Katoscapes wins President's Trophy for

'Seamless' Landscape

California Landscaping Magazine 9/06 issue

"For me, every project is a process of unfolding…..myself, and the site and my client. It's all integrated", says David Kato of Katoscapes in San Jose. As he does on all his projects, Kato uses his ability to tap into what he calls the true nature of the site to design and install the landscape that won CLCA's 2005 State of California President's trophy Award. It's the honor given to the best entry from all residential categories.

"Obviously this is a gift given to me by my creator", he says as he talks about his design process. "I don't feel like it's anything I have conceived on my own. It's like I have information downloaded from a power greater than me, and I go along for the ride. It's almost effortless when I don't try to control or manage it with my mind-then the creativity flows freely through me."

As a consequence, Kato's landscapes appear seamless. There are no abrupt transitions between path and garden or water feature and pool. It's as though nature itself is at work on the site placing trees, rocks, plants, and paths. Because Kato's design process is so free flowing, features are not always installed the way they initially appeared. "I know that may drive other contractors and other crafts crazy, but since I run the whole show, I have the ability to change things," Kato says. " I guess for me, it's not about the money so much, because I know that I can make money. It's more about tapping into the creativity and allowing that to express itself."

Kato acknowledges he hasn't always had that kind of freedom. And he cherishes the privilege of working for clients who allow him to fully engage his unique methods. "It was very much about the money in the very beginning," he says looking back at the early years of his career and his business. He founded Katoscapes in 1983. "Money was very important, probably my first seven or eight years. What was also important was to be acknowledged by my peers and that was ego-driven, that I felt the need to win awards and have others look at me in a different light. When I enter now, it's because it allows me to do the type of work that I do." In other words, his work in combination with the professional recognition he's received, attracts clients looking for precisely the type of creativity he offers.

"Even when I give them a price, if I decide to change the process of building these things, the net result is that I don't need to make a lot of money," he says. "I ' not here to leave a legacy of what I've accomplished. I just try to live in the moment and build these projects and be enthuses and joyful about it, and that's the way I want it to be."

And that's the way it was on this project, which was a renovation of a 1.7-acre private residential estate surrounding a Mediterranean-style home in Los Gatos. Katoscapes landscaped just under an acre.

"I think that once they (the clients) saw the process unfold in front of them, they got very excited, and they were adding tons of work. For me, I'd rather operate with both of my hands free, rather than with one hand tied behind my back, and I don't think a lot of companies get that freedom to be able to express their creativity in that way. I've been blessed…blessed that I can do that".

Of course, along with blessings come challenges. On this project, Kato took one of those challenges and turned it into an opportunity for growth and learning. His clients were working with a feng shui expert, which at first, Kato says, he found a little intimidating. "They've had various design teams involved in the house, and (the feng shui consultant and I) collaborated on the exterior and the garden. At first I was thinking, 'Maybe this guy knows more than I do'. Basically it catapulted me to start looking at some things. I think I was suing many of the principals of feng shui intuitively, and I am currently in a curriculum to become a certified feng shui consultant. So that's the way one thing leads to another…if I listen."

And so. Kato listened. "There was a water feature, which in conception was 75 feet long and flowing away from the house, and that's not good feng shui. It was taking energy from the house because the water was moving away, and it wasn't contained. So we downsized the water feature and developed a circular pool with fish and plants and circular seating around it." Today, a path that leads away from the circular water feature connects to a space where the client does tai chi and qigong exercises. "That area is pretty interesting because it is more of a Japanese garden

In the way that the stones are set in place and the types of plant material we used. There is also a circular stone bench about 14 feet long.

The site is on a hillside and features retaining walls of Sedona flagstone. "There's quite a bit of stone work on site, including custom sized pieces of limestone we brought by boat from France. All of this stonework…seat walls and retaining walls, fit together like a puzzle and were ordered precut to accomplish this. We used two different masons, as well as my own crew for the stonework. We built some retaining walls to terrace the site, and when I look at the retaining walls in terms of feng shui principals, it's to slow down energy as well as contain it. That's something retaining walls can do. Slow the energy down and contain it on the site. That's also the reason why trees are planted….to contain the energy on site.

Feng shui principals were also used in the design of the pathways through the property. "A lot of the paths are meandering", Kato says. "In feng shui, we don't really want to deal with a lot of straight lines in the garden. A lot of path systems and a lot of walls are curvilinear."

There are a number of specialty garden areas on the site. On the lower shelf of the property is a vegetable/herb garden made up of 6 by 18 foot raised planters.

"That's set into the hillside on a raised 3 foot tall retaining wall, and then below that is a fruit tree area, which is also terraced." Kato explains

Because his projects "unfold", Kato says he can detach from the desire to know the end result ahead of time. "What I try to do is let the client know that they can 'go along for the ride'. We've lost that part of us. We had it when we were kids. We were spontaneous. We were always in the 'now', and I think it's easy to loose that spontaneity. We don't have to know how this thing is ultimately going to turn out because it's evolving, and I think it's important to try to be free with that and see where it takes you. Some clients can do that."

And so can some landscapers, which makes for project excellence all the way around.

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