Out of the Wild

Hokuahi Lawns clears an overgrown yard.

Article by Lance Tominaga, Photos by David Croxford, Featured Landscape Designer: Gary Shinn, of Hokuahi Lawns

Issue Date:  (Wed) May 27, 2009


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With 30-plus years as a licensed professional landscaper, Gary Shinn thought he had seen it all: big yards, small ones, fixer-uppers and total renovations. When he first stepped onto this Mililani property, however, he could only manage a two-word assessment: “Oh, gosh.”

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Although Gary Shinn and his crew at Hokuahi Lawns cleared away most of the excess vegetation, a Staghorn fern was salvaged at the homeowner's request. The fern adorns the base of a backyard date palm.

“There were just so many trees and vegetation,” Shinn recalls. “You couldn’t even see the lanai, and I had no idea that there was a road along one side of the house. Everything was just an overgrown, congested mess.”

It was a prime example of a yard that had simply grown out of control due to lack of maintenance. When the homeowner passed away last fall, her son returned from San Francisco to oversee the property’s renovation. Taking a three-month leave of absence, the son handled a lot of the interior improvements, including installing new carpeting and repainting the house, but he entrusted the landscaping work to Shinn and his staff at Hokuahi Lawns.

First, the crew worked to clear the large yard. “It’s easily 10,000 square feet,” says Shinn. They removed an unruly tangle of trees, including a mango tree and a banyan tree.

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This attractive border is a Hokuahi Lawns specialty, handmade right on the job site. Homeowners often request it.

“The son wanted to open up the yard and have a big, beautiful lawn area,” says Shinn.
With the excess vegetation cleared away, he began adding alluring, subtle details to transform the yard into a tropical-themed oasis. He replaced the old, rectangular deck area with an attractive freeform deck, crafted from Fireplace, a natural stone offered at Marblehaus Hawaii. “I like to work with curves,” Shinn says, “just to break up some of the straight angles that become monotonous at times.”

In addition, the grass that crept up against the house gave way to a 1-foot gravel border installed around most of the structure. “This is something every homeowner should do,” Shinn advises. “The border keeps the vegetation and water off the house.”

Shinn originally planned to install Saint Augustine grass in the yard, but was pleased when the new homeowner professed his dislike of the coarseness of the grass. Instead, the Hokuahi crew hydro-mulched El Toro zoysia, a sturdy-yet-soft grass with a deep-root structure. “All the way around, this is the best grass to go with,” offers Shinn. “It’s hardy and chokes out the weeds. If you have a big dog that likes to run around the yard, this is perfect for it.”

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The natural-looking stepping stones that lead to the lanai, says Shinn, are made on site and can be fashioned in custom shapes and sizes. Shinn likes to work with curves to break up the monotonous straight lines that you see on most properties.

An eye-catching assortment of tropical foliage, including colored ti, red ginger, heliconia and dwarf lawai fern now borders the perimeter of the property. Other plantings, such as areca and Manila palms, provide privacy from the busy road behind the yard.

 “We’re known for these borders,” Shinn explains. “The stepping stones are also made right on site; we can custom make them to any size and shape. Here, the stones were done to tie the entrance area to the outside lanai.”

Though they removed much of the original landscaping, the homeowner opted to salvage one very important Staghorn fern.

“Evidently, this was something that he fondly remembered as a kid growing up here,” says Shinn. “He asked us if we could save it somehow, so we took it and strapped it to this date palm. We had originally tossed it aside, so I wasn’t sure if it would come back. But it has grown back nicely.”

An automatic sprinkler system was also installed, along with high-grade lighting fixtures that create a dramatic setting at night.

Hokuahi Lawns also addressed the front entry area, once populated by overgrown octopus plants that had damaged the driveway. Shinn replaced the octopus plants with less intrusive Manila palms. He even fashioned a new mailbox for the homeowner, replacing the termite-eaten wooden structure with a hollow-tile block set in concrete and a molding skin. “We stained it to give it a more natural look,” says Shinn.

The result? The new owner’s yard is designed just the way he wanted it.
“He was extremely happy,” says Shinn. “The yard is more open, yet privacy is still maintained. We took a property that was a little bit different, and we turned it into something that the homeowner can take full advantage of.”
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