After college, in 1980, Steve Cox, went to work for a large design-build landscape company in the Bay Area. Although he had an excellent horticultural education, he soon learned there was much he didn’t know. His new job gave him substantial responsibilities, so he had to learn fast. He worked on numerous high-end landscapes where the owners were very particular about what they wanted. Steve found himself estimating multi-million dollar landscaping projects. He learned how to deal effectively with architects, developers, and big contractors. Steve also learned state-of-the-art construction practices that were not practiced in the San Joaquin Valley at that time. He learned how to run large crews. He especially values how he learned to install “specimen” trees. “Specimen” is the landscaping industry’s term for big trees. He learned how to prepare the ground and get them into the ground. Before he left that job he could lift a 10,000 pound tree with a crane and put into the ground. This is a big deal for a tree. Steve explains, “You see cranes all the time hoisting things like an air conditioner, but it’s not so easy with trees because a tree is asymmetrical.”
In 1984, Steve returned to the valley. “I had a dream of starting my own full-service landscape company in the Central Valley where I grew up. I had something in me that told me this area was going to grow, and this would be a good place for me to start a business. Yes, I did like the Bay Area weather, but I decided to give it a go, even with the heat.” All he had was a pickup truck and a wheelbarrow. He went out early in the mornings to work on sites. In the afternoons, he developed his designs. In the evenings, he met with customers. Then he would go home and work on revisions. Before he went to bed, he caught up on paperwork. He worked 17–18 hours a day, 6–7 days a week. That’s what it took.
Plant System’s first employee was a helper to help Steve in the field. Then he hired another helper. After a few years, the company was up to about nine employees. Steve then hired someone to help in the office with paperwork. About the same time, he hired someone to help with drafting. Plant Systems grew, fast!
The next step was the purchase of a five-acre walnut orchard which was developed into a facility to house offices, a nursery, and an equipment yard. The nursery started out small. “We stored a few plants and that evolved into what today is a well-stocked nursery with specimen trees,” says Steve.
Plant Systems is always looking for ways to expand services to customers. For example, we developed a 2D plan for a client and it just didn’t work for him. He couldn’t visualize his future landscape. So we built a 3D plan and the client and his wife were super happy because they could then “see” what their new landscape would look like once installed.