Sunday, August 24, 2008

From the Alps to the Tropics

This blog was started in order to show what it’s like to create a garden out of lava. From my perspective, everything is happening much too slowly in my own yard, so I have decided to expand my blog to include others who have also started gardens here, with wild and beautiful results.

Originally from Wettingen, Switzerland, Albert Ledergerber has become a farmer in Hawai`i. His wife, Lily is from the Philippine Islands. When I first moved to the plantation village of Pahala on the Big Island of Hawai`i about twelve years ago, Albert and Lily became good friends right away. When Albert retired from the sugar plantation in Pahala as an electrical engineer, he decided to settle there.

Albert and Lily put love and energy into creating a backyard that is what most folks think of when they dream of Hawai`i. I’ve planted several bananas, but my plants are microscopic compared to these.

Their village has more decomposed soil than we do in Ocean View, which means that they can actually dig down into the ground and plant something with an expectation that it will grow and produce. Gardening for them doesn’t involve having to relocate rocks, even though they still must work around the lava.

I love walking through Albert’s garden. I become so enamored with what I see that I forget to write down a lot of what he tells me. Here is a shot through the entrance of his garden as you walk out from the house.

When Albert was working for the plantation, he had access to huge tires, so he has several, and they make perfect sides for raised beds.

No garden in Hawai`i should be without at least one pineapple growing. Here you can see a healthy one through the leaves of Albert’s many plants.

Have you ever held an eleven-pound pineapple like this? This particular one is a “white pineapple,” or "Kona Sugarloaf," a paler yellow inside than the typical pineapple, and much sweeter.

I don’t have a fast enough camera, and I probably tend to quiver a little when I snap the shutter anyway. I wish I could have gotten better pictures of all their orchids, but here are a couple to tantalize you.

Of course, when we think of tropical flowers, most of us think of hibiscus, as well. It’s one of my favorites, as “common” as we might think of it here. The yellow hibiscus is considered to be “native” to Hawai`i. This is one I grew in a pot when I lived by the ocean. When I moved to Ocean View, I gave it to Albert. He planted it directly into the ground where it flourished. He’s already cut it back several times, he said.

Hibiscus comes in many incredible colors. Here you can see how vivid the pinks can be. This shot also picks up the stephanotis along the fence, the red and green ti plants, the white spider lily, and more.

Here is a nice shot of a double white hibiscus – another fuzzy picture.

The regal Bird of Paradise or Strelitzia regina, plays a lead role in many tropical gardens.

The water lilies Albert grows take my breath. I’m often tempted to sit on the ground next to one of his lily “ponds” and meditate.

The lilies open up during the day and close for sleep at night.

I keep expecting this little froggie to hop up onto one of the lily pads.

In among the foliage there really are bananas. If you live on the mainland, you may have never seen bananas that weren’t in a bin in the produce section of your grocery store. This is the way they grow, even though it may seem upside down to many people. They get so heavy they need to be propped up.

It’s best to cut down the bunch and let them ripen off the tree. Bugs and other critters seem to love a ripe banana as much as I do.

Here is AJ and his dad (Alfred Galiza), friendly neighbors helping Albert cut down a 150 pound bunch of Williams bananas. When I first moved to Pahala, AJ was just a shy little tyke. He’s quite grown up now.

And oh, those coconuts! Dry ones on the ground can be planted because they really are just seeds. What most people eat is the dry shredded coconut meat, but even more delicious is the green coconut. If you cut it in half with a machete, the inside is the consistency of coconut pudding. It is healthy and tender enough for babies.

I wonder if mine will ever get this tall? When I lived on Guam, we had several in our back yard that blew down in a hurricane, but within months they had grown back up as tall as this one.

By my front door on Guam we had an iron stake sticking up out of the ground. It was for shucking the thick husk off the coconuts. Once I saw this object on some TV show about antiques. I knew what it was immediately, because I still have (and use) mine. You nail it to a board that you sit on, then you run the coconut over it to shred the meat. Not exactly easy to describe how it’s done in words. You have to see it.

A delicious little citrus is the calamansi, a tiny fruit that is native to the Philippines and has many uses. When I have a good supply, I like to cut a bunch in half and put on the table to squeeze over vegetables, or anything that can use a bit of citrus flavor. Here is a calamansi tree in Albert’s yard.

I’ve been so proud of my (small) lilikoi plants, but Albert’s put me to shame! Here are green ones soaking up the sun to ripen on the vine.

More small green fruits are Albert’s limes.

Another fruit I love is the pomelo. They are so luscious-looking hanging from the tree.

Albert and Lily grow several vegetables, as well. A few that I managed to get a picture of are his okra and a hiding eggplant.

A fascinating vegetable is the Okinawan spinach, or Gynura crepioides.

It’s crunchy and would probably be quite tasty in a mixed green salad. The underneath side is purple. Here you can see both the top and bottom of a leaf.

Taro is an interesting plant, and has so many uses. I find that poi has the distinct flavor of purple library paste, but that’s because I didn’t grow up on it like the local folks. On the other hand, poi balls that are fried like fritters and eaten warm are totally yummy! Leaves are used for cooking lau lau, and the root can be prepared in several ways. Albert and Lily grow two kinds of taro. This is their dryland taro. Albert said “this is da kine local kala Lily got from somebody she does not remember!”

Next to it is their Lehua taro from Kauai.

Another plant that most gardeners grow in Hawai`i is coffee. In a few weeks, I’ll take you to visit my friend Lori Obra. She will take us on a tour of her own rural coffee plantation.

Albert grows enough coffee to keep himself supplied and if you are lucky enough, he’ll give you a cup of his own freshly roasted Ka’u coffee and a few keiki (baby) coffee trees to plant in your own yard.

This next picture shows the green coffee berry on the trees.

And here is a shot of the coffee starting to turn bright red, into what we call “cherry.” When I do Lori’s plantation, I’ll tell more about the process of getting from the tree to your cup.

I love this shot! In the background are the ironwood trees, tall and stately. Then just in front of that is the neem (Azadirachta indica) tree that supplies Albert with his pest protection.

I want to show you just a few more plants that mainlanders might not know. Here is Ubi from the Philippines. They use the root to make candy and ice cream. I wasn't able to find out anything more about it through Google. Maybe someone else can help?

And several hot, hot peppers. First, here is the Vietnamese pepper.

Then the Hawai`ian pepper. Albert says they are “nasty!” which means they are almost unbearably hot. I have a few planted in my raised beds.

As you can see, this post is longer than my other ones, but well-established gardens take a lot longer to talk about. I didn’t cover nearly all of Albert’s plants, but this is a fair sampling of the work he’s put into their garden. I’ve walked through this garden many times over the past twelve years, and there is always something new that I never saw before. I come away from his place with bags of fruit and plants.

Any errors in plant names or habits are entirely mine. Don’t blame Albert!

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