By Norman Bezona
The weather is cooling down and it is a perfect time to dress up your garden. If you are getting tired of the same old common plants in your garden, why not try something different? Maybe you can even specialize. There are fantastic numbers of plant materials to choose from, but we seem to get in a rut with whatever we can “cockroach” from our neighbors. This year’s Kona Outdoor Circle plant sale on Saturday at the Old Kona Airport Park will offer new plants galore. The 33rd annual sale will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Thanks to palm lovers like the Hawaii Island Chapter of the International Palm Society, hundreds of new species are growing in Hawaii. Many of these are native habitat so Hawaii is kind of a Noah’s Ark for palms. Of course, native Pritchardias will also be available at the plant sale.
Ferns are a good example of a whole family of plants very poorly represented in our gardens. It’s not that they can’t be grown, but that we don’t. They require very little fertilizer but do require moisture and shade from intense sunlight. Cooler mauka areas are probably the best for growing ferns, but many types may be grown almost anywhere with protection.
We have hundreds of ferns native and introduced to Hawaii, but this is just a fraction of the more than 9,000 species found throughout the world. Members of the fern family vary from moss-like mini ferns to gigantic palm-like tree ferns over 30 feet in height. There are many ferns that live attached to trunks and branches of trees, such as the native bird nest fern (Asplenium Nidus-Avis) and the staghorn ferns, the Platycerium species. Most ferns prefer shady, moist locations, but some species will take full sun, so there is a spot in your garden for at least one or two types. A side benefit of ferns is that some are edible.
In the landscape, ferns give a lush rainforest effect. They give that ultratropical look that really makes a garden special. The most striking effect, by far, is created by the treefern types. We take our native hapuu for granted but they are listed among the 800-plus species of treeferns considered threatened or endangered in the wild.
Bamboos are another group of plants people like to collect. Of course, you need plenty of room for the giant bamboos of Bali and Java, but there are many small, well-mannered species ideally suited to the average garden or even grown in the container.
The hottest items in the trade now include the Mexican weeping bamboo. The scientific name is even beautiful once you learn to say it. Otatea aztecorum is a small clumping bamboo that grows from 8 to 20 feet in height under ideal conditions. In a container, it will remain much smaller. This rare bamboo is reminiscent of a many-stemmed weeping willow with leaves 6 inches long and 1/8 inch in width, giving it a lacy look. The foliage masses bend nearly to the ground. A large clumping fern with similar weeping effect is the clumping New Guinea bamboo, Nastus elatus. If you really get in to bamboos, you will then want to learn more so you can join the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society.
Other plant groups you might look for are the vireyas, sometimes known as tropical rhododendrons and tropical fruits. On the Big Island, we also have a vireya society and tropical fruit society. By the way, don’t forget orchids. And guess what? We have an orchid society, as well. All these groups will help you expand your knowledge of horticulture.
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.