Planting a tradition

KAPAA HOMESTEADS — Growing up on a farm in the Kapaa Homesteads, Dennis Wasano has always had a passion for plants.

Few things are more soothing for the retired chef than tending to his garden laden with beans, peas, tomatoes, trees and beautiful blue jades.

“It’s my therapy,” Wasano said recently while touring the garden at his Annie Road home. “When you have a nice big red tomato, that’s it.”

It’s a hobby that caught the attention of his neighbors — he is the March recipient of the Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association’s Neighborhood Pride Award — as well as his grandson, who tracks Wasano around the garden like a bee after pollen.

“He was with me since he was 6 months old,” Wasano said of his grandson, Lawa Brown, who is now 7. “As he grew up he was my shadow; no matter where I go, he’s there.”

Wasano said it’s important to pass along the lesson of self-reliance and discipline that tending to an abundant garden requires. He’s happy his loving little shadow is there to soak it all up.

It’s a hobby, not a necessity. But it’s one with a pay-off: beauty, fresh fruits and veggies “I get to eat,” he said.

“It’s something to do,” said Wasano, who worked at J.J.’s Beach Broiler and Gaylord’s at Kilohana before retiring 10 years ago. “It’s a challenge, even now it’s a challenge; you have to watch out for the pesticides and all that.”

Wasano’s inventory is a gardener’s dream. Tangerines, mangos, figs and dragon fruit flourish in the space as well as peas, cucumbers, Portuguese kale and lettuce. But the centerpiece of Wasano’s garden is the blue jade plant that hangs in two vines on trellises in front of his home.

“This plant here is 4 years old,” Wasano said as he motioned to the blue jade hanging down from the rafters in front of his house. “The first two years, there was nothing, then the last few years, it started blooming.”

After discovering the blue jade plant in Keapana Valley, Wasano knew that he would have to retrieve one for his own garden. The blue jade vine is native to the Philippines. After six years, he was able to ferret out a blue jade seedling and grow his own. It’s now the hallmark of his garden.

“The plant grows 5 feet a week, so it takes lots of maintenance to keep it under control,” WKNA chair Helena Cooney wrote about Wasano’s garden, calling the blue jade “spectacular.” “He has two vines that completely cover his 15- by 20-foot trellis. He has approximately 150 trailing vines within the trellis, all heavily laden with thousands of these blue-green flowers.”

The neighborhood association is presenting the gardener with the Neighborhood Pride Award at the Kapaa Library during its monthly meeting at 2 p.m. Friday.

For Wasano, it’s not about awards. He’s happy to have a relaxing hobby that allows him to share time while teaching his grandson. And he’s not resting on his laurels, so to speak — he’s started a red jade plant at the rear of his house.

“I’m not the type who’s looking for that 15 seconds or 15 minutes of fame,” he said. “I just wanted to make some other people aware of how it (the blue jade) looks because they never heard of it before.”

Nominations for beautiful front yards located in the 96746 zip code can be submitted to Cooney at Helena1824@aol.com or 822-1885.

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