It was Shawn Parker’s wife Hilary who first noticed that one of the decks their 2006 Vancouver, Washington, hillside home had already begun to erode, and their middle deck was sliding downward. Despite contacting several different contractors about fixing the decks or building better ones, none of them ever produced a bid for the project or called it impossible because of the steep slope and storm water facility located below the property. Enter Garret Hergert at GRO Outdoor Living of Vancouver who had successfully built his neighbor’s sports court.

“He offered me a good, better, best scenario,” recalls Shawn. “The latter included improving the stamp-sized backyard, which was completely unusable, with only a small patch of grass on a slope so steep the kids couldn’t play in the occasional bouncy house without sliding down the hill!”

Sitting at the family’s kitchen table with a sharpie and paper napkin, Garret sketched out a design for the backyard renovation. After consulting with both a Geotech and Structural Engineers, Garret recommended making a retaining wall that stair steps up the hill to provide support for the infinity pool, spa and sports court system provided and installed by Sport Court of Oregon. Dry rotted support beams required excavating beneath the house, where all manner of debris was discovered buried, to reinforce the supporting beams for the upper deck. In the process, Garret expanded a crawl space to house the pool’s mechanical room, a locker room, and bath. He also added bifold doors that open onto the whole outdoor living space. Finally, he created access to the pool and the previously inaccessible middle deck from the exterior via a steel staircase. “I grew up on our family’s 1912 homestead farm,” says Garret, “so I have a natural knack for pulling spaces together. For this job, we used every nook and cranny we possibly could!”

Duane Homola of Finn Hill Masonry, who has worked with Garret for years, adds his own Finnish ancestral artistry to Garret’s design. “Garret has a vision that’s absolutely unbelievable. He never cuts corners and delivers what he says he will.” Garret calls Duane an old-world masonry craftsman, who chisels every stone together. “My job as a stone mason,” admits Duane, “is to make everything level and straight. Cutting straight, however, is a challenge. You can use panels, but this stone was all cut by hand.”

As complex as this backyard renovation was, Garret says it was exciting for him, because he likes a challenge, solving problems and enhancing people’s lives with a better lifestyle. “No matter what roadblocks I encounter, I figure out a solution by having conversations with others and coming up with a design that best works for the site.”

Shawn says his most exciting moment was watching the concrete being poured as the whole job formed before his eyes – the shape of the pool, the edge you can sit on, the hot tub. “This was a major project,” he says. “Garret’s design enabled us to use every square inch of our property line and tripled the size of our backyard. I can stand on the sports court corner that’s 15' up from where it would have been. Garret Hergert and GRO are simply the best.”


GRO Outdoor Living

Finn Hill Masonry, Inc.

Lisac’s Fireplaces & Stoves

Lakeside Lumber 

SHOPTALK - Garret Hergert

Garret Hergert
Garret Hergert

When did you first become interested in landscape design and what was the journey to eventually building your own firm?

Since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I am a fourth generation farmer. It’s in my DNA. I grew up farming raspberries and commercial fruit, and we also had a poultry farm. My dad was a general contractor and framed houses so I grew up working on the jobsites with him since I was 5 years old. When I was 5 or 6 I started gardening. My grandma and my mom taught me how to germinate seeds and how to garden. I was raising produce and fruit on my own by the time I was 11 years old and selling it at the farmers market in Vancouver. Friends and family were some of my best customers. I was growing hanging baskets and flower pots when I was 10 years old and was selling Mother’s Day baskets at church and the farmer’s market as well. I landscaped my first house at 14 years of age using my parent’s farm equipment and trucks. I was able to do some really cool projects at a young age. I received my Washington business license at 13 years old.

It’s the ultimate question of any project: Where do I begin? How does GRO Outdoor Living begin each project?

We start every project with a site meeting whether it be with one of our GEM’S (Gro experience manager/sales person) or one of our architects and designers, or even the owner. Ultimately every project starts with some sort of design process. Whether it be on a napkin with a sharpie or a CAD drawing.

As you work with a client, how does a final landscaping plan take shape?

We start off with multiple renderings, concepts and designs. The designs are then refined from there onto a final master plan which then turns into construction drawings which are used for building the project. Many times there are changes throughout the project as we collaborate with the client to create the perfect completed collaboration to create that perfect outdoor space.

GRO has been recognized for many award-winning landscape designs, what part of your portfolio of work are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the family’s lives that we have been able to impact while creating these amazing spaces. Our employees and trade partners’ families we sustain through building these projects.

What are some recent product introductions you’ve used or are excited about introducing into a project?

New natural stone products that we have been able to incorporate. We like using new furniture and decking products. New specimen trees that we grow at our own nursery facility.

What are you working on at the moment?

We just completed three outdoor living/pool projects and have dozens of current landscape renovation projects going. We are preparing for one full estate project and multiple pools, and outdoor living spaces projects.

Favorite way to spend a weekend in the PNW?

Being with family, while enjoying the rolling hills of our scenery on the water, fishing, hunting or gardening and hanging out at home on our property. I also enjoy taking my children on a ride through our nursery fields.