Frankie Sekiya's experiment with Golden Glory has been going on for three years. Photo by Terry Luke, Star-Bulletin
Sekiya's business is selling exotic fruit trees to commercial landscapers and home gardeners from his nursery in Waimanalo. He has durian and rambutan, blood oranges and Amazon custard apples, and he used to have weeds.
Between the trees, where the irrigation system doesn't hit, weeds sprung up in the dry earth. He briefly considered wedelia, the T-shirt of Hawaiian landscapes - cheap, minimum upkeep, goes anywhere. But it also climbs, and Sekiya didn't want it on his trees.
"A woman who was doing research on growing pepper visited the orchard several years ago, when we were looking into growing peppercorns here. Pepper vines grow on poles, so if you use a ground cover it has to be one that doesn't compete with the vines. It can't climb.
"She was on her way to South America, and in Brazil she learned about Golden Glory. She sent us some seeds, and we planted them," Sekiya said.
The result, three years later, is a tight, flat mat of green leaves with masses of small, fire engine yellow flowers. Each flower lasts one day, and grows from the top of a skinny 4-inch stem. The flower is somewhat like a small sweetpea.
Sekiya said that he has never fertilized the plants, nor watered them after the first month when he put them into the ground.
Unlike wedelia, which has a hairy leaf that sometimes causes skin irritations, Golden Glory seems to be nonallergenic.
It is also a nitrogen-fixer, harboring in its roots bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air into nitrogen compounds in the soil. Nitrogen maintains a plant's green color and is responsible for good leaf and stem growth. Because Golden Glory grows layer upon layer, as the bottom layer dies, it adds humus (decomposed plant matter) to the ground. It is, in effect, self-fertilizing.
And lazy! Where wedelia and other vines regard a tree or a post as an opportunity to climb, Golden Glory takes one look at the challenge and promptly grows in another direction.
However, it grows well on even steep slopes and holds the soil, Sekiya said. "The roots go straight down like pegs, so runners will cover a hillside."
In keeping with its dislike for strenuous uphill activity, Golden Glory should be planted at the top of a slope and allowed to slide down, he added. "Once it covers an area, no weeds can come up because the mat is so thick, but it grows only to about 6 inches deep. This means that it never has to be mowed or weed-whacked."
Weed whacking, Sekiya said, can be a dangerous proposition to both the whacker and the whackee. People have been injured and plants have been unintentionally girdled by the flying string.
When the ground cover begins to grow onto the driveway or on orchard paths, Sekiya sprays Round Up on the invaders. "It dies back just to where the spray hit, so you don't have to worry about it taking over the garden."
It hasn't gone dormant in the three years since it was first planted and it doesn't seem to attract insects or diseases. It grows in either sunshine or shade. A $2.50 plant will cover 25 square feet within four or five months.
Sekiya drives his trucks over the ground cover, and his black Labrador and his Golden Retriever, each a 90 pound dog, wrestle and play there. You can walk on it, but it probably won't take heavy traffic.
"You know what the only problem is?" Sekiya asked. "People are leery. There has to be something wrong with it. So they plant just a few plants, and then they come back to get more. The real convert is my father."
The despair of his neighbors in his attractive and well-landscaped area of Mililani, the senior Sekiya made a statement against gardening. He paved his lot and he devotes the time otherwise wasted on weeding or mowing to golf. "Dad has been out here a lot lately," Sekiya said, "and I think he may be coming around." While Sekiya doesn't recommend an entire house lot covered in Golden Glory and nothing else, it beats blacktop.
For more information, or directions to Frankie's Nursery at the back of Waimanalo, call 259-8737.