Tubbs Fire survivors create a landscaping app, Yardzen, to help revive their space — and help others do the same


Allison and Adam Messner were sure their Franz Valley home had been destroyed during the first hours of the Tubbs Fire as it burned a wide path of destruction from Calistoga to Santa Rosa.

But their home, which sits on four acres on the Sonoma County side of Calistoga near Safari West, was one of those spared, although homes all around were left in ruins.

However, the fire had come breathtakingly close, tearing through their property and destroying the landscape. It also took much of their fence, damaged their water tanks and irrigation system, and killed laurels and mature pines. The fire essentially scorched the entire perimeter of the house and ravaged three of their four acres.

The couple were extremely grateful that their home was spared when so many neighbors weren’t so lucky. They suppose it might have helped that they had a creek on one side, were careful about mowing, and had created “defensible space” around their house.

However, their landscape had to be completely redone.

“We filed an insurance claim and raised money to rebuild the yard. We called a handful of landscapers thinking we should do it the right way. But everyone was either too busy or too expensive. said Allison Messner “I’m sure they do a fantastic job and have a lot of happy customers. But we were shocked by the decals when we found out how much it would cost to get a professional to come in and design our outdoor space.

She said she gets estimates of $5,000 to $10,000 just for the plans.

That’s when the two tech entrepreneurs came up with a possible solution that over the past eight months has grown into a promising business offering homeowners a lower cost option for landscaping.

The couple created an online design service called Yardzen. Thanks to the new site, people can retain a landscaper or an architect. Using technology and a good database of plants and other information, a designer can create a plan for essentially anyone, anywhere that is specifically tailored to an individual homeowner’s needs, whether he lives in Massachusetts or California.

“We’re both entrepreneurs and we just try to imagine solutions to challenges,” said Allison, who was part of the founding team of an internet security company. Her husband Adam started LiveWire Electrical Supply.

“Around January, we were starting to do our own landscaping, and we thought there had to be an easier, more cost-effective way to do design. In March, we committed to doing that,” Messner said.

They officially launched at the end of July. Articles in the New York Times, Forbes and Garden Center Magazine have given a boost to the young company born out of last year’s horrific firestorms. They now have 18 designers signed on to do up to 10 projects at a time and are looking for more. Two are in the Bay Area but none yet in Sonoma County.

“We’ve done over 150 designs for people around the world,” Messner said.

The couple believe the service could be an option for many people, like them, who have lost their landscapes in the fires but have somewhat limited budgets. The cost for a full yard design – front and back – is $1,495. A partial design for the front or rear is $995. They will also do small “Botanical Makeovers” for smaller sections of a garden, including design, plants and spacing, planting and placement instructions for $249.

In addition to costing less, the service can save time and provide more flexibility, she said. Messner said that with Yardzen, you don’t have to meet a designer on site, and you don’t have to use the incubators or contractors that some designers have relationships with.

So how does it work? A homeowner can walk around their own property with a phone, filming their garden space as they explain their likes and dislikes and what they want. They can indicate which shrubs they would like to see go and inspect the space while asking questions such as, “I would like a place for a trampoline for my children and I don’t know where to put it”.

Using home video and satellite imagery, Yardzen will create what Messner said is an accurate 3D replica of a house and the space around it.

People using the service complete a design profile with 20 questions that offer options to help a designer determine your preferences, covering everything from flower boxes and patio railings to walkways, plant preferences, outdoor kitchens or to playgrounds.

They tried the system themselves for their own landscape.

“We found a designer online. I just started looking for landscapers and there are websites where people showcase their work. We found someone we really liked and contacted her to explain what we were doing. She said, “Sure, I’m in.”

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