Last week I mentioned that my Bullet Proof Plant list is available to anyone who emailed me, and I managed to get most of them sent out before we left for Hawaii, so if you haven’t seen my response please don’t despair! I’ll take care of it as soon as I return, before Labor Day. And anyone else wanting our list or with any other questions please email me.
Expectations and aloha
Is there a bigger buzz killer than expectation? There isn’t, is there? A zebra looks like a horse, but don’t ever try saddling a zebra because they bite. Like a horse.
One wants to learn how each living thing addresses the world. That’s the fun of it. The Dog Whisperer reminds us that dogs in a human world cannot be expected to behave as dogs in a doggie world. This initially insightful notion becomes banal when it sees the light of day. Very irritating.
Still, one wants to address a thing on its own terms. A white person wondering about the black experience isn’t even close to the black experience.
Our green world is simple. Learning how the world appears to each species is our Holy Grail and much easier to conjure, though it must be said that even this tests many wannabe gardeners. Still, this is our aspiration: “In a perfect world, Ms. Tree, what would be your pleasure?”
Trees being mute, we resort to observation, and where better than a well-tended botanical garden? Hawaii has several. Visiting several this week is my awful chore and will be reported over the next three or four weeks.
I had been warned about Honolulu: it is an ordinary city, they say, crowded, burdened with traffic imported perhaps from Atlanta or the 405 in LA. Yes, traffic is awful, but nothing is very far away, either.
As to Honolulu: picture an ampitheater. The stage is occupied by Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and the Pacific. The land slopes up from the sea at grades of easily 30 percent or more; priceless views from each tiny lot demand high prices. Homes litter the sides of the bowl.
Looking up from the stage is appalling. These eyes wonder why high-priced lots are dominated by pedestrian, low-end architecture. I don’t know the answer, having been on Oahu long enough to criticize but not to explain.
We are staying with yoga friends in one of those Hawaii-style bungalows overlooking the city, the condos and Diamond Head. The neighborhood is very crowded. On-street parking is necessary since many homes are actually multi-family, and garages require lots of expensive space. The quality of the streetscape is dramatically reduced by the autos.
The house is on the side of a very steep hill covered with small lots, homes crowded together and all constructed of wood; concrete block and stucco would drive the already-high cost of construction past the reach of most people. And those costs, like everything else, are already very high, since the Hawaiian Islands depend on the Matson Lines and other freight companies for all building materials.
On the other hand
Nature divides the islands into wet and dry sides, owing to the effect of the mountains on the moisture-laden winds. The ’trades’, as the weather forecasters call them, are reliable, obviating air conditioning. This is good: electricity is about three times more expensive than prevailing Florida prices. Yes, late afternoon is warm, but it passes quickly, and at night we needed a light blanket. One more thing: the Hawaiians claim that they have a ’humid’ climate. Hah! In Florida we laugh at your not-so-humid climate!
We are on a patio with Yellow Poinciana planted below, serving as a startling effervescent yellow carpet alive with bees and a wondrous small red Hawaiian bird equally enchanted with the flowers.
Suzie is busy. Her senior status and her willingness to serve the Iyengar Yoga community involves her several times per year in an ’Assessment’ event, where candidate teachers take a written exam, demonstrate their asana proficiency, and they teach a class under the watchful eyes of three senior teachers. It’s grueling and mostly responsible for Iyengar Yoga’s reputation as very difficult for teacher certification. It’s candidate hell for sure.
The only thing on my mind, though, is visiting every Botanical Garden on Oahu and Kauai as part of research for my latest book. We want plant material shown in excellent planting schemes, designs that will encourage readers, exciting them to use plants creatively. And buy the book, of course.
Easily the best garden on Oahu is the Foster Botanical Garden, where trees more than a century old are lovingly cared for, all the beneficiary of official status that bestows great woe unto anyone disrespectful.
Foster, like many things Hawaiian and unlike Florida, has a long history reaching back to the 1850s and Queen Kalema. Queen Emma, as she is known, leased the property to a young German doctor named Hillebrand, who planted the magnificent mature trees that we see today and who returned to Germany after 20 years or so. His books from that era are valuable documents even today. Later, the site was sold to Capt. Thomas and Mary Foster.
When Mary Foster died in 1930, she left the site to the city. Over the course of the next 27 years, the first garden administrator, Harold Lyon, added more than 10,000 plants to the collection. By 1989, the Garden was more than 13.5 acres and held an important historical collection of tropical plants from 150 years’ of assiduous dedication.
Next week, I’ll discuss some of the special plants at Foster Botanical Garden that we can use here in Naples.
Michael Spencer, ASLA, has been practicing landscape architecture since 1979 and is president of MSA Design Inc. Learn more at www.msadesign.com or contact Michael by email: email@example.com. His website is www.msadesign.com. And watch for his forthcoming book on tropical plants.