Growing up, my grandmother cared for mango trees, a lychee tree, fruit trees, and vegetables growing in her garden, and she loved growing orchids. She shared fruits and vegetables with neighbors and friends, and even passers-by who asked if they could pick mangoes. She gave away potted plants as gifts or donated them to her church.
A few years ago, all of my grandmother’s trees and plants were cut down. The new homeowners built a massive new house surrounded by a hollow tile wall.
This is happening more and more in Hawaii. My grandmother would have been heart-broken to see what has become of her yard. The fruit trees and vegetable gardens we used to have are being replaced with concrete, gravel, and “decorative” plants.
I miss the fresh fruits (though not the onions), the bright greenery, the garden air, and the chance to share with family, friends, and neighbors.
A big challenge is geography. Many Hawaii neighborhoods are built along slopes and hills. And because land is scarce in Hawaii, homes are becoming larger, with smaller green spaces. So we plant fewer fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
Another hurdle is water. Living on an island, we should all be concerned about fresh drinking water. We are encouraged to plant drought-resistant, “unthirsty” plants. There are workshops about xeriscaping, drip irrigation, and rain barrels. Since fruits and vegetables need a lot of water to grow, they are being pushed out of our lawns and balconies.
However small or young we are, we can start by adopting a fruit tree, herb planter, or vegetable garden.
* Grow a container garden. A balcony or patio makes a great “starter” garden. Growing things in a pot or a raised garden bed lets you start small, without a lot of expense or green-thumb pressure. You could even drop it off with friends or relatives when you go on vacation, or take it with you if you move.
* Hang up an herb garden. Though I’ve never tried it, I love the idea of growing tomatoes and plants upside-down.
* Plant a dwarf fruit tree. There are many dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties out there – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, and more. A few years ago we planted a dwarf longon (dragon eye) tree. It was quick to give us fruit (small fruit, big seeds), and today I can still reach the top of the tree.
* Start an aquaponics garden. A friend has an aquaponics system to raise tilapia and grow taro, lettuce, and green onions. It actually doesn’t take up too much space (the taro planter sits above the tilapia pool to provide shade) and it’s fairly quiet. It would make a fun, ambitious family project.
So far I’ve planted one fruit tree in our garden, and I hope it is there for my son and grandchildren.
What is growing on your balcony or in your yard? What will you plant in your garden?