Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, August 6, 1999

Photos by Craig. T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Betty Slaughter points out a native hibiscus -- the taller plant at the
back -- and the smaller ma'o, or native cotton in the foreground.
The ohai plant, below, a shrub with little coral-colored flowers,
will be available in abundance.

Rare dryland
plants for sale

IF Liberty House or Neiman Marcus ran a full page ad stating "You don't need any more clothes," they would simply be following the business practice of The Board of Water Supply. It must be the only business in the state that actively discourages the purchase of its product. Water is a finite item on an island, and it needs to be conserved.

The Board of Water Supply's most elegant statement on water conservation is its xeriscape garden at the pumping station at the back of Halawa Valley. "Xeri" is Greek, meaning dry. The garden is landscaped with plants, often natives, that require a minimum of water to survive. It is beautiful, and is open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays

A visit to the garden can be frustrating in that many of the plants growing there are hard to find at nurseries, but tomorrow there will be cuttings and seedlings on sale there. The 11th Annual Halawa Open House and Unthirsty Plant Sale is co-sponsored by the Board of Water Supply and the Friends of Halawa Xeriscape Garden.


Betty Slaughter, who heads the Friends' Wednesday Propagation Group, explained what they do. Basically, it's making little ones out of big ones. "We propagate plants by seed, cuttings or division, either from the garden here or from our own gardens. Our emphasis is on drought-tolerant plants. We weed, we clean used pots, we make labels to identify plants and keep records. There's also a certain amount of sitting around and talking and having snacks. It's a friendly group, and we welcome anyone who wants to work along with us. Just show up at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday."

The first piece of advice in planning a water-saving garden is to limit the lawn. Plant grass only where you need it -- where you want to walk on it, because grass alone seems to be the ground cover that will survive foot traffic. But it requires the greatest amount of watering, and by eliminating unneeded lawn you will save water.

Then look into xeriscape plants for landscaping. These include many popular flowering trees, shrubs and vines. Native plants, which have grown in the wild on natural rainfall, do best. Although these plants cut time and money spent watering, they still require pruning, weeding, fertilization and pest control. A xeriscape garden is not maintenance free.

The potted xeriscape plants in the Halawa nursery, for example, have to be watered either by rainfall or hose regularly because a plant in a pot is not the same as a plant in the ground. Potting soil is made for fast drainage, unlike garden soil, and does not retain moisture. "Xeriscape plants should be grouped together in the garden," Slaughter added, "because if you mix them in with thirsty plants, something will get too much or too little water and won't survive."


Bullet When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. tomorrow
Bullet Where: Board of Water Supply's Halawa Shaft and Xeriscape Garden, 99-1268 Iwaena St. Park on the street and catch the free shuttle bus.
Bullet Admission: Free
Bullet Call: 527-6148
Bullet Note: The garden is open to the public, free of charge, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.Guided tours are free on Thursdays and the last Saturday of the month; call 527-6113 for an appointment.

In response to the demand at previous plant sales, Slaughter's group has propagated lots of ohai, an endangered plant that has been grown from cultured stock and can be legally sold. A member of the pea family, it has lovely little coral flowers, and grows as a low shrub.

Kului is grown for its leaves, and Slaughter says not to judge it from the way it looks in a pot. "The undersides of the leaves are covered with a silvery down, and the upper sides are deep green. In a moderate breeze and full sun, the leaves flutter like little sheets of silver. It makes a gorgeous bush."

Another good choice for light winds is the Israeli vitex, which has blue flowers and leaves to match. Small branches of the blue-green leaves last about a week when cut and arranged in water in a vase.

Most of the plants mentioned so far are quite easy to grow, but for gardeners who want a challenge, the sale will offer the native Hawaiian gardenia, nau. Its fragrant white flowers are about an inch in diameter, and grow on a tall shrub with shiny leaves. It once grew abundantly in the lowland dry forests, but is now close to extinct there. It has been legally propagated, and it is hoped that its numbers will increase through cultivation in home gardens.

If you are a bromeliad fan, you'll find bargains. "We have lots of them, and because they aren't in flower, we don't know exactly what they are, so we're selling them as is for as little as two for $1," Slaughter said. No refunds or exchanges, but they all look healthy.

At least two of the sale offerings can be used in the kitchen. Garlic chives are great in salads and stir fry, and Thai ginger was recently mentioned in Gourmet magazine as a requisite for Thai cuisine. Both probably do best in pots, since they are apt to get away from you when planted in the garden.

There is no parking in the garden, but a free bus will run from Iwaena Street. Wear light clothes, it's hot there, and sensible shoes.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

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Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
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