By Norman Bezona
University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service
We say “Lucky Live Hawaii” and “Hawaii no ka oi.” We say “live Aloha,” but do we really accept these concepts in our every day lives?
Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on our blessings, and with New Year’s resolutions right around the corner, it is a time to put these concepts into every day practice.
After a recent trip to Southeast Asia, I was really impressed with folks in Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. In recent years, they have faced tsunamis, floods and political bloodshed. Yet they seem to be thankful for what little they have.
Coming back to the USA, I was acutely aware of a general sense of political polarized negativity.
Most of this impression came from the national media and not from our local media. It did make me acutely aware just how special Hawaii is.
Growing up in Hawaii with Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Moslems, Jews and other spiritually guided folks makes it easier to appreciate our diversity. We have almost every culture and ethnicity represented in our population.
To our credit, we have produced America’s first hapa haole president and first Hindu to Congress. And speaking of Congress, let us not forget that we gave America its first Japanese and Hawaiian congressmen!
This diversity is Hawaii’s contribution to America.
In many ways, it is also reflected in our Hawaiian gardens.
Where else in the U.S. but in the makai areas of Hawaii can a person harvest pineapples, citrus, mangoes, papayas, bananas and avocados throughout the year, and in the mauka areas enjoy apples, plums, strawberries and peaches?
A garden in Hawaii is more than just a place to pick luscious fruit, it is an extension of the home. It’s an outdoor living room that colorfully changes each day with the blooming of hibiscus, bougainvilleas, jacarandas and orchids.
Day and night, enjoyment of the outside living-room is heightened by the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine, gardenias, gingers, and other less well known exotics. Folks who like annuals keep up a barrage of color with impatiens, salvia, petunias, zinnias and marigolds. Colorful clashes like this are excelled only by multicolored croton and ti beds.
Gardening here is different than anywhere else in the United States. Plants such as philodendrons, palms and orchids often grow with little care both in the yard and in the wilds.
Our native plant life is a unique blend of tropical, subtropical and northern species. In a typical lowland wooded area, you can often find hala and ohia shading endemic ferns and peperomias. In higher elevations, we have trees with branches festooned in ferns and lichens.
Many of these plants came to Hawaii by way of the ocean currents, migrating birdlife and Polynesians. But most of the plants we find in gardens today were brought in by plant enthusiasts from the Orient, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Americas. Some introductions found their new home so ideal that they went “wild” or naturalized. The coffee, mango, avocado, kukui, macadamia, coconut and guava are just a few examples.
At any rate, we have a vast variety of plants from which to choose when landscaping our homes, businesses and communities.
In having this tremendous plant palette, we must know more about the growth habits and requirements of plants on our farms and in our gardens. What grows well in Kailua-Kona may do poorly in Hilo. Elevation affects temperature and, of course, temperature affects the way plants grow. So, our island is not quite perfect for each and every plant. The temperature seldom goes above 90 degrees or below 50 degrees, but there is an occasional frost in our high mountain areas. And above 8,000 feet, frost may occur any night of the year.
The soil varies from beach sand to the deep volcanic soils and may be acid or sweet. When choosing plants, we must consider our particular location, and choose our plants accordingly.
If we live makai, we can grow all the coconuts, mangoes, papaya, bananas and other tropical fruits we and our neighbors could ever use. If we live higher inland (500 to 1,500 feet) and on the acid soils, we can grow many of the tropical fruits and ornamentals, plus some of the northern plants like persimmons, azaleas and maybe even peaches and apples.
The richer soils enable us to grow the finest vegetables and flower gardens imaginable. We take it for granted, but how lucky we are to pick a bouquet of roses, a basket of tomatoes and fresh green leafy vegetables in June or November.
The differences in design of local gardens are almost as great as the variations of plants. Some folks landscape to give a pantropical effect by using lots of palms, bananas, heliconias, orchids, bamboos and bromeliads.
To the other extreme we have gardens with the desert look. This is done by using yuccas, agaves, cactus and rock. Some of the most beautiful public and private gardens found anywhere in the tropics are within an easy drive.
In cooler sections we can create the tropical montane effect with pines, podocarpus and even redwood trees. Of course, we can also focus on native plants by planting only native species.
Our rural family farms, and landscaping around any neighborhood, can give you ideas on what to do with your little “piece of paradise.” Gardening is great for everyone. In Hawaii, gardening is a family affair and now is a great time to give thanks for the diversity of our people and the gardens we create.
This Thanksgiving, let’s all resolve to plan, plant and work together. Let’s celebrate our many blessings and look for the good qualities in one another. Hopefully, then can we help make this a better world.
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. To assist you, many books are available at local libraries, garden centers and books stores. Check out the University of Hawaii website for gardening publications available.