Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The bounty of fruit from Frankie's Nursery includes the crystal
seedless guava, in the bowl, good in an apple-like pie.


... then eat it ... or, have your
shrubs and eat them, too

Looks good, tastes great

By Betty Shimabukuro


WHEN you plant something in your yard, feed it and protect it from pests, it ought to give you something in return. Beyond shade, erosion control and natural beauty -- it should give you food.

And maybe chew toys for your dog.

Example: Frank Sekiya's avocado trees. Sekiya has a huge black dog named Caprice whose job it is to harvest the avocados that fall to the ground. He brings them to the house, plays with them and uses them in games of keep-away with the huge yellow dog, Kimo, until the avocados get soft. "Then he eats them," Sekiya says.

Food and entertainment. From a tree.

The concept here is edible landscaping. Instead of a kamane tree, plant a fruit tree; instead of a mock-orange hedge, wedelia ground cover or flowering vine, plant a pak wan shrub, a border of herbs or a lilikoi vine. "You might as well get something back," Sekiya says.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Frank Sekiya peels off the outer layers of a peach
palm to reveal the edible palm heart.

This brings us to the Foster Garden Fall Plant Sale, which happens two Saturdays from now, but you'd better plan early because this is one popular event. The theme is landscaping you can eat.

For Sekiya, co-chair of the plant sale and owner of Frankie's Nursery in Waimanalo, the conversion happened when he owned a yard in Mililani and one day decided his ficus tree was doing nothing for him. Out it went, and in came an avocado tree.

"After that, I was strictly an edible man. If any tree didn't produce fruit I would chop it down."

A rather brutal attitude for a nursery man, but now that Sekiya has all that square footage in Waimanalo, he does cultivate several plants that are useful only for being nice-looking. Quite a few of those will also be for sale next week.


Bullet Featuring: Botanical bazaar, horticultural advice, door prizes
Bullet When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 18
Bullet Place: Foster Garden, 50 N. Vineyard Blvd.
Bullet Parking: May be available at satellite sites. Call for details.
Bullet Call: 537-1708


Bullet 9:30 a.m.: Dean Okimoto, Nalo Farms, on landscaping with herbs
Bullet 10:30 a.m.: Chef Hiroshi Fukui, L'Uraku
Bullet 12:30 p.m.: Maureen Fitch, Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association, on transgenic papayas
Bullet 1:30 p.m.: Chef Ian Russo, Michel's

But we digress. What's fascinating about Frankie's Nursery is the way he uses food plants as ornamentals. Pineapple plants grow as a decorative border. Palm trees are peach palms, which look exactly like regular palms but produce a fruit that tastes like a chestnut (boil 45 minutes in salted water). Plus, cut down the older, taller plants and you have your own hearts of palm. They grow in clusters, so the plant will live on.

"Usually when you have a palm tree you only have a palm tree," Sekiya says. "With this palm tree you can eat the fruits and the palm hearts as well."

Sekiya and his Waimanalo neighbor, Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms, have developed reputations for unusual produce -- with Sekiya it's mainly fruit; with Okimoto, herbs and greens -- that have endeared them to local chefs. Two of Sekiya's favorite chefs, Hiroshi Fukui of L'Uraku and Ian Russo of Michel's, will hold cooking demonstrations using landscape-able produce to be sold at the plant sale.

For Fukui it's yuzu, a Japanese lime used traditionally to make ponzu or marinated fish. Yuzu is so rare in this country, Sekiya says, that on the mainland it can sell for $15 a pound. Here it could be a stand-in for any shrub or small tree.

Fukui will use it in a panko-breaded moi dish. "The aroma is totally different," he says. "The flavor you can't even compare to lime."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Frank Sekiya advocates using edible plants as landscaping,
such as the pak wan shrub in his hand and the chaya bush
next to him. Both plants provide crunchy stems and
sprouts good in salads and stir-fries.

For Russo it's pak wan, sometimes known as "tropical asparagus." The crisp, sweet shoots can be served raw or sauteed; as a plant it makes a great hedge.

He's also using mammee sapote, an exotic fruit native to Central America and the West Indies. "It's nice and red, very different. It's kind of sweet and kind of the texture of an avocado without the fat." He'll use it in a sauce, to be served with chicken and sauteed pak wan.

Sekiya describes the sapote flavor as like pumpkin pie, "with chocolate almond extract." The fruit takes 18 months to mature.

Now there's a little-known fact about a little-known fruit. Pin Sekiya down for a few minutes and you'll come away with a storehouse of such rare knowledge that makes you want to rip up your yard and re-plant everything:

Bullet Cha tom, a thorny tree with lacy leaves, is the most expensive vegetable in Thailand. It has a garlicky aroma and the leaves are often often used in tempura or omelets. Makes a great garlic steak, too.

Bullet Golden glory, a common ground cover, is related to the peanut. The flowers can be added to salads.

Bullet The sapodilla is a drought-resistant tree that tolerates wind and alkaline conditions while producing a kiwi-sized fruit that tastes like a pear with a hint of cinnamon. The sap is a natural chewing gum.

Bullet Jack fruit, which is growing more and more popular with local chefs, can grow up to 80 pounds. The immature fruit can be used as a vegetable and is catching on in health food stores. The Singapore dwarf variety is good for home gardens.

Bullet The new Halawa pomelo grows up to 16 pounds and will be a featured fruit at the plant sale, Sekiya says. "It's the sweetest, juiciest pomelo I've ever tasted."


Besides fruit trees, here are a few edible plants that can be used in landscaping (many will be sold at Foster Garden):

Bullet Bushes, shrubs or hedges: Globe basil, pak wan, Surinam cherry, chaya (stems taste like broccoli)

Bullet Small trees: Araca boi (produces a fruit so loaded with taste that a single one produces a pitcher of juice); cha tom (vegetable with strong garlic taste). Also, many fruits such as yuzu lime.

Bullet Ground cover: Warabi (fern shoots or pohole); snow treat strawberry (tiny white berries on a plant that can take some shade); day lilies, comfrey (makes tea or poultices)

Bullet Border: Pineapple sage and other herbs, zuiki (a Japanese dryland taro), ko'oko'olau (for tea)

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