Issue 16.5: October/November 2013

Arid Beauty

Story by Shantel Grace
Photos by Elyse Butler

“Xeriscaping”—a term coined in the American Southwest — isn’t something most people think about when they gaze upon the Islands’ lush landscape, but water conservation is a concern for Hawai‘i, too. Twenty-five years ago the Honolulu Board of Water Supply opened the Halawa Xeriscape Garden, where “unthirsty” and native plants are the stars. Forget any image of barren rock and dusty cacti. This three-acre botanical showcase is filled with vibrant and unusual plants. Near the garden’s entryway, you’ll find the silvery green leaves and purple blossoms of the pohinahina plant, which flank a path leading to a gazebo. En route to the Spiral and Herb Gardens, you’ll find the small round leaves and plump red berries of the ‘akia; once there, look for the vibrant pink blossoms of the desert rose. In the Native and Endangered Garden, cauliflower-colored blossoms of the ‘ülei peek through leafy shrubs, and delicate mountain naupaka bends in the breeze.

“We’re teaching people a holistic approach to gardening,” says community relations specialist Diane Moses. Avid gardeners from O‘ahu’s dry zones (think Hawai‘i Kai and Wai‘anae) have come for inspiration for decades, and every summer thousands show up for the garden’s huge one-day Unthirsty Plant Sale.

“We estimate that 50 percent of the water consumed in Island households is used outdoors,” says Moses, “so less-thirsty plant options are one way to minimize water waste.” She points to further innovations on which the gardeners are focusing: “We’re working on a sustainable trellis where people can learn about rain barrels, and we’re adding an all-encompassing succulent section where people can learn about the benefits of ‘microclimating,’ which encourages beneficial insects and wildlife.”

The xeriscape garden can be found in ‘Aiea’s Halawa Valley Central Park Industrial Area, and it’s open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. As visitors leave it they pass a raft of bromeliads colored with dramatically varied fluorescent hues, as well as the lovely Kalanchoe, with its red and green leaves —both of which offer final evidence that saving water doesn’t mean skimping on beauty.