I got several quotes from several companies. Some of the others would probably be considered more "professional," with better knowledge of the specific plants I had in mind, or a long-term ecosystem-style approach to planning, or detailed formal top-down landscape architecture designs. But Sunset Gardens gave me one of the most competitive bids, and they were by far the best communicators.
I have a large front yard and an even larger back yard. I needed a huge planter full of dead plants removed, the remains of front and back lawns removed and replaced with mulch, four or five trees planted, a variety of drought-tolerant shrubs and flowers added, some tree-trimming, front and back pathways or sidewalks added, and a drip-line irrigation system installed to replace the old "spray as much water into the air as possible" sprinkler system.
One company took a few days to get me a bid and wanted $10k for the project (not including the pathways, which I hadn't figured out I wanted yet), but did not listen to any of my specific needs or requests: they were going to do what they thought was right, cheap, and fast without thinking about my long-term goals. Another company wanted $37k (no joke), and while I'm sure they would have done a fine job, I couldn't afford two cars' worth (and half our family's full year's income) for a project whose number one priorities were removing dead plants and planting some trees; they also left a lot of the specifics vague.
Sunset Gardens got back to me the day I called, came out that afternoon to look at the property, and got me a quote that evening, for less than $13k, with a lot of the specifics nailed down. (They actually gave me several options in terms of size of trees and width of walkways, with specific prices for every option, allowing me room to customize based on my budget and plans.) Most importantly, they listened to everything I had to say about what I wanted. They shared their knowledge and recommendations where I had no specifics in mind, but they didn't ignore my own ideas or desires. It felt like a collaborative process from the very beginning to the very end.
Once they got into it, they recommended removing and replacing several shrubs that were not in great shape, and adding a drain line to get rain water away from where it was pooling near the house and over to the lower end of the yard. These were also not in the original quote, but they pushed this because it was what the yard needed, not for the additional work: for everything beyond the initial bid, they charged me only for the additional materials/plants, not for any of the (extensive) labor.
In the end, we had to get a slightly smaller boxed tree than was initially quoted, which saved me $300. The additional materials and plants cost less than that, so the final price ended up lower than quote.
The only issue I had on the project was the tree-trimming, which was pretty heavy-handed. They're not arborists or professional tree-trimmers, and they won't climb up high enough to surgically remove just the dead limbs; they topped my sycamores pretty severely (losing me some significant summer shade). If the sycamores are all filled in again by this time next year (two are already starting to), then I'll be very happy. If one of the trees dies, I'd have to drop my review to 4 stars, but everything else about the experience was so good that I couldn't go any further.
This is a small family operation (a father and his two sons), but they work _hard_. Some days they went home early; some days they went home _really_ late. They always started promptly around 8am, and they always did a full day's work with significant noticeable progress. They didn't work weekends, but the total project start to finish took less than a month.
They cobbled together the plants I wanted and their own recommendations from at least 6 separate nurseries, ranging from Azusa to Orange to closer to my home in Claremont. Their willingness to go out of their way to make sure we were all happy with the finished product was outstanding.
We've gotten several comments from friends about how great the new front walkway is, and the back walkway is exactly what I needed for my everyday use; both were done in lovely sweeping curves.
Both yards are already a huge improvement over what I had before, but I'm _really_ excited to see it in a year or two, once the trees are providing shade and the one-gallon shrubs and flowers have filled in. They're small now, but already beautiful and attracting butterflies.
My wife and I are really happy. I made sure my mom got their contact information so they could get her a quote for her yards in her new house in Upland. She ended up going with them as well, and is hiring them as regular gardeners as well. They finished my project two days ago, just after signing contracts with her, and started work on her yard. My mom says you already wouldn't recognize her front yard.