Under the Sun
Heliconia, backyard gardens and Mr. Higuchi’s mangoes
Under the "what's old is new" category, list home gardens. Not the kind with showy heliconia and areca palms arranged around dolphin sculptures and putting-green lawns kept free of debris by truly offensive leaf blowers.
The gardens returning to favor consist of soil heaped and furrowed, laid out so plantings capture maximum sunlight or find protection beneath shade cloth, more lovely in their splendid purpose of cultivating food.
New interest in home gardens arrives for a variety of reasons, mostly for environmental concerns with the acknowledged wisdom of sustaining food sources closer to home. Everyone recognizes that buying lettuce transported across an ocean from California makes no sense when finer, fresher salad greens can be had from farms in Lualualei or Waimanalo.
The influence of locavores -- people who advocate eating locally grown -- has sparked the popularity of farmers markets, but as consumers feel the pinch for other basics, such as gasoline and electricity, they are looking for other ways to save.
Some have begun to grow their own. Suburbanites are planting corn, beans and squash in narrow sideyards. Urban dwellers container-garden, setting out pots of micro-greens and tomatoes on lanais and even rooftops. In New York and other cities, vacant tracts are being converted into community gardens, much like those at city-owned plots in Honolulu.
In San Francisco, kale and other veggies have replaced the front lawn of City Hall. There's even a movement to turn grass into garden at the White House when the current occupant -- seen as unsympathetic to the idea -- withdraws to Texas.
Food safety is another issue. A recent bacterial contamination, the source of which the hapless Food and Drug Administration could not trace for months, has consumers wary of giant produce distribution centers. More and more, people want to know the source of the cucumbers and celery in their tuna sandwiches, so much so that they invest in reputable small farms, taking their dividends in carrots and potatoes.
The landed gentry who like the bragging rights home-grown vegetables deliver, but don't want to weed or water themselves, can hire a new breed of gardeners specializing in transforming formal stands of roses and gerbera daisies into arugula and eggplant from seed to harvest.
Time was when most backyards in the islands held vegetable gardens, when houses didn't fill home lots from sidewalk to fence, when trees were planted for fruit rather than decorative landscaping.
One family would give away mustard cabbage and receive tangerines and pomolos; another traded lettuce for lychee. And there were so many mango trees, brown bags of excess fruit would arrive anonymously on the front porch overnight.
Nowadays, housing developments discourage fruit trees and when old houses are razed, usually mature mango trees go down with them. Some trees endure, nurtured by sure hands to produce fruit no factory farm could duplicate.
I know because I am a lucky beneficiary of the summer harvest from Mr. Higuchi's tree. It yields mangoes with a custard-like texture and fragrant, golden sweetness. Vibrant ovoids in red and yellow, inlaid by touches of light green, with a distinctive nub at one end, they are beauties of nature that demand far more admiration than heliconia or palms.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com