By Julie Camp—Designers Illustrated Magazine

"Engaging a real landscape designer is a life-changing experience," says David Kato of Katoscapes in San Mateo, who looks at gardens as fine art with philosophical foundations. "A garden should be more than just a pretty space. Successful landscapes come from a deeper plane." David explains that decision-making in developing gardens is determined outside himself, that he is merely a "channel" or "vessel" through which creative energy happens. The landscape site dictates what should be done or manipulated.

I listen to clients and feel the space, he says. "The garden is never done exactly the way it is first conceived. It evolves." A Katoscape is not a European garden, geometrically oriented and decorated with columns and statues. European gardens are dictated strictly by man’s vision. Formula. He gently says, "My landscapes are part of a total picture, not separated from nature. They are integral to the surroundings…yes, influenced by Eastern thinking.

For example, in boulder usage…these floating stones might represent sea life or something else from fantasy. They interact with other elements – sculpture, water features and plantings – to set the tempo or rhythm of the landscape. Together all elements must be in harmony with one another and with the owner, creating a musical plane.

"Each garden has a personality and ‘life force’ beyond what I can express or do. It’s this energy, coupled with that of the client that keeps me going. Fortunately I was given the tools to do this kind of work. I just try to listen to my ‘inner voice.’
David cites a recent experience with one client: "I always allow a stone to say what it wants to say. This author/client asked me what I saw in her stone. I said it portrayed a cloudy day, a pinnacle…animals in the distance. I showed her what led me to make this interpretation and explained that the stones told me where to place them. After the stones were set to interact with one another, she said she could visualize the images and could feel the energy they emitted. It’s fun…gratifying…to see clients get in touch with unknown feelings and visions." He explains that he can see each garden – entire landscapes – in five…seven…ten years and that the parts evolve in time and with a person’s ability to understand as the garden takes on new meaning in time.
David Kato’s background is particularly interesting. He was born and raised in San Mateo. He studied Horticulture at the College of San Mateo and then studied Landscape architecture in the U.C. extension program. He explains, "I am a California Certified Nurseryman, an active member of the California Landscape Contractor’s Association and have owned my own business since 1983, but early on I discovered that I was not suited to classroom learning…I couldn’t sit still. An instructor at Berkeley asked me, "What are you doing here?" I told him I wanted to finish school. He said, "I think you should get out there and make money. You’re ready!" So I did.

"I learned by trial and error and from a mentor at the Springdale Garden Center in San Jose. I listened to my own inner voice and to what my clients told me. I am always trying to advance the profession to the art form I believe it could be or become. "I networked for prospective clients to develop what I do today…only custom residential landscape design/build. My peers recognize my firm as being a provider of high quality landscape design, installation and maintenance, with a specialty in water effects such as boulder placement, natural waterfalls, streams, pools and spas. No duplications. Each landscape design is unique to the site. I am a perfectionist, whether it’s conditioning the soil or placing the material.

"Most clients contact my firm because they’ve visited other completed landscape sites I’ve done and something clicks. Life force, energy…sometimes status. They want all of this for themselves. I do not measure my successes monetarily, but rather by my ability to draw my clients into seeing the ‘life force’ that exists within their garden space."

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