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Friday, November 24, 2000

By Stephanie Kendrick

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Don Sakaguchi and his students, a mix of neigbhorhood
residents and Street Market shoppers, examine cuttings.

Gardener’s mantra:
Try, try again

Had the students gathered at a recent gardening class at Kakaako's Honolulu Street Market asked to see their teacher's credentials, he would have readily admitted to having none.

"I'm not an expert," said Don Sakaguchi. "I don't garden, I just fool around."

Nonetheless, he was holding court with about 15 people, sharing his tips on fooling around with plants.

Not all of them came looking for the class, but they all stayed.

"We were over there," said Arlene Katahira, pointing to the market vendors. "And he made us."

"He needed students," said her friend Jan Aiona.

But a half an hour later, they were both enthusiastically engaged in a potting exercise.

"I didn't know you could just plant these like this," said Katahira of some rosemary clippings as she poked them into growing media.

Sakaguchi said they'll root pretty quickly if you keep the soil damp.

"We kill all our plants," said Katahira. "Maybe we'll go back and try again."

Sakaguchi, who has a bachelor's degree in zoology, says trying is the whole point.

"I like experimenting," he said.

His primary messages to the class were: Keep an eye out for plants you like and try growing them. And use your imagination more than your checkbook.

"Seeds are exciting for me," said Sakaguchi, whose day job is customer service branch chief for GCCS division at Fort Shafter.

A while ago he saw some marigolds he really liked at a golf course. He brought a flower home, harvested the seeds and, sure enough, got plants out of them.

That's the sort of thing he wanted the class to keep in mind; a redistribution of nature's bounty, so to speak.

"I saw the seniors (at the market) and they keep saying they kill their plants. I just want to sit with them and tell them go around the neighborhood and pick up seeds or cuttings and I'll show them how to grow the plants," he said. "I'm trying to tell the seniors, don't have to buy, just go pick something and we'll show them how to keep it alive, whether it's in a glass of water or a pot."

When Sakaguchi acquires a new cutting, he typically tries rooting it in water. The technique may not work for woodier plants, he said.

Rooting cuttings in media also is easy, especially now that he's discovered a sure-fire technique. "What makes mine grow is I put the pot in a dish of water so that the media is constantly wet," said Sakaguchi. This works with seeds in potting media as well.

Sakaguchi avoids root hormone and fertilizers where possible.

"The idea was black thumbers going out there and trying, so I didn't want to use too many aids," he said.

Sakaguchi suggested lack of water is the most common mistake folks make when trying to root a cutting or sprout seeds.

"You're really excited the first week, the second week, then not too much results, so the plant starts getting less and less attention by you. Then you get discouraged 'cause it stay make," he said.

Hence the foolproof water-in-the-saucer system.

"The success rate is so good, black thumbers like me can get results," he said.

Student Kathy Dye, who saw the class announcement in the newspaper and came down to take it, liked Sakaguchi's approach.

"He's so nonchalant about sticking it in the ground or planting it or whatever. I like his attitude," she said.

"I don't have a garden. We live in a condo, so it's just lanai. But it feels more like a home if you have potted plants," she said. "You can make it as much your own as people make their yards."

While Sakaguchi is modest about his gardening skills, he had experienced help with his class.

Francis Nitta of Nitta's orchid nursery got roped into helping out, and Carl Kobashigawa, owner of Koba's Nursery, donated cuttings and other materials.

The three men have known each other for 20 years.

"We started out with the Young Farmers Association," said Sakaguchi. "Among all the members, we three got stuck and became friends."

Kobashigawa had another commitment and couldn't make it to the class, but Nitta seemed to be enjoying himself.

"This is very unique," he said. Nitta particularly liked the emphasis on low-cost gardening.

He and Sakaguchi are talking about taking the class to senior centers.

"I think we did good. I had a lot of fun," said Sakaguchi.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Stephanie Kendrick's gardening column runs Fridays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802
or email

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