By Norman Bezona
University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension Service
The holidays are a great time to cheer up our gardens and communities with poinsettias, Christmas trees and colorful Christmas lights, but what about the rest of the year?
A strange thing about human nature is that we tend to take for granted the beauty that surrounds us. At the same time we become numb to the trash and mess as well. That is why it is fun and educational to see our islands as a visitor might experience them, or to get away for awhile and then come back home. When you take a serious look at our surroundings, you will start to notice things that really detract from the natural beauty of our blessed islands.
How could this experience be better?
Creative community planning could minimize the impact of industry, cars and asphalt by landscaping with screening shrubs and trees. This would not only be more pleasing to the eye, but could reduce noise, strong winds and supply cooling shade.
In doing so, visitors and residents would benefit by experiencing the kind of Hawaii for which we are known. Maui and Oahu are beautiful by nature, but what is happening there? Can we avoid the same mistakes here?
We have active Outdoor Circles, conservation groups and community organizations that can help with planning direction and resources management. We can also take a moment each day to observe our surroundings and do something to improve them.
For example, gardens need an occasional facelift or change to keep up with life’s wear and tear. It is a good time to make a New Year’s resolution for bettering our lives with beauty. This is especially true with the public view areas.
The entrance and front of your house tells who you are. That’s when folks get their first impression of your home and family. In general, the front should be landscaped so that the entryway is the first and most important thing seen from the street. The exception is, if you want complete protection from a busy street. Then the front garden area becomes private. This also has advantages on smaller lots or when the front is to be used as an extension of the lanai or other living areas.
In most cases, a lawn, ground covers, shrubs and well placed trees are important to a well-landscaped front area. Ground covers and lawn serve as a foundation for the entire landscape picture. They have a cooling effect on the home through transpiration and reduction of reflected heat. They reduce dust, soil tracked into the house, and erosion.
Avoid too much concrete and asphalt. That gives the front area a harsh, barren look. Lawn, trees and foundation plants should help focus attention on the front entryway.
Have you ever gone to someone’s house for the first time and had trouble finding the door? Sometimes the carport is the focal point. The first thing you notice about the house is all the junk that’s piled up where the car should be!
Plants used around the entrance should be selected for year-around effect and should be of a height and size in good proportion with the entrance.
It’s a shame that homes are so seldom designed with the entryway in mind. Since the whole front landscape picture should emphasize the front door area, that area should be a special consideration. For example, the covered entryway is a must in wetter areas of the island or in hot windy locations. This is a good way to keep you and your guests dry when entering or leaving the house.
It also has several other advantages.
A covered entry is protection for the paint and hardware on the door itself. It can provide shade and shelter for plants. And it creates a spot for decorative objects. A covered entry may be all you need to bring tender plants through those windy periods that occasionally spoil our balmy weather. This allows you to use the more tender and striking materials such as orchids, ferns and other special plants.
Trees also play an important role in the landscape. They are used to stabilize and unify the home scene as well as to soften architectural lines. Framing trees should be located to soften the corners and roof of the house, to form patterns against the sky and to focus attention on the house. This can be best accomplished by locating them slightly forward and outside the corners of the house and positioned so the branches partially screen or “break” the corners.
The mature size of trees should be considered in selecting them for landscaping small areas. A large tree on a small lot or near a small house can appreciably reduce the apparent size of the house or area. Small- and medium-sized trees are more desirable for landscaping the average home than are large trees unless careful maintenance is carried out to insure the trees stay in bounds.
Indoor and outdoor areas can be made more enjoyable through the use of deciduous and evergreen trees to control shade during different seasons of the year. Evergreen trees provide year round shade to an area. Deciduous trees are useful in situations where it is desirable to have sun during the winter and shade for the remainder of the year.
When properly located, trees have an appreciable cooling effect on the home. Low-branched trees may materially reduce air movement through the house and grounds. High-branched trees permit free movement of air through the shaded area which cools the air before it reaches the house.
In choosing plants for the public area, remember, they should not be messy types. Some fruiting plants as well as vegetables fall into this category so they should be grown in the private or backyard spots. As usual, there is an exception in landscaping. That is, if you maintain even a messy plant properly, it too can be attractive enough for the front and entry areas.
For some great ideas on creating that special tropical Hawaiian ambiance, check our local bookstores for publications like “Tropical Asian Style,” “Balinese Gardens” and “Tropical Gardens.” To get involved in community landscape action, join one of the several chapters of the Outdoor Circle on the Big Island.
With the resolution to make life more beautiful, have a Happy New Year enjoying your garden.