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In The Garden
Friday, March 9, 2001

By Suzanne Tswei

By F.L Morris, Star-Bulletin
As Mercedes Rabago looks on, her husband Lucio Rabago
examines a large in-bloom Cattleya orchid which they
will be taking to the Kunia orchid show to exhibit.

Sharing a passion
for orchids

ON a lazy afternoon in 1959, Mercedes Rabago sent her husband fishing to get him out of her hair. She went to the carnival in Aiea by herself and promptly fell in love with a prize-winning orchid, a vanda with big showy purple blossoms.

"Oh, it was a beautiful orchid. I wanted that plant but I had to wait until after midnight to get that plant," Rabago said.

She paid $100 for it, outbidding a man who also waited for hours for the orchid auction. It was the beginning of her obsession with orchids.

Bullet What: 47th Annual Kunia Orchid Show
Bullet When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 16 and 17 , 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 18
Bullet Where: Del Monte Kunia Gymnasium
Bullet Cost: $2
Bullet Call 623-8585
Bullet Lectures & Demonstrations: On March 16, intergenerics at 11 a.m. and, honohono orchid culture at 1:30 p.m. March 17, Sogetsu ikebana at 11 a.m. and anthurium culture at 1 p.m.

Since then Rabago and her husband, Lucio, have collected orchids from the Philippines, Southeast Asia and Florida. The couple has a 3,000-foot-plus green house at their Aiea Heights home and thousands of exotic orchid plants.

The Rabagos will be selling plants from their extensive collection at the 47th Annual Kunia Orchid Show next week .

The show, with participation by seven gardening organizations, will feature orchid and ikebana displays, and judging for the best orchids. A large selection of orchids, anthuriums, other tropical plants, gardening supplies and food will be for sale.

In addition there will be lectures, demonstrations, hourly door prizes and a basket of orchid plants and gifts for the 2001st visitor.

Over the years the Rabagos have won countless prizes for their orchids, but they do not plan to enter the competition at the Kunia show.

"We've been to so many orchid shows, joined so many clubs. I am doing the show for fun," Mercedes Rabago said.

Callman Au, chairman of the Kunia show, said the Rabagos' perennial participation in flower shows and clubs have made them perhaps the best known backyard orchid growers on Oahu.

"When I started going to orchid shows, I kept seeing the name "Rabago.' They are everywhere. Everybody knows who they are," Au said.

One of the reasons for their popularity is their generosity with their plants. Whenever the Rabagos collected a specimen of a new plant, they passed out cuttings and seedlings to their friends and other growers.

The same year Rabago fell in love with the purple vanda, she and her husband took their first trip to the Philippines to collect orchids. They have brought back to Hawaii hundreds of varieties of unusual orchids.

Back then travelers were free to import plants without restrictions, Rabago said. They went into the jungle to collect plants and brought them home in large cardboard boxes without having to go through agricultural inspections.

"We could bring whatever we wanted, as many as we wanted. There were lots and lots of orchids we saw in the jungle, and they were all free," Rabago said.

One of the rare plants they collected was ceratostylis rubra, an unassuming orchid with succulent-like leaves and small, bright brick-red flowers.

"That plant isn't so rare anymore. My husband, he gave everybody cutting," Rabago said.

Her husband's generosity eventually resulted in his and hers greenhouses. Rabago simply fenced off a portion of the big greenhouse and put up a gate and a lock for her portion.

The rules are simple: Her husband may go into her greenhouse to help her tend her orchids but he must not smoke or give away cuttings without her permission. (Smoking is hazardous to orchids as well as to humans. Tobacco carries a disabling virus that may be damaging to orchids.)

Rabago's rules about orchids are simple, too: Soap operas take precedence over orchid chores, and a little watering goes a long way.

"Too much water is not good. But orchids are easy. I like to keep orchids because they don't talk back, and they are beautiful," she said.

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Suzanne Tswei's gardening column runs Fridays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin,
500 Ala Moana, Tower Seven, 2nd floor, Honolulu, HI, 96813
or email

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