Landscape artists re-create nature

WAILUA — Peace and tranquility come at no extra charge for clients of Custom Landscaping’s hand-crafted ponds.

Also called water features, the customized ponds offer a piece of nature for the home or office.

The Wailua-based family business is run by Bruce Horka, a 36-year Kaua‘i resident, and sons Tairoy, 23, and Travis, 26. Custom Landscaping has been around for 26 years and working with water features for about 15.

Horka, who used to own a restaurant on-island, said he is self-taught when it comes to the ponds. After more than a decade of perfecting the technique, the business boasts a completely individualized product for each customer.

“Every (pond) has a unique look to it,” Horka said. “It’s kind of like an artist’s drawing.”

According to Tairoy Horka, the company does not use standardized molds or models.

“If someone wanted me to make it look the same (as another design), I don’t think I could,” he said.

Horka has three ponds at his Wailua home, one of which surrounds the pool and blends in with the canyon abutting his backyard.

Water flows from two points on opposite sides, navigating the rocks and plants as it makes it way into the crystal blue pool, filtering it along the way.

A medium-size pond, blending in with the surrounding landscaping, greets guests at the front of the home. Still another pond, the smallest of the three, is located on the side of the house

In each pond — camouflaged amongst the ferns, lily pads, koi fish and lava rock — is a concrete base designed with custom coloring and markings to blend right in with the real stuff.

Horka said his team uses a “stamp,” or sheet with indentations, and dyes to shape the concrete and re-create a stone look. Down to every last scratch, bump and curve, attention to detail is evident when trying to decipher the carefully positioned real lava rocks from the faux stone — a task that becomes more difficult with time.

Travis Horka said the water features look better — more worn and natural — with age. As moss starts to grow and the surrounding plants fill it, the ponds take on an increasingly life-like appearance.

Not all designs include a pond. In fact, the company’s “pondless ponds” consist of mini-waterfalls that re-rout water back into the filtration system, instead of allowing it to pool.

A client down the road from Horka’s home called Custom Landscaping to renovate an existing water feature near the entrance to his house and extend it across the entire front.

Intersecting the pathway to the front door are two little streams that flow from one pond to the other. Flowers, palms and ferns lie on either side of the path, adding to the impression that you are hopscotching a river bed

Beyond the design, what really sets his business apart from others, Horka said, is that he and his staff truly care about the customers.

“It matters more here for us in our souls and our hearts than it does in our pockets,” Horka said of his work.

And that’s no lie.

When Kaua‘i Hospice omitted landscaping from its operating budget last year, Horka, a friend of the executive director, stepped in to donate time and materials.

The recently completed project at the hospice’s Lihu‘e site — which he said was built “with nothing but love” — not only includes manicured lawns and gardens but a custom pond as well.

Liana Soong, development and community liaison for the hospice, said the pond — called “ho‘omaluhia,” which means to cause or give peace — was requested as a last wish by a dying patient.

Now the garden serves as a place for residents and family members to reflect as well as a soothing site to hold outdoor meetings.

“Everybody who comes here to the garden is just amazed,” Soong said.

Big projects such as that one can take up to eight months, as the concrete needs to cure and each design is customized to the space and client’s wishes.

Prices start at about $6,000, which is in large part due to the low-energy filtration system, but can increase to $50,000 depending on the scale of the project.

Horka said filtration is an essential part of the minimal maintenance required with the ponds, particularly those home to fish.

A sure sign of a poorly filtered pond is green, murky water.

Keeping its mini-ecosystem balanced is key to its longevity, and Horka recommends that the filtration system remain on for most of the day with smaller ponds and 24 hours with larger ones. Some of the designs include water lines to keep levels even.

With about 15 people on staff, ponds are just one small aspect of the full-service landscaping business that spans design, construction and maintenance.

For more information on Custom Landscaping’s services, visit www.customlandscaping.ws, or call 822-3911.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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