Landscape Designer

Most landscape designers choose to bill their clients in one of two ways. One, by an agreed-upon project price. This includes the consultation, time spent preparing the plan and for the rights to the final design. Two, they can charge independently for each piece of the puzzle, including a set cost for the initial interview, an hourly rate for the time spent designing and another set amount for the rights to the master plan.

Due to the nature of designing, most landscape designers do charge a down payment so as to protect themselves from doing a lot of work and having a client decide they don’t actually need or want their services. You should be wary of anyone who wants more than 10% of the total estimated cost of design.

Also, be sure to find out whether or not it is customary for the Marin County landscape designer to work within a contract. You have the right to request a contract and refuse to work with a designer who does not provide one. Contracts should include all the basic information about the landscape designer as well as provide contingencies for anything that may be subject to a change in price as you move through the process of creating a complete design. Remember, if your landscape designer doesn’t offer one up to begin with, request one and move on if one is not provided.

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Top 10 Requests
The Top Six Types of Landscape Designs Used by Marin County Landscape Designers

Landscape designers are not only trained to listen and interpret your landscaping wants and needs, they are also very good at getting those ideas on to paper and in to a plan that summarizes the project, the lay of the land and the color palette. A structured and pre-planned design helps save everyone time and money as you move to the putting in phase of your landscape. You’ll find it helpful to understand the most common types of design plans used by Marin County landscape designers.

Site Analysis: A diagram detailing the structures and elements that are currently present and will affect the final design.

Bubble Plan: A simplified plan that uses bubbles to denote different areas of the landscape design including gardens, water features, etc. This design can also include bubbles to show where the best views are located, utility features and other areas of focus for the final landscape.

Plot Plan: An overarching design of all features, structures, layouts and measurements of final landscape.

Concept Images: Photographic examples of all features in a plot plan to give the client more of an understanding of what the final landscape will actually look like.

Designer Renderings: A plan that either the designer draws or crafts using a computer program to show color, texture, lighting and shading of the final landscape design.

Planting Plan: A detailed, labeled plan displaying all areas included in the softscape of the final landscape design. This will often include the total number of plants to be purchased and the specific types to be utilized.

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Glossary Of Terms

Landscape designers often use very technical language to describe their process and to accomplish your design. The following list of terms should help you feel more comfortable when conversing with your chosen Marin County landscape designer.

base plan
A plan showing site boundaries and features, used as a basis for further development.

built environment
A man-made creation or alterations to an outdoor space, including its natural resources.

Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD)
A digital design program that produces precise plans for landscaping.

The form of the land. Contour lines are map lines which are used to show and measure slope and drainage.

The safeguard, improvement and use of natural resources according to principles that will guarantee economic or social benefits for our environment now and in the future.

conservation plan
A plan for protecting natural or manufactured resources. Used as a tool in making decisions regarding soil, water, vegetation, manufactured objects and other resources.

The imaginative illustration, planning and specification of outdoor space for utility, value and beauty.

Where water escapes from a land surface or subsurface, through sewers or natural means.

The legal grant to use an area of designated property.

How the land slopes. Grading is the process of changing the degree of the slope in order to promote drainage and landscape design.

Things that are added to a landscape, such as paving stones, gravel, walkways, irrigation systems, roads, retaining walls, sculpture, street amenities, fountains, etc.

The total amount of land that can be seen at a glance.

landscape architect
A licensed professional who designs outdoor spaces from whole ecosystems to residential sites

Also known as:  planner, consultant

landscape architecture
The science and art of design of the land involving natural and built elements and concern for resource conservation to improve outdoor spaces. Effective landscape architecture makes the most of the land, adds value to a project and minimizes costs, all while minimizing negative effects to nature.

landscape contractor
A trained installer of landscapes who implements the plans of landscape architects.

landscape designer
An unlicensed person in the landscaping business who designs outdoor spaces.

manipulation of space
The organization of land for aesthetic or functional design. Refers to the building of small backyard patios to huge urban plazas.

master plan
An initial plan showing proposed development. Master plans show phases of work needing to be completed and are therefore subject to changes over time.

natural resources
Elements naturally occurring in an area that can be used to fulfill human needs, including air, soil, water, native vegetation, etc.

site plan
A drawing including dimensions that indicates the form and physical objects existing in an outdoor space and those still to be built.

The naturally occurring elements landscape architects work with, such as plant materials.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why choose a Diamond Certified landscape designer?
A: Diamond Certified helps you choose a landscape designer with confidence by offering a list of top-rated local companies who have passed the country’s most in-depth rating process. Only landscape designers rated Highest in Quality earn the prestigious Diamond Certified award. Most companies can’t pass the ratings. American Ratings Corporation also monitors every Diamond Certified company with ongoing research and ratings. And your purchase is backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee. So you’ll feel confident choosing a Diamond Certified landscape designer.

Q: What services can a landscape designer provide?
A: A good landscape designer will be able to hear your vision and provide insight on what can work with your space. They will craft a plan that fits your specific needs and vision. Working with you, they will design an outdoor space that will be both functional and satisfying.

Q: When should we hire a landscape designer?
A: As soon as you are dedicated to landscaping your space, which means you need to know what you don’t like about your current yard and what you would want installed to make it more enjoyable, then you are ready to begin your search. Hiring a landscape designer early in the process can help you keep from making costly mistakes and heightens the chances that you will be pleased with the final outcome.

Q: What is the best indicator that I have hired the right landscape designer?
A: Research indicates that the number one way people can tell they will be satisfied with the final results of their landscaping project is whether or not they were able to communicate effectively with the landscape designer from the beginning of their professional relationship. Your designer should make you feel comfortable to bring up any questions or concerns that arise along the way. In addition, you should be confident that your landscape designer understands from the outset what you believe your transformation should look like. Ask many clarifying questions as you work on a plan together to make sure that you are on the same wavelength as your designer.

Q: How much expense will hiring a landscape designer add to my project?
A: You will pay for the knowledge and ideas of a landscape designer, but hiring the right one can in fact save you a lot of money. The expertise you pay for will let you know exactly what features your outdoor space is suited for and you can achieve a design that will actually work for your yard. You won’t waste nearly as much money and they can also help you seriously reduce maintenance costs following the installation of a well-planned landscape because they understand the type of plants and design that will flourish in your space.

Q: How do landscape designers charge?
A: Landscape designers can charge based on time it takes to design a project or an agreed-upon project fee. You should be clear on how a designer charges before you enter into a professional relationship with them, ask for a detailed estimate and always work under a specified contract.

Q: What is my role in the process designing a landscape for my space?
A: You will need to clearly share your design wants, decide on a workable budget and provide insight into how the design will affect the livability and enjoyment of your space. A trustworthy designer will communicate with you throughout the process and be available to lend advice and design suggestions. You need to feel like a partner in the process and informed along the way.

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