In The Garden
Friday, December 14, 2001

By Suzanne Tswei

Lyon Arboretum hosts an holiday luncheon for volunteers. Shown is one of the flower center pieces that are prized by the garden enthusiasts who lend their time to the gardens.

Dedicated arboretum volunteers
harvest reward of a
yummy yule feast

The rewards of gardening are many. A manicured green lawn, a burst of luscious colors in the flower bed, tender and healthful vegetables fresh off the vines. Once in a while, the rewards may include a glimpse of elusive native Hawaiian songbirds and butterflies.

But Baked Salmon en Croute, spicy Sri Lankan chicken curry, oven-roasted turkey plus all the trimmings, and cake and ice cream? If you are one of the dedicated volunteers at Lyon Arboretum, the holiday feast is a guaranteed bonus every year for a job well done.

"Our luncheon buffet is quite famous," says Jill Laughlin, arboretum educational specialist. "It's not the reason people come here and put in hours of work, but I think it's something they look forward to at the end of the year."

The holiday buffet luncheon has been a tradition for many years, although no one remembers quite how many. In the beginning it was a more modest affair put together by the arboretum staff and board members. In recent years it has grown more elaborate thanks to noted island chef Kusuma Cooray, who lends her culinary skills for free.

Lyon Arboretum and Lyon Arboretum Association

Place: 3860 Manoa Road
Time: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed on state holidays
Call: 988-0456

One of the special touches Cooray, once the personal chef to the late tobacco heiress Doris Duke and former chef at Willow's restaurant in Moiliili, brought is her Sri Lankan chicken curry. It's not a traditional holiday dish, but it was a big hit the first time it appeared on the table.

"We can run out of everything, but not the chicken curry. It's the most popular -- that and the baked salmon," Cooray said.

This year, Cooray and her students from Kapiolani Community College prepared two whole salmons, each stuffed with mushrooms and spinach. The salmons were encrusted in pastry dough and baked to a fluffy crust. The fish delicacy was served with a minty green sauce for the buffet last week.

"This is a token of appreciation to show how much we value the volunteers. They really are the backbone of this place," said arboretum director Alan Teramura.

As a research facility of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the 193.5-acre botanical garden has world-renowned collections of native Hawaiian species and palms, along with plants collected from around the world and ethnobotanical displays.

A the Lyon Arboretum holiday luncheon for volunteers are, from left, Mitzi Kawaharada, Winifred Maekawa, Mary Awaya, Ellen Yabusaki and Minnie Song.

The arboretum's research and education programs in the conservation of rare and endangered plants have helped ensure the survival of Hawaii's dwindling native species. However, the arboretum has had to struggle with shrinking funding, and its staff of 10 has had to rely on volunteers to help perform a myriad of duties.

Every year, about 600 people volunteer at the arboretum, many of them from organizations such as youth and church groups who come for one-day service projects. Of the 600, about 250 are repeat volunteers who show up regularly to help clear trails, guide tours and do other chores. The repeat volunteers are treated to the annual luncheon, which is by invitation only and includes tropical flower arrangements and artwork as special prizes.

"This is a great place to meet people who are interested in the same things. People meet and become friends for years and years," said Gwen Ihrig, who served as president of the arboretum association last year. She was a chief coordinator for the feast this year.

The association is a nonprofit support organization for the arboretum. It helps raise funds and provides volunteers for the research facility. Membership begins at $10 for students, and the members enjoy discounts and other benefits.

Volunteers are needed in a number of areas:

>> Garden and greenhouses: For plant propagation, maintenance and special projects such as the new Children's Garden.

>> Book and gift shop: For sales and other duties in the store, which offers a wide selection of gifts and garden tools as well as books on botanical, children's and culinary subjects.

>> Hui Hana: A craft group that creates unique products for sale, including the arboretum's popular jams and jellies made from exotic fruits. The group also makes lei and wreaths, and no experience is necessary.

>> Plant sale: Help staff the popular plant sales, which are well known for the variety and rarity of the plants.

>> Children's education: Includes programs for school tours, children's hands-on activities in the garden and classes. "Art in Nature's Garden," an art exhibit by children visiting the arboretum, begins today at the arboretum and runs through Jan. 3. The exhibit includes leaf collages, watercolors, photography and Japanese poetry that were inspired by the children's field trip to the arboretum.

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Suzanne Tswei's gardening column runs Saturdays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin,
500 Ala Moana, Suite 7-210, Honolulu, HI, 96813
or email

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