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’s time to put these concepts into everyday practice.
On a recent trip to Southeast Asia, I was impressed with folks in Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. In recent years, they have faced tsunamis, floods and political bloodshed. Yet they seem thankful for what little they have. Coming back to the USA, I was acutely aware of a general sense of politically polarized negativity. Most of this impression came from the national media and not from our local media. It reminded me just how special Hawaii is. Growing up here with Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, 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 (Tulsi Gabbard) 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.
In the U.S., only in Hawaii can a person harvest pineapples, citrus, mangoes, papayas, bananas and avocados throughout the year in makai areas, while enjoying apples, plums, strawberries and peaches in the mauka areas.
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 and gingers. Folks who like annuals can keep up a barrage of color with impatiens, salvia, petunias, zinnias and marigolds. Colorful clashes like this are exceded 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 wild.
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 birds and Polynesians. But most of the plants we find in gardens today were brought in by plant enthusiasts from around the globe. 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 not thrive in Hilo. Elevation affects temperature and temperature affects the way plants grow. 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 deep volcanic soils and may be acidic or sweet. When choosing plants, we must consider our location and choose our plants accordingly. If we live makai, we can grow all the coconuts, mangoes, papaya and bananas we and our neighbors could ever use. If we live higher inland, 500 to 1,500 feet, and on the acidic 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, 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 those 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 we can 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 available gardening publications.