Landscape Designers
Gary Gragg

Apr 01, 2011
Landscape Designers

President - Golden Gate Palms & Exotics Nursery

Designer Q&A with Gary

What led you to this career?

I was led to this career from a great love of the outdoors.

What has been your favorite project and why?
Projects are like children. It is hard to pick a favorite but if I must choose, it would be a project we did in Marin for my HGTV show Superscapes. We transformed an exceptionally mundane and dated space into a modern paradise by installing an infinity edge pool, travertine patio, stone seat walls, waterfall and stream, truckloads of exotic plant materials, and classic teak deep seating furniture. The before and after was truly dramatic. 
The clients love their space and they have told me that the project has truly changed their life. The best result possible for a backyard landscape project is to create a space that tempts the client to skip an exotic vacation and just stay at home and enjoy their own private personal paradise. It really happened here.

Tell us about your most challenging project.
My most challenging project by far is my own personal home. It is located on nine very steep acres on a southern-exposed ridge top. Using the garden as a pressure relief valve to employ my crew between projects, over the past 12 years we have installed hundreds of tons of stone, miles of irrigation piping, countless loads of soil amendments, and thousands of very rare plants all on extremely steep slopes most people would write off as unbuildable. 
I discovered long ago that on steep slopes, good access is the key to building a successful project. On that note, I first took a D-3 dozer and carved access trails large enough to accommodate our large tractor and small 4-wheel drive pickup truck to bring materials to where they were needed. Then I used a smaller tractor to create narrower trails weaving through the garden that were more on a human scale, about 5 feet wide, but that could also accommodate a golf cart and smaller compact tractors. Once these trails were built, work could progress efficiently and speedily. 
Now the garden is spectacular. Everyone wants flat, level lots and yards. Although these are easier to build on, they offer very little drama and intrigue. My advice is to keep your mind open to acquiring property on slopes, and even steep slopes, as my garden proves that slope landscapes can be truly breathtaking and need not take much more effort to create than boring flat lot gardens.

What is your design process?
My design process usually starts with an intial consultation meeting at the site with the client. I listen to what they hope to get out of their landscape and try to feel out exactly what they are going after. 
I evaluate the site and let the site speak to me: Where are the view lines? What would be the likely traffic flow? How could each area be used to greatest effect?
During the initial consult, I get flooded with ideas imagining how the site could be. I explain these brainstorming ideas with the clients. If they like them, which is often the case, I draw some rough sketches. When I say rough, I mean it.  They are usually not to scale, literally scribbled out, and not at all graphically pretty. But what they do is show the overall layout concept well enough for the client to thoroughly understand and conceptualize. 
Sometimes, on smaller projects, we build directly from these rough plans using field measurements to generate accurate estimates. On larger projects, we present a design proposal to generate finished drawings.
Once the finished drawings are approved and finished, we provide pricing on install using our crews but also give the client the option to price the job with other qualified landscape contractors. Sometimes the client will use others for install but usually in those cases, they will hire us for implementation oversight.

Contact Information
Nursery: Golden Gate Palms and Exotics
420 South Third Street
Point Richmond, CA 94804

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1172
Lafayette, CA 94549


A sun drenched artificial turf putting green provides a clean, all season, mud free, maintenance minimal, highly utilitarian yet aesthetically pleasing space. Almost as un-thirsty as the artificial green, native Penstemons brighten the scene with the skyward bound magenta blooms.