Words by Kate Daly
Alongstanding pillar in Peninsula landscaping is in transition as Terry Lyngso, the last leader of the family-run business, prepares to sell Lyngso Garden Materials to the company’s dozens of employees. How does it feel to let go of so much history? “It’s hard,” admits Terry, who began working at Lyngso when she was in junior high.
Initially intending to become a special education teacher, Terry, at 23, instead took on the running of Lyngso’s onsite concrete batch plant. In the 1980s, she stepped up to the role of president when her parents retired to travel around the country in their motorhome.
Now 95, her dad, founder John Lyngso, claims that the business originated back in 1936, when he was an eight-year-old living in San Francisco. As John recounted to Terry, he and a friend built a cart and went into the hills to collect “meadow muffins from the cows and sold them to the gardeners in the neighborhood.”
Later on, when Terry’s Danish grandfather, a carpenter, started building homes in Belmont, John excavated the sites and bought land in San Carlos to store the dirt. John also did grading and worked on the 101 freeway. After a contractor asked him to haul in some quartz pebbles and they sold out right away, John brought in more products and set up a company in 1953.
“The focus was always on the landscape contractor and homeowner,” Terry says. “My mom worked in the sales office, took deliveries and answered the phone, and dad did the deliveries. They worked all the time when we [three girls] were little. Fortunately, we lived next door to my grandparents.”
Both families lived in Belmont, not far from the Lyngso business, which operated on what are now runways at SFO. In 1969, airport expansion triggered the Lyngso Garden Materials’ move to Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City. In 2015, Lyngso uprooted again to its current location on Shoreway Road in San Carlos. Terry calls it a great space with more than five acres to showcase all of their sand, gravel, concrete, stone, soil, compost and mulch mixes, garden ornaments, tools and building materials. A small display garden is set up near the bioswale demonstration area that illustrates how runoff stormwater from the parking lot can be captured and filtered with plants.
Terry’s personal leanings towards composting and organics influenced the company’s growth. In early 2000, she says she learned “how important having a healthy living soil is. Important to human health, the planet—everything.” She took classes to become a Master Gardener and Master Composter, and started giving educational talks through Lyngso and other outlets. She plans to continue being involved with the UC Master Gardener program when she retires.
What will she miss when she leaves Lyngso? “I’ve always cared about the people,” she reflects, “and the products have always mattered, education has mattered and being part of the community.” In the early days, the company helped support the Japanese Garden in San Mateo’s Central Park. More recently, Lyngso has provided soil mixes to grow vegetables and pollinator plants at local school gardens. Terry is proud of the role Lyngso has played, along with the company’s reputation for having loyal customers and longtime employees. Like Terry, Vic Thomas has also chalked up 50 years with Lyngso, logging numerous trips to China to source stone products.
Unlike Vic and her parents, “My dream is not to go traveling,” Terry shares. “My dream is to dig into the dirt more.” She and her husband live in Loma Mar, where they have “an amazing native garden” with plants such as coffeeberry and Oregon grape. Bobcats, quail, snakes and insects roam the place and she finds the 400-year-old oak tree that anchors the property “quite awe-inspiring.”
Given that her yard is by her own description “wild and messy,” Terry may have bypassed the latest trends she has observed in landscaping. Customers want yards that are “much cleaner and organized, more outdoor living spaces with outdoor kitchens,” she notes, adding that raised-bed vegetable gardens took off when people were stuck at home a few years back. She shares that creating living green roofs and bioswales have also become popular. And recently, she has noticed more people buying red lava rock and sparkling white stones.
“We’re into a little retro right now,” explains John Lettko, Lyngso’s new CEO. “It’s generational, I think, with kids taking over their parents’ homes and bringing back some of the landscaping they grew up with.”
Terry’s tastes tell the opposite story. After growing up in Belmont, she lived in Woodside for a while, then left to pursue more untamed land in Loma Mar. As she anticipates spending more time in her yard, she’s hoping she’ll catch sight of the mountain lion her neighbor saw lounging on the well house one day.