Hurricane threat spawns blues and a green garden elegy

  • Photo by Dawn F. Kawahara

    Gardens, like butterflies, stand worldwide as symbols of life.

Hurricane Hector was still threatening southeast of us in the great Pacific last week, and Kauai folks more than residents of any other of the Hawaiian Islands, I believe, were getting prepared. Beyond all the stocking up of non-perishable foods, paper goods and medicines, fuel, water and cash on hand, my blood pressure began to rise while memories of the painful hit and recovery of Iniki in 1992 returned. Each day of the countdown, I took note of the garden surrounding our house more than the house. I felt blue and bluer.

Examining my blues, I realized that at their root lay the idea of having all the greenery and blossoms — not to mention butterflies, bees and birds — blown away. The pictured ruination of the little “Eden” we’d created seemed more depressing than the idea of damage to our house and its contents (and yes, important documents and digital pictures were in waterproof storage). I felt a real physical pang to think of the fruit and shade trees being stripped of their forming bounty and their leaves, broken branches, toppled banana and papaya stalks, mangled vines, blossomless bushes. I couldn’t bear to think of wind damage in the Kokee forest and our favorite places in nature.

Although my husband and I are a good bit older than when Iniki devastated Kauai 26 years ago come Sept. 11, I felt assured that, like other plucky Kauai citizens, we could ride out another hurricane. We could and would deal with resulting damage, challenges or scarcities of goods and services — and with an aloha spirit once again.

I dived into my blues and found they boiled down “green” in truth. That is, the idea that a hurricane spawning gale-force winds and, sometimes, tornadoes, constitutes an actual physical attack on beauty and order in our environment. Beauty and order are two qualities toward the head of my personal (unofficial) list of important values. I’m not so foolish as to think that you can really “order” nature or control it in any way, the same as life. But a landscaped garden or a managed wild space is an attempt to do so, or a coaxing and temporary shaping of natural chaos.

It’s often said that you can really notice the impact of your efforts when you spend time doing “yard work,” whereas the results of equal time spent doing housework are less noticeable. This is about comparing the shaping and temporary ordering of nature with the maintenance of man-made objects. No comparison.

While gardening hands-on on the Garden Island, you soon learn that many seeds and plants sold in our stores are fine for other zones, but not necessarily for Hawaii gardens. Also, plants that thrive on our leeward and/or south sides may give up quickly in the different climatic and soil conditions of the windward or north shores.

Sure, seeds sprout, and young bedding plants may appear to thrive for a time in beds that take sweat and toil to prepare, but then they often wilt. Even with your attention and care, including watering, fertilizing, perhaps applying some environmentally friendly spray such as Neem, there’s no guarantee you can halt the slow decline until they wither away. But eventually, some of the plants you introduce will succeed, even if you must occasionally replant them from front to back, or one side to another (morning or afternoon sun, to shade and all variations). A good test for the garden we’ve developed since Iniki tore up the yard and house is to fly off island for a couple of weeks. Whatever survives until your return is what you get. That’s why the more plants suited to your particular situation, native or not, are the best bet and do not need constant watering or drip irrigation.

If you like fruit, and to see butterflies in your garden, try planting citrus trees, banana and papayas. I’ve learned that butterflies drink the nectar of these when they’re ripe. They also sip water through their straw of a proboscis, so having a bird bath or large pan of water will work for that — and all of the aforementioned will work for birds. Bees, too.

Some popular flowers for butterflies to visit are: bougainvillea, hibiscus, impatiens, ixora, marigolds, butterfly bushes, crown flower, certain grasses, kookoolau, nehe and ohia lehua. To determine which plants will work best for your garden, visit a local nursery or get in touch with the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. You may learn a great deal online. At advice/list-of-butterfly-garden- flowers-plants-for-hawaii, you can glean tips for butterfly gardening such as where best to locate nectar plants and host plants. This site also offers photographs and a complete list of our state’s butterflies and moths paired with favorite host plants.

Now I’ve written myself into a terrific sunny mood, and especially because Hector’s threat has dissipated. The mussaenda is dripping with pink-crepe bracts, the bougainvillea is spectacularly magenta, the night-blooming jasmine is wafting its perfume over the neighborhood. Gardens, like butterflies, stand worldwide as symbols of life. Our small world of flora and fauna is thriving and, for now, “all’s right with the world.”


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, resident author and poet, has focused her supportive interests within the Kauai community since the early 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live in Wailua Homesteads. Their passion for travel flows into the writer’s TGI column, “FarAway Places.” Kawahara’s books are available through Amazon and other outlets. For information, email


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