Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, August 20, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Bill Durston and his buddy Puna show off a Thai tulip.

New tulip fit for isle gardens

YES, says Bill Durston of Leilani Nursery, you can grow tulips in Honolulu. At least you can grow something that looks like a tulip and acts like a tulip, although as a matter of botanical fact, it isn't a tulip. The newly introduced Thai tulip is a species of curcuma, a member of the ginger family, but it has the flower and leaf shape of the Dutch tulip.

Durston will be selling these and other unusual house and garden plants at the Made in Hawaii Festival this weekend at Blaisdell Center. The Thai tulip has ivory or bright lavender flowers and long spear-shaped leaves with a slim red stripe along the midrib. "It goes dormant in the winter and revives in the spring. These started blooming in April and will flower through November," Durston said.

They grow best in partial shade, protected from the wind. At the nursery, the tulips are growing under 40 percent shade cloth, and are watered every other day. Durston recommends a time release fertilizer such as Nutracote or Osmocote for these and most other garden plants. "Time release lets out the right amount over a certain period of time where liquid fertilizers leach out into the ground water. Time release fertilizers are more ecologically acceptable," he said.


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Durston has other Thai imports, including the Thai dewdrop and Thai bougainvillea. The dewdrop, he said, makes a great hedge. It grows compactly with small blue flowers that later turn into bright yellow berries. The bougainvillea has ivory-pink flowers with either green or variegated green and white foliage. Another interesting bougainvillea is the Menehune with year-round purple flowers that grows flat on the ground.

Durston has a 4-foot bush of baby's-breath growing at the entrance to a shade house, and it's spectacular. You think of the little white flowers as something that florists shove into arrangements of more expensive blossoms to fill up space rather than something you would grow yourself. But it creates a cloud of flowers that cover the bush. It requires full sun, daily watering and well-drained soil. To encourage more flowers, dead flowers should be removed before seed clusters form.

For cooler areas of Oahu, Durston recommends hebe, an evergreen shrub often called Veronica that is a native of New Zealand. The variety he grows has small purple leaves and purple flowers and grows as a low, compact plant with careful pruning. His are thriving at his nursery at the back of a Waimanalo valley, but they may not do as well in warmer areas of the island. Experienced gardeners say if you like the plant, try it once, but don't replant if it dies.

Coleus, an easy plant to grow here, is cultivated for its colorful leaves. Commonly, they are bright red and yellow, but Durston has one with leaves of pale peach bordered in gold. "It will grow in partial shade, but you have to keep picking the flowers off. When the plant seeds, it dies because the energy is gone," he said. "This is important to remember with all annuals. In cooler mainland weather, they are expected to die off each year, but here without the cold weather, a well-grown annual will continue to live."

The nursery has many varieties of bedding plants, and Durston has worked out the acid test for which ones will succeed in local gardens. "Gas stations, that's the secret," he says. "Chevron and Shell seem to compete for landscaping in little beds between the station and the street, and they look great. What will grow in the gas fumes and the automobile exhaust and the sometimes casual care given by the kids who work at the station is pretty much guaranteed to grow anywhere." So take note the next time you buy gas.

Durston is rapidly selling off most of his current stock of plants to make room for the 80,000 poinsettia plants he is beginning to grow for the holiday trade. He reminds you that if you have a poinsettia bush in your garden, the "A" months, April and August, are the times to cut it back for Christmas flowers. His will begin to flower at Thanksgiving and continue through January. "They will take over the whole nursery," he said.

So if you want to visit the nursery, and aren't interested in poinsettias, the time to do it is soon. "We're open seven days a week, although only 12 percent of the business is retail, and we welcome visitors. You don't have to buy anything and you can wander around and look at the plants and the pot-bellied pigs and the ducks and the bunnies," Durston said. But first you have to find Leilani Nursery at 41-630 Kaulukanu St. in Waimanalo. Your best bet is to ask him how at his booth at the Made in Hawaii Festival.

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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