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Friday, Feb 22 2013 12:02 AM

It's a Guy Thing: Landscape businessmen

Compiled by Jeneal Wood

The beautiful calming garden you walked through during that stressful visit to the hospital? The state-of-the-art school with a play yard for your kids? The park where you can have a nice relaxing picnic?

All of those were planned out by landscape contractors, designers or architects. Here are four men who are beautifying Bakersfield one project at a time.

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Dan Monji

Wayne Cox

Jim Rios

Javier Lesaca

Dan Monji

Dan is a second generation landscape contractor and designer. His father founded Monji Landscape Companies in 1953, and Dan has worked there for 36 years.

What made you choose this career path? I wouldn't say that I chose to enter the landscape industry, but rather it chose me. I remember being 5 years old and watching my father work in the company, and thinking to myself that I would one day follow in his footsteps.

Where can we find your work around town? You could find our projects in virtually thousands of residential and commercial properties all around Bakersfield. Some public projects that we've completed recently have been the healing and vertical gardens at Mercy Southwest Hospital and Mercy Hospital downtown, as well as the Living Memorial to the Virgin Mary at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

What is it like to work during the Bakersfield summers? I think it's fabulous! We like to think we live in a perpetual spring here at Monji, so we don't shy away from the heat. I can understand why others dislike it though.

What is the best part of your job? The best part about my job is the long-lasting client relationships that I get to make. When a customer comes in, I get to listen to their wants and their needs, and then create a vision for a beautiful environment just for them. On top of all that, I get to spend my days in my most favorite place in the world -- the garden. You can't beat that!

How has technology helped or changed your job? In terms of new "green" technology, we have recently received a provisional patent on our Living Wall system, which has allowed us to bridge the gap between the harsh, concrete-filled landscapes of our cities with the lush, green environments of nature. This type of "green" technology is beyond anything my father could have imagined 50-plus years ago when he started the company.

What job of yours are you most proud of? The healing and vertical gardens Mercy. Our team and I were able to utilize a new, innovative way of gardening to create places of peace for the hospitals' patients, visitors and employees. The idea that thousands of people can walk through my vision daily, and it can relax them or bring them some peace in the chaos of life is really humbling to me.

Jim Rios

Jim has been a landscape architect since 1984, and has worked for design firms in Riverside and Orange counties. In 2009, he and his wife, Megan, started their own business, Rios Design Studio, LCC., or RDS.

What made you choose this career path? I have always had a love for the outdoors. As a young man, I toyed with idea of working in the field of forestry, and then later looked into architecture. The profession of landscape architecture allowed me to combine both of my earlier interests.

Where can we find your work around town? We did the design for the Creekview Villas project and surrounding city streetscapes along the south Mill Creek canal area, as well as the two new combined schools (in the Bakersfield City School District) that are currently under construction near the former Mesa Marin Raceway. We also designed the landscape for the Grimmway Academy in Arvin.

What is the best part of your job? To see the life cycle of the project, from design conception, design development and construction implementation. The absolute best part is seeing people enjoy the outdoor living space that you had a hand making a reality.

What is the most difficult part about being a landscape architect? Most of our clients say they want a low-maintenance, low-cost landscape; however, they also generally say that they want to see a lot of grass. Turf grass takes a greater number of man-hours to keep it looking manicured and green. I suggest that my clients install grass only where it is needed for functional purposes, such as recreation, rather than to satisfy a visual need or for a "sea of green carpet." As the cost of water continues to rise, I anticipate that more Californians will reduce the size of their lawns.

What job of yours are you most proud of? One of RDS' first jobs was the design of the estate of local private oil company businessman Chad Hathaway. The project was a blank slate with only the existing residence given. The project offered the ability to work with a site that has nice topography, allowing for nice dynamic of changes in elevations. We were allowed to be creative. The client worked with us to create some really beautiful "outdoor rooms," each with a separate function. The installing contractors involved did a phenomenal job. It is currently the gem of our portfolio.

Javier Lesaca

Javier is a landscape contractor who became partner of his father's business, Lesaca Landscape Co., in 1990. Now he and his wife, Benita, manage the business. He has his bachelor's degree in plant science-ornamental horticulture from Fresno State. After college, he worked at various nurseries as a production manager, and returned to Bakersfield where he got his contractor's license and started his career.

What made you choose this career path? When I was young, my father would take me to work with him on the weekends and during the summers. I grew to enjoy working with plants and landscapes.

Where can we find your work around town? Right now, you can find us working at San Joaquin Community Hospital. We provide them with landscape maintenance services at their various properties.

Is your job more creative or hands on? A little of both, but mostly creative. On smaller jobs, where there is no landscape plan, the client is looking to me to create a beautiful landscape. So it's my job to put the right plant in the right place and build an efficient irrigation system, as well as hardscape, landscape lighting, water features, patio structures, soil preparation and drainage.

What is the most difficult part about being a landscape contractor? We have the same difficulties as any small business has that is trying to survive and grow. But as a landscape contractor we are competing with unlicensed operators that will underbid us every time. They can become a hazard to the consumer because they do not carry the proper insurance to protect their employees or customer. We try to educate every one of our potential clients to check out the company that is working on their property. Go to the Contractors State License Board website, enter the contractor's license number and it will tell you all of their information. It's easy, and gives you peace of mind that the person working on your property is who they say they are.

What job of yours are you most proud of? When we were approached to provide landscape services for San Joaquin, the one thing they said that I remember was, "No one wants to go to the hospital. So while they are here, we want to keep it as pleasant as possible." Our job was to provide a landscape that is as beautiful as we can make it. So, when a patient enters and leaves the hospital, they have a beautiful clean landscape to make them feel better.

What is the best part of job? The best part is watching something you have created and built mature over time, and become part of the community.

Wayne Cox

Wayne is a landscape contractor at Century Landscape Inc. He is also a certified landscape irrigation auditor, and a member of the California Landscape Contractors Association. He has been in the landscape business most of his life.

How did you get started in the landscape business? I've been in the business most of my life. When I was 10 years old, my older brother Jim and my dad built me a trailer to pull my gardening equipment behind my bicycle. So I went around the neighborhood and mowed lawns. With help from Kern Turf Supply, I bought my first front throw lawnmower. After about 4 years, I started high school at West High and I got a job at Cooper's Nursery, back when they were in Kern City. I would water all of the plants and trees after school and on weekends. In high school, I took a landscape and plant identification class through the ROC Program. Then came graduation day. I remember going to work the next morning at 6 a.m. for my brother Jim, who owned Century Landscape. I have worked there ever since. So I have been in the business for 45 years total.

What made you choose this career path? I have always loved the outdoors. There's a lot of satisfaction when you finish a project, knowing that the finished product will impact our ecosystem, and the beauty a finished job gives to our community.

Where can we find your work around town? You can find our work all over Kern County, some in the Central Valley, between Bakersfield and Fresno, and west into the Santa Barbara area.

What is it like to work during the Bakersfield summers? Working in Bakersfield in the summer can be brutal. So on those really hot days we start early and try to finish early in the day, which usually doesn't happen. So we just push on, and drink lots of water.

What job of yours are you most proud of? We have done so many great jobs over the years, but most recently we have done some custom homes in Grand Island that I am really proud of. These projects have won us some awards and recognition from our local chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association.

What is the best part of your job? Meeting and getting to know our clients. Also, the satisfaction you get when you finish a project.

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