Francis Yamaoka is considered Hawaii’s “Louis Vuitton of Landscaping” because his work is a mark of distinction. If yours is a luxury residence, it’s likely to have a Yamaoka at the entry or in the yard as a major focal point. Having a Yamaoka landscape instantly adds value to the property.
Master landscaper Yamaoka would be the first to sneer at this lofty branding and call it “high mucky-muck” marketing. All he knows is that he has a natural ability for turning outdoor spaces into visual monuments that please clients. He’s been doing it for 34 years.
His is a special niche of clients who know what they like, appreciate fine quality and artistry, and live in an engaging environment. They want to look outdoors and see nature at its finest. It says something about them.
You don’t contact Yamaoka flipping through the Yellow Pages. Like most discreet craftsmen to the affluent and influential, you simply have to know he’s the best at what he does. He does not do bids, subcontracting or any of that showy formality.
Social networking has brought Yamaoka a who’s-who of clients over the years, such as Doris Duke, Clare Booth Luce, the oil-baron Doheny family, Henry Walker, Jimmy Pflueger and many others. You’ll also see his elegant gardens and landscaping at The Willows, Hilton Hawaiian Village Alii Tower, Paradise Cove and The Children’s House at Pacific Palisades.
He completed projects recently at Black Point for broadcast exec Rick Blangiardi, in Kahala for Realtor-sportscaster Artie Wilson and in Nuuanu for developer Stanford Carr.
Yamaoka’s designs incorporate the use of a variety of palms – especially his signature Sago palms – natural rock formations, water features, and perfect lines, form and textures. He offers “Calm with Palm” in landscapes that are contemporary or Asian themed, drawing upon bonsai and feng shui principles.
Yamaoka’s business grew “from the ground up” as a backyard hobby in the 1960s with orchids and bonsai plants. The 71-year-old Yamaoka is grateful for his fame, but says modestly, “I’m a poi dog from Palama. I have no formal training, but people trust my ability to transform an outdoor setting into something that captures their imagination and fantasy.
“If the client doesn’t say oo la la, I’m in trouble,” he quips. But he’s keenly aware of the high standards discerning clients demand. “I’m a professional. I’m not the yard boy,” he states.
It’s a far cry from his carefree days as class clown at Farrington High School and Waikiki beachboy who charmed coeds with his Ohta-san-style ukulele playing. That affable personality led him to Chris, his attractive wife of 42 years, to a successful career as salesman and general manager at Aloha Motors, and eventually to a thriving nursery and landscaping business.
Today, Yamaoka’s home base is his Hawaii Kai nursery, where he is surrounded by all that he loves, including a signature 100-year-old Sago palm. Of his romantic gardens and landscapes, Yamaoka concludes, “The bottom line is it’s gotta be pretty.”