In The Garden
Friday, December 17, 1999

By Suzanne Tswei

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Gilbert Lum tends the garden he and some friends created near
their regular surf spot at Diamond Head "cliffs." Fellow gardene
Lindsey Mossman waters in the background.

Senior surfers cultivate Eden

UP Diamond Head Road, past a stretch of multimillion-dollar homes and the lighthouse, around the bend from a scenic lookout, there is a most unlikely garden tended by a group of most unlikely gardeners.

You can't see it driving by. But if you get out of the car, you will get an eyeful of bougainvillaea, ixora, bromeliads, pikake, ti, croton, palm trees, cacti, ferns, gingers, lemon grass, garlic chives, parsley and more thriving on a cliff above the blue Pacific Ocean.

On most early mornings, and particularly when the surf is dismal, you'll also find 74-year-old Gilbert Lum in his swimming trunks working in the garden. "When the surf's bad, I stay up here. But when the surf's good, I no work in the garden," Lum says.

Lindsey Mossman, octopus diver and one of Lum's gardening cohorts, nods in firm agreement. "If I don't get in the water, I get grumpy. I have to get in the water. Then I take care of the garden," says the 70-year-old Mossman.

And that's the way it's been for the six-month-old garden planted above the trails leading to a popular surfing beach off Diamond Head. As the garden matures, it has become a roadside attraction and a new common bond for men and women who met through their fondness for surfing.

"Everybody helped. Some people come (to) water, some people trim the bushes, some people bring plants," says Lum, who by all accounts is the primary gardener and chief landscape architect. "But we really need a weed whacker. You know anybody who wants to donate?"

The project really began more than two years ago when Lum decided to clean up the area, which was overgrown with brush and littered with rubbish and cat poop. To relax after surfing, surfers like to sit on a low rock wall lining the makai side of the road, but the unkempt condition fouled the view of the ocean and the air.

"I figure since I come up here all the time, I might as well do something about it. You see that kiawe tree over there. It was really big. That was the first tree I trimmed. I climbed up there to trim it. I had to be like a monkey," says Lum, a retired Hawaiian Electric worker.

Lum enlisted other surfers to help him. The cleaning took about two years, and what was left was sun-baked, dry dirt suitable only for hardy weeds.

Lum next wanted to cover the clearing with green grass. He began pouring the buckets of water he brings for washing on to the dirt to see if he could get a tiny bit of grass to spread out. It worked, and he convinced other surfers to do the same.

"Gilbert came over and told us to wash the sand off our feet off in the dirt, not on the road. Lo and behold, that little patch turned green, and that started the whole thing," says real estate agent and surfer Rich Jackson.

Lum began bringing plants from home and from his son's green house, and melon-sized rocks to form garden borders. Along the grassy cliff side, he created patches of plantings, each lined with rocks. Other surfers helped by scrounging for plants, rocks and garden supplies. A well-connected plumber volunteered to hook up an old water source.

"The garden just kept getting bigger and bigger. Pretty soon the hose wasn't long enough. I think five or six guys brought hoses, and they just kept connecting them. The hose got longer and longer, until it reached from one end of the garden to the other (about 250 feet). Of course, Gilbert just kept planting and planting," Jackson says.

To make the garden more festive, Mossman brought two small white angels, which are glued onto rocks, and Christmas garlands for the trees. Others brought concrete blocks and a salvaged wooden door to make a garden bench in the shade of a cactus tree.

In the Ewa end of the garden, Lum planted a miniature octopus tree in memory of his son who was killed in a motorcycle accident. Lum donated his son's organs and received the plant as an appreciation gift seven years ago. The tree overlooks the ocean where his son's ashes are scattered. "This garden has everything. We have two memorial trees (including a ficus planted in honor of a surfer who died recently.) We have ... pineapple and papayas and other things you can eat," Lum says.

The garden has suffered several thefts, but Lum is philosophical about the loss. "You can't do nothing about it. People like that--they don't respect anything. But I want people to enjoy the garden. If you want to pick something to eat, I don't mind. Just don't dig up the whole thing."

Practical gardening tips

Lum doesn't garden by the book. He follows common sense.

"Everything is an experiment. If it grows, it stays. If not, you dig it out and put it some place else."

When unplanned plants show up, as papayas did in the surfer garden, think of them as nature's gifts and leave them. But if something overtakes the surrounding plants, consider throwing it out to save yourself further trouble.

Follow nature's lead. If the soil is hard and difficult to dig, don't bother. Go find soil that's soft and easy to work with. The plants will like it better, too.

"Anybody can garden if they want to," Lum says, adding a successful gardener is not deterred by failures.

Sun, water and a little fertilizer are all a gardener needs, he says.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

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In The Garden by Suzanne Tswei is a regular Friday feature of the
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