Yesterday & Today
It was in the fall of 1970 that I began helping out at a fledgling organic market garden near Eureka, California. By early winter I was partnering with two other young men and an elder partner and preceptor, Tony Owen. Tony, at 33, had been galvanized by a love of soil, fresh local food, and life in the garden. I was an eager apprentice, learning by doing. We reclaimed overgrown farmland, developed irrigation systems, fit earth, made compost, and built washstands, coolers, cold frames, fences and gates. We repaired tools and equipment, kept goats, chickens, ducks and untold thousands of earthworms. We germinated seeds and husbanded them to maturity and then attempted to sell them into what was then a largely non-existent market.
Most days found us working outside, engrossed with Tony’s animated disquisitions upon soil colloids, companion planting, the nitrogen cycle, botanical nomenclature, beneficial insects, mycorrhizal fungi, cover crops, soil structure, contour plowing etc., and his recurrent favorite: earthworms. Work and learning were enlivening and restorative to me.
I had found a vocation.
I was fortunate to be young and single, able to get by with thrift and a rented cabin in the forest that cost $25.00 a month. What personal income I had came from off-farm side jobs. The farm itself generated but little money and that went for either farm supplies or to the meager support of Tony's family. I loved the work of the artisanal farmer, but it was becoming hard to overlook the lack of farm earnings. Consequently, when a visitor to our gardens offered the prospect of some landscape work around her home, one of my partners and I accepted. This was a turning moment: that day I was actually paid for doing the work that in a sense, I had been paying to do. As a young man, suddenly I could now see a way to support myself through my developing skills and affinities in the garden.
Within a matter of months I found myself relocated to coastal Orange County, California, where I started a gardening business emphasizing small scale vegetable and fruit gardens. The time and location for this plan was a poor fit and gradually I found myself learning the business of professional landscaping.
Landscape work comprises a large set of overlapping disciplines and skill curves which I now began to assimilate through an ongoing practice of learning—both through study and by collaborating and working alongside carpenters, masons, electricians, painters, equipment operators, architects, developers, and more experienced landscapers. By my mid-twenties, I had a small company and we successfully executed a series of very large commercial projects. By the end of the 1970's, I had a degree of competence in both business and my craft, as well as a wife and two young sons (a daughter came later). Around 1980, we determined to move to Nevada County, California, where we remain today.
As years have passed, we have guided our business along the path of always sighting to refine our craft of garden building. Specifically, we undertake to improve our systems and techniques for practical long-term value and durability, while in concert cultivating the aesthetic sensibilities to blend nature and natural materials into a place where craft and human scale combine to vitalize and truly enrich homes and surroundings. And to that end, we have willingly foregone growing our business beyond the point of being able to actively participate in the daily field work of building gardens.
Our business focus is foremost about developing and maintaining a high quality of craft and establishing an enduring personal business relationship with our clients. We typically have one primary project at a time. It may be a small project taking a few days or a week, or it may be a sustained project continuing for several years. But the matter at hand remains, how do we keep creating high quality, beautiful gardens? How can we have fair, gratifying business partnerships? How can we and our clients enjoy the process of garden building? We undertake to fulfill these ideals through continued learning, ever increasing skills and capabilities, careful planning and cost estimating, personal engagement with clients, workers, suppliers, architects, et al., along with an awareness of the kindred spirit in all.
The best fit for our business is when the client truly wants a high quality job performed with steady craftsmanship, deliberation with details, and a ground of fair business practice based upon the actual cost of labor, materials, equipment, overhead and a measured profit. We do not angle for windfall profits on work we have not performed, but rather only payment for services provided, materials furnished, and a fair margin for the operation of our enterprise. Business for us is about developing and maintaining relationships. It is about endeavoring to treat others as we wish to be treated: fair, straightforward; with courtesy and competency, and as collaborative partners in developing beautiful places to spend the days of our lives.