Tropical Gardening: Consider low-maintenance gardens and conserve water, too

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Where rainfall is rare and lava predominates, such as Old Kona Airport Park, community members created a series of paths through a rocky area using existing materials and drought-tolerant plants at little cost, creating a minimal maintenance landscape.

Warm, wet days caused our gardens to flourish. But this can mean too much of a good thing.

Do you ever feel like giving up on your lawn and paving the whole thing? Of course you do, but let’s face it, it is not practical. Your neighbors would probably tar and feather you. Not only that, but you would not be really happy even if they didn’t.


Your yard would look like a desert and feel like one too. Besides, the idea is to plant more trees, shrubs and turf to improve our environment.

Whether a small garden, shopping center or public street, our communities are healthier with attractive landscapes. And with COVID-19 restricting our lifestyles, it is time to make the effort to improve our little bit of the world.

If you fertilize and mow your lawn properly, you might still have some trouble spots. Those areas that are too shady or too heavily trodden need to be handled in some other way than turf.

Shady spots might be ideal for a small terrace, a paved area where you can sit and enjoy the cool location. If this is not practical in your landscape, then shade-loving ground covers or shrubs can be used.

When it comes to heavy traffic areas, a good solution is a walkway. Walks are as much a part of a garden as are grass, shrubs and trees. As with the rest of the garden, walks should be carefully designed. They also must be practical.

As a general rule, a walk should go somewhere. It should serve a purpose. However, the purpose is not served in a practical way if the walk is designed to follow a crazy curve throughout the lawn. On the other hand, if the walk is made to curve about a group of trees or go round a clump of shrubbery or a water element, then the design serves a purpose.

Landscape architects sometimes design walks that are useful in another way. One practice is to run a walk about the border of the lawn, separating the grass from the shrubbery along the lot line. In one corner, the walk might bulge out into patio size for chairs and perhaps an outdoor barbecue.

The walk can serve as a mowing strip or limit the borders of the plant beds. It can provide a comfortable way to stroll through the garden to enjoy plants close-up. If there are small children, it can even provide a safe tricycle run.

When we speak about paved walks, drives or patios the materials that usually come to mind are stone, concrete and other paver material. They are durable and extremely versatile.

Leveling the ground where stepping stones are to be placed is very important, but if the area is filled with large roots, the stones will soon be tipped one way or another by the expanding roots. Individual stones can be pried up and the roots cut.

For leveling, one of the best materials is fine sand or cinder. Level, pack, moisten, let dry and pack again. Then place the stones.

The design of walks should be thought out carefully and sketches should be made before any work is done. Planning done well in advance will save labor, excessive costs and above all disappointment.

And do not overlook the many other materials available in Hawaii.

Brick is attractive and versatile but somewhat more expensive than textured concrete. Asphalt can be used and is cheap but not as durable.

Pine bark, macadamia nut shells and other organic materials are used for a very rustic effect, but it must be replaced to compensate for breakdown.

Natural lava stone can be used if you can find the right shapes and sizes.


For some really exciting ideas, some excellent books are available at local garden shops.

If your project is a major one, our island has many landscape architects and landscape designers to assist you.

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