During Shelter in Place, Professional Gardeners and Landscapers Are in High Demand

Landscape contractor Jason hiller looking at his work. (Marco Siler-Gonzales/KQED)

While small businesses in the Bay Area are gearing up to partially reopen during Phase 2 of shelter in place, outdoor landscaping and construction have been open for weeks.

“A lot of people have these huge backyard spaces that are just untouched,” said Jason Hiller, owner of Forevergreen Landscape in San Francisco.

“We’re able to go in there and transform them into these killer outdoor spaces where the adults can have their space and the kids can have their little play area, too,” Hiller said.

There’s an upside to being in the landscaping business at the moment, since homeowners are stuck at home examining every overgrown weed and patch of dirt.

When the local health orders allowed outdoor work to resume on May 3, Hiller said he was immediately busy with calls for help. James Parish hired Hiller last year to landscape his backyard.

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Parish shows off his outdoor tiki lounge — bottles of rum, tequila and whiskey line the shelves of the outdoor bar. Tiki cups Parish has collected over the years are lined up on the shelf above, with a big tan surfboard hanging above them.

James Parish's tiki bar. (Marco Siler-Gonzales/KQED)

“My wife is so glad this stuff is out of the house now,” Parish said laughing. “All of my tiki stuff was all over the place ... so now it’s all got a place to go and more importantly we have a place to go”

The bar leads down to a turf lawn. Plants are neatly displayed on either side along the fence.

Decompressing Outdoors

Parish is a firefighter, stationed in the city’s Bayview neighborhood, one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. Sometimes a 24-hour shift turns into more like three days.

“It’s been a godsend, man. Work is a little more stressful for me than it was a couple months ago. So when I come home I really need to decompress,” Parish said.

Many people are looking at their outdoor spaces to decompress, with nurseries reporting skyrocketing sales since shelter in place began, often selling out of herbs and soil — the essentials of a quarantine garden. However, a lot of residents in the city don’t have real estate like Parish does.

“We started a series of edible kits,” said Lana Pappas, owner of the Gardenista in San Francisco. “We made these window boxes ... you can choose a flower box, an herb box and you can choose a lettuce box.”

When shelter in place took effect in March, Pappas and her team started making garden boxes that came with a watering can, soil and instructions to keep the plants healthy.

“Those have been doing really great. People are loving them,” Pappas said. She’s now expanding her business, creating a web shop so customers can order garden boxes online.

Wholesale Plants: A Different Story

While local plant nurseries have kept busy, the story hasn't been the same for wholesale retailers, who sell strictly to licensed contractors, like Hiller and Pappas.

Don Baldocchi is the president of Pacific Nurseries in Colma. He said revenue practically came to a halt after shelter-in-place orders took effect in March.

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“We pretty much had to close down because our customers, the industry out there locally was shut down as well,” Baldocchi said.

Baldocchi oversees 25 acres of land with well over 10,000 plants and trees. He had to furlough nearly all 60 of his employees. But he secured a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program by mid-April.

“I was amazed but we made it. As soon as that happened I got on the phone and got everyone who was willing to come back, to come back,” Baldocchi said.

Now, Baldocchi says there’s a steady stream of contractors coming through the nursery. Jason Hiller, Lana Pappas and other landscapers said they have several of projects lined up for clients looking to invest in some green space.