Green Thumbs


We introduce you to five designers who are working to change the look of our landscape, one garden at a time.

Ron Allison

[Landscape Architect]

Background After graduating in 1967 from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with a degree in landscape architecture, Allison worked for a design firm in Carmel and for the state before moving to Sacramento to open his own firm. He specializes in high-end residential design, largely in the foothills. 

Signature look Allison is known for his work on the Clos du Lac development in Loomis, which was landscaped to look like a series of vineyards in Provence. After that, everyone wanted that look.
Design philosophy Every client is different and every job is different. I guide my clients to what they want to do.

Skill set Plant materials are his specialty. I use a large plant palette.

How he works
After talking with a client, he does three concept studies, showing three different design approaches. After the client chooses the best solutions from each study, Allison prepares a preliminary plan, which he then refines into a working plan and a set of working drawings for the contractor to follow.

What people want Swimming pools and outdoor kitchens.

Favorite plants Dogwoods, Japanese maples and roses. I like to use roses as a landscape shrub, because they bloom for such a long time.

Pet peeve
Bad lighting. I don’t like lights glaring in your eyes. They should be designed to be unnoticeable but effective.

Recent project
Allison designed a 2 1/2-acre yard in Granite Bay with a grotto, cave, six fountains, pool with bridge and island, waterfall and 90-foot slide. It’s fun for the grandkids. 

$120 an hour; for a typical half-acre project, about $3,000 for the preliminary design process, $3,500–$4,000 for working drawings.

Ronald J. Allison Landscape Architect, (916) 971-0272

Karen Blanor

[Landscape Architect]

Blanor received a degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly Pomona in 1982. She started her own firm in 1984 and moved to Sacramento from Orange County six years ago. Blanor has worked on projects in Northern and Southern California, Nevada and Arizona, as well as France and the West Indies.

Signature look She doesn’t have one. It’s not about me; it’s about the client.

Design philosophy
Landscapes should be easy to care for, so people don’t have to work so hard in their yards. I like plants that are low maintenance and low water use.

Skill set I can see what someone wants and translate that into drawings. Blanor also is skilled at creating easy-to-use irrigation systems.

What people want Sacramentans are very family-oriented, and their personal landscapes show that. Their yards are geared toward family entertaining&emdash;not to impress people.

Favorite plants Decorative grasses and flowering trees such as evergreen pear and crape myrtle.

Pet peeve
Irrigation running over the curb. Don’t do that.

Recent project I designed a personal backyard retreat for an older couple in Roseville with no kids. The backyard was quite minimal, with about 10 feet wide of flat ground and another 15 feet that sloped straight up. I redesigned the entire back slope with waterfalls into a pool, spa and koi pond.

Fees Fixed fee based on project’s size and complexity.

Blanor Designs, (916) 719-9296;

Jeff Corbitt

[Landscape Designer/Contractor]

Background Corbitt worked for a large commercial landscape maintenance company, where he learned design on the fly. He opened his own residential landscape design and installation firm, ProScapes, three years ago.

Signature look Corbitt matches the landscape to a home’s architecture. We try to take what’s inside and replicate it outside.

Design philosophy I hate to impose my philosophy on anybody. Homeowners know what they want.

Skill set Corbitt is known for his masonry work.

How he works After an initial consultation, Corbitt provides a concept drawing. Once the
client approves, he does a more detailed
drawing and quotes a price for installation.

Favorite plants Tropical plants such as
palm trees. It makes for a more free-flowing,
less formal landscape.

Pet peeve Nonfunctional landscaping. I hate when people make the patio too small or put
the barbecue off the master bedroom instead of the kitchen.

Recent project
Corbitt designed the landscape for a Building Industry Association Home Tour house in Lincoln’s Catta Verdera development, installing a fountain, multiple retaining walls, pots on pillars and a high-end lighting system. 

$1,000 flat design fee.

Proscapes Landscape & Design, (916) 984-1473;


Dave Roberts

[Landscape Designer/Contractor]

Background Roberts started out working for a retail nursery and got a degree in horticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1975. He later worked as a greenhouse manager and a division manager for a plant company before moving to Sacramento and starting his own design/build firm in 1991.
He specializes in residential design.

Signature look
I strive for a natural look, and I like to give plants room to grow in their natural forms, rather than pruning and hacking them to bits.

Design philosophy
He’s a big believer in sustainable landscaping. Over the years, I’ve gravitated toward resource conservation and more recently have tried to deal with landscapes on a holistic basis. Conventional landscapes are intensive polluters and use a lot of resources. It’s not sustainable.

Skill set
He runs a small, well-supervised crew. My cup of tea is doing something really well&emdash;and you can’t do that with five crews on the road.

How he works
After a one- to two-hour consultation, Roberts provides a preliminary design and an estimate for installation.

What people want I believe more people are looking for ecologically sound landscapes. It resonates.
Favorite plants Natives. I absolutely love Valley oak, deergrass, monkey flower and most salvias. And butterfly bush&emdash;it’s not a native, but it fits into native landscapes.

Pet peeve I’m concerned about the way people treat the soil. When you use chemicals and fertilizers, you’re killing the natural biota so important to our gardens.

Recent project
He recently installed three natural landscapes on a single block in South Land Park. They were three separate projects, but it was like creating a movement within a neighborhood.

Fees Typically, $500 to $800 for a small front yard design, $1,500 to $3,000 for more involved front and backyard design.

Roberts Landscape, (916) 444-6458;

Martha Criswell

[Landscape Designer]

Background Criswell received a degree in art and interior design from San Jose State University in the early ’70s. While working for a commercial interior design firm in the Bay Area, she fell into landscape design when a client asked her to do a plan for a 3-acre garden in Saratoga. In 1982, Criswell moved to Sacramento; a year later, she and her husband purchased Fair Oaks Boulevard Nursery, which they owned until 1989.
Criswell has been doing landscape design full time since 1986.
Signature look I hope I don’t have one. I want to do fine design that reflects the clients and their needs.

Design philosophy ‘Less is more’ is as close as I come to a philosophy. You can create calm using more plants of one kind than you can using many different plants.

Skill set A strong understanding of design principles: color, proportion, texture, light and shape.

How she works
Criswell asks clients how they want to use the garden and how they want to feel in the space. She then does a preliminary drawing, refining it after getting feedback from the clients. Once the plan is finalized, she suggests contractors. She likes to supervise installation and maintenance. The design grows as the plants grow and mature.

Favorite plants
Japanese maples, sycamores, true geraniums, roses, hydrangeas, azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. I love shade-garden plants.

Pet peeve Lack of quality maintenance.

Recent project
Criswell recently designed a classic, formal planting plan for Del Paso Country Club, including landscaping for the club’s entry and parking lot. It incorporates lots of boxwoods, which will be pruned into hedgerows and topiaries as they mature.

Typically $1,200 to $5,000 for design, depending on project size and complexity.

Contact (916) 719-1906