Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mughal Gardens, Hawai'i Style

I’m thoroughly convinced that everything we choose for our outer surroundings reflects our inner landscape. Private, tasteful, extravagant, anachronistic, oddly out of place yet beautiful – that about sums up Shangri La on O'ahu and its creator, tobacco and hydroelectric power heiress Doris Duke.

Built in 1937, Shangri La sits high on Black Point on Diamond Head, the volcanic crater and tuff cone named Leahi (brow of the tuna) by the ancient Hawaiians. Indoors at Shangri La, there is an extensive collection of rare and priceless Islamic treasures that are the envy of world-class museums. As a gardener, though, I was naturally drawn to ponder the landscape outside: A natural Hawaiian reef and coastline that was forever changed through the unlimited wealth of one woman and her passion for the aesthetics of the Mughal Empire. To me the result is nothing short of astonishing, albeit tempered with a bit of melancholy, given the history of the person and the location of the estate.

Duke wanted to recreate the feeling of Mughal gardens, and while the hardscape mimics those traditional designs, the plants used are tough, drought tolerant, tropical types, typical of what you see around Hawaii’s lowland and beachfront homes exposed to salt spray and wind.

Are there earth-friendly, sustainable practices in these gardens? Only if you're musing the possibility that some vegetation choices might have been made in the context of xeriscaping. Other than that, hardly. But a visit here is interesting, nonetheless, especially because Islamic influences are rarely seen in Hawai'i.

Plants at Shangri La include:

Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)
Tiare, Tahitian Gardenia, (Gardenia taitensis)
Naupaka kahakai (Scaevola taccada), a native Hawaiian species
Oyster Plant (Tradescantia spathacea)
Joyweed (Alternanthera sp.)
Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

This Mughal garden design at Shangri La was inspired by
Shalimar Garden, Lahore (now modern Pakistan.)

Although Doris Duke was reputedly an orchid breeder to the highest degree, you won’t see any of her orchids at Shangri La. You might have a chance, though, if you travel to New Jersey to see the Orchid Range at Duke Farms.

To visit Shangri La, you must make reservations through the Honolulu Academy of Arts. For more info, click here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pa'ina and Pa'iniu

As usual, Volcano Village was abuzz with its July 4th celebration this past weekend at Cooper Center. Of course, there were booths with post-parade onolicious grinds for brunch -- malasadas, Thai curry, and pulled pork at 10 am. But first, quite naturally, I was sucked into the Lehua Lena Nursery booth selling an outstanding selection of native Hawaiian plants, such as native mint-less mint (Lamiaceae), olomea (Perrottetia sandwicensis), and kukaenene (Coprosma ernodeoides).

I was very excited to get one of my favorite natives, pa'iniu (Astelia) to try out in my yard. I’ve been in love with it ever since I saw it in bloom on a hike around Kilauea Iki. Its luminous silvery leaves and unusual flower spikes are quite striking among the deep green of the native forest.

I was also relieved to find a small seedling of ko'oko'olau (Bidens sp.). I needed one badly, right away, before my ku'u ipo returns from an out-of-town trip, since I accidently weedwhacked to a premature death the one that was in his yard : “Zeeeep! Uh oh, oh sugars.” That, and perhaps sharing some of my arugula, might help make amends. I hope.

Secret Seedling Exchange

Looks like while I was out the seedling fairy dropped by. I've been gifted with plants that have been grown in my neighborhood, coqui-free and quite possibly adapted to the growing conditions here. In my goodie box there are starts of arugula, lettuce, native Hawaiian peperomia, and something else that looks edible though I haven’t figured out what it is yet. Just the motivation I needed to get a high elevation garden going after abandoning plants from my lowland residence. Sharing seeds and seedlings are a great way to keep the gene pool strong with varieties that grow best in your area. A good way to make new friends, too.

I’m going to have to track down the giver of this thoughtful housewarming gift. I have an inkling of who it might be – an expert horticulturalist and devotee of plants that do well in my cool, acid rainy microclimate. She frequently holds seedling exchanges at her home, and though I’d love to give her credit I have a feeling I’d be chided if I revealed her name here. Let’s just say for now that I’m grateful that there are such generous spirits in the world, caring people who are committed to propagating life and beauty around us. Plant people are magical, indeed.