Li Vellinga, owner and operator of California Gardens, a landscape design and consultation firm on the San Francisco Peninsula, started her career in the nursery industry. With ten years experience as part owner of a successful home and garden center, San Carlos and Los Altos Garden Supply, she decided to start California Gardens with a partner in 1991.

As California Gardens grew, the business demanded more time and attention. Li sold her ownership in the nursery and began to concentrate full time on building California Gardens. Her partner, who needed to spend more time with her growing children, sold her shares to Li in 1995. Thus, Li became the sole owner of California Gardens on the very date that marked the 15th anniversary of her arrival from Sweden.

Li enjoyed designing gardens for both commercial and residential projects. She also stayed busy being involved as a board member on a college advisory board, several trade associations and also by teaching horticulture at local city classes. She won "Best Visual Exhibition" for her garden design at the Gardens-by-the-Bay trade show in 1995 and a "People’s Choice Award" for her "Contemplation Garden" at the 1998 San Francisco Garden Show at the Cow Palace. The business kept growing and Li began hiring employees and occupying professional office space.

How SCORE helped. 

September 11th, 2001 drastically changed the business for California Gardens, causing the 4-month backlog schedule to evaporate as clients cancelled their landscaping plans. Li turned to SCORE for help and arranged her first on-site consultation session with mentor John Edwards. A tough, detailed review of her financial overhead resulted in recommendations to close her Belmont office, become a home-based business, and utilize contractors as needed—but only when their contribution would generate revenues.

"To lay off my employees and terminate the office lease was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do and it took some time before I could bring myself to do it. John has been a tremendous help in guiding me in both financial and emotional business decisions during those difficult times. The stability of his regular consulting sessions, his understanding of the process needing time, along with his consistent support and encouragement, has served as an anchor for me".

At the one-year anniversary of the mentoring program with SCORE, John Edwards has guided California Gardens toward a 350% increase of net income from last year. Substantially lowering the business overhead and developing a more focused business approach led to this remarkable turnaround. With such a positive turn of events, Li is once again enjoying the feeling of success, accomplishment and inspiration.

"There was a lot I had taken for granted. Unforeseen circumstances forced me to acknowledge the importance of being prepared for the worst, even when things are good. I intend to utilize the wonderful support from SCORE as long as I stay in business".

California Gardens