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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gardeners cultivate their green thumb

Advertiser Staff and News Services

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bea Sailer, master gardener at the Urban Garden Center, where she also doubles as a docent to lead school groups around the facility, exposes Ma'ema'e first-graders to facets of agriculture that urban youngsters are unlikely to be familiar with.

Photos by BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ma'ema'e Elementary students learn how to make and decorate a bookmark with pictures of plants and insects found at the University of Hawai'i-operated Urban Garden Center in Pearl City.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bea Sailer, of the Urban Garden Center, shows Ma'ema'e Elementary School first-graders that just like seed pods, squash comes in all shapes and sizes, too.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sailer leads the students down a path where they walk through a tunnel of plants.

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Gardening may seem like a solitary venture, but Heidi Bornhorst, a longtime gardening columnist for The Advertiser, knows that gardeners share their aloha.

"Hawai'i gardeners are so generous, if you stop and ask them ... what they're growing and what they fertilize it with," Bornhorst said.

Gardeners in search of more know-how can dig up practical and no-cost/low-cost gardening advice in other ways, too:

UNIVERSITIES, COUNTIES

Land-grant universities are an excellent source of continuing education, whether on an informal basis or through for-credit coursework. Brochures, videos, CDs and DVDs may also be available.

In Hawai'i, a treasure trove of cooperative extension information is available at www2.ctahr.hawaii.edu/extout/extout.asp.

Inga White, a professor of botany at Windward Community College, offers a plant ID and advice program: 236-9102.

MASTER GARDENERS

Master gardeners are certified volunteers who are often versed in university-generated research. They answer plant-related queries, handle the phones at "green lines" or talk to civic groups about such things as safe pesticide use and composting. Take your questions to the chapter in your area or, better yet, enroll as a student in a master gardening training program.

Information about Hawai'i's intensive program is available at www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/ougc/master.asp. Or call the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Cooperative Extension Service Urban Garden Center, 453-6050.

For help with your plant problems, the help line number is 453-6055.

HOW-TO BOOKS

People fond of turning pages to get their information will find an abundant crop of how-to-garden books on the shelves. Most are simple and nonspecific often too much so to be helpful.

For better success, stick with books that focus on plants native to your growing area, such as "Gardening in Hawaii" by Peggy Hickok Hodge.

Island gardeners interviewed for this story have their own favorites, especially when it comes to Hawai'i's native plants and lei flowers.

"Growing Plants for Hawaiian Lei," written by contributors from the UH's College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources, was cited, as were several native plant references.

Advertiser gardening columnist Winnie Singeo uses bits and pieces from many sources, but the two she finds herself reaching for most frequently tend to be "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, published in 1965, and "A Tropical Garden Flora," which is a more current text, by George Staples and Derral R. Herbst.

"It's not a how-to-grow-it, but a what-is-it kind of book," Singeo said.

For the novice, Bornhorst, who authored "Growing Native Hawaiian Plants," recommends "Container Gardening in Ha-wai'i" by Janice Crowl.

"It's all kinds of information of what you can do in a container, and the horticulture is good," Bornhorst said.

Bornhorst also had good things to say about "Growing Hawai'i's Native Plants" by Kerin Lilleeng-Rosenberger, a step-by-step guide for the rarer native plants.

As for a full-on Hawai'i primer, like an Island version of the Sunset's "Western Garden" guides for Southern California, Bornhorst said, "I don't know that that book has been written yet."

TAKE A CLASS

On O'ahu, there are a number of public gardens available for plant lovers to peruse and glean ideas for their own pursuits. Among them: Lyon Arboretum, Foster Botanical Garden, Wahiawa Botanical Garden, Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kane'ohe, Koko Crater Botanical Garden, Lili'uokulani Botanical Garden and the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City, operated by the University of Hawai'i. Find more in a comprehensive guide at www.hawaii.edu/sciref/oahugrdns.html.

Also, The Advertiser's Friday garden calendar is a good resource to find classes.

As for other classes, The Green House in Pauoa Valley offers several for grownups and keiki; and Ko'olau Farms occasionally puts on earthworm-casting workshops to name a few.

CYBERSPACE

"This is such a fast-developing field," said Leeann Lavin, director of communications for the Brooklyn, N.Y., Botanic Garden. "It's possible to stand in your garden with a smart phone and dial up a Web site with questions about a problem or a plant and quickly get back some illustrated answers."

www.GardenWeb.com has regional forums, including one for Hawai'i. The Cooperative Extension at UH offers an online "Ask an Expert" section.

PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE

Get a plot in a community garden O'ahu has more than a dozen. Some popular spots:

Ala Wai Community Garden: Makai end of University Avenue, next to Ala Wai Elementary School

Hawai'i Kai Community Garden: Near the corner of Maniniholo Street and Lunalilo Home Road.

Makiki Community Garden: Off Makiki Street adjoining Makiki District Park.

For additional information about O'ahu's community gardens: Nathan Wong, 522-7063.

Buy a few seeds and a digging tool and then show up and watch carefully as your neighbors go about their planting business. Chances are, they'll be free and easy with advice, from how to water and control insects, to what to make with the harvest.

Advertiser staff writer Mary Kaye Ritz contributed Hawai'i information to this report by Associated Press reporter Dean Fosdick.