Grampa's Ears

Grampa’s Ears. Photo by Janet Miller

Gardening on the Garden Isle is a whole new animal for me.

I’m originally from Chicago. Born and raised there.  Chicago is a nice place to visit, but I never want to live there again.

One thing about Chicago is the “never stop IMUA” attitude of back yard gardeners.

As a Midwesterner, I would get out in my garden on the day after Mother’s Day, because hope springs eternal that it won’t snow again after that day. Not always a sure thing, but a pretty likely bet.

I’d put on my brand new gardening gloves, and bring out my shiny new mini spade and shovel, and start breaking up the previously frozen tundra, the better to bury the seeds that I imagined would some day soon be a vegetable I’d proudly serve the family at dinner.

I’d buy lime, iron, nitrogen, magnesium, three different kinds of fertilizer, pest repellant and the latest model of sprayer nozzle for the hose, in order to deliver just the right gentle shower of life-giving water to my delicate little green fledglings.

After several weeks of weeding, watering, watching and waiting, if I prayed hard enough, I might have a few carrots and a pitiful green pepper to show for the $200 I invested.

Flowers?  Ha!  Flowers in Illinois were puny, stringy and quite lacking in confidence. If they could talk, they would say, in a wimpy, little girl voice, “Pleeeeeease take care of me, I’m scared!”

Now that I live on Kaua`i, I have witnessed, to my utter and complete amazement, that things grow here without any tending whatsoever.

You can step on a plant and it pretty much says, in a James Earl Jones voice, “Eh brah, no pilikia!” and it then proceeds to grow six inches taller by the next day.  It send out shoots and rhizomes that will devour your Toyota if you park too close.

I broke off a chunk of roadside cactus growing on the far West side of the island. I brought it home and stuck it in the ground five years ago. Within a year, it was taller than I am. Now, it has to have a blinking light on the top to warn the aircraft flying in to Lihu`e airport.

But it doesn’t stop there.

A plant dug up by a chicken lay on its side next to its previously neglected plot of rock hard red clay/dirt. I picked it up and threw it onto a waste pile.

Within a month, it was sprouting new leaves and flowers and producing keiki plants all around it — bromeliads on steroids.

In fact a lot of plants on Kaua’i grow with no dirt at all.

For example, I have a retaining wall that is very tightly built, with no visible crevices that any nutrients might leak through from the dirt on the other side — and even so, stuff is growing on it. NO DIRT!  NO WATER! NO TENDING! And still, it grows!

Kinda reminds me of all the hairs that used to grow out of my Grampa’s ears and nose.

Read more of Janet Miller’s columns online at on the seventh day of every month.