A Native Plant Garden Grows For 30 Years In Wailea
In the south end of Wailea, nestled between two resorts, is Wailea Point, a private community filled with manicured lawns, lush tropical gardens, and canopies of mature trees and palms. When construction began in the mid-1980’s the coastline of this property was rugged lava rock cliffs full of kiawe and other weeds. As part of the master plan of the Wailea resort community, an ocean side walkway connecting resorts, condominiums, beaches and public parking was to be maintained by each property.
Hundreds of visitors pass through this ocean walk daily, taking in the view, jogging, or just on a morning stroll. Having previously been the gardener for this area of Wailea Point, I can tell you the most common questions from these passers-by include “What type of lawn is that?” – Seashore paspalum. “What island is that?” – It’s still Maui. If you drive around that mountain you get to Lahaina. “Where’s the nearest place to get coffee?” – Well…. What many overlook is the tapestry of native plants next to them, filling the voids between the sidewalk and the ocean tides that creates the Bud Wagner Memorial Garden.
At the time of construction of Wailea Point, developed by Bud Wagner, a decision was made to not build walls or fences blocking this, the steepest part of the Wailea coastline, but rather to plant hedges of native plants. This section of the walkway “is unique in that it was one of the very first commercial landscapes to utilize native plants in Hawaii,” according to Tamara Sherrill, Executive Director of the Maui Nui Botanical Garden. Nearly 70 species of native Hawaiian plants were utilized in the half-mile stretch of garden, some of which were used here for the first time in a commercial garden.
As the gardens began to thrive, and the hedges began to intermingle, something amazing happened. ‘Ua’u kani, the wedge-tailed shearwater, came to nest. This small community of indigenous birds has made the resort their home. From April through October, in the heat of the day, they quietly hide in the shade of the naupaka (Scaevola sericea), and ‘iliahi (Santalum ellipticum), but, at night, their mates return, with a haunting, wailing call – sometimes prompting unsuspecting visitors to call the police to look for a lost baby.
Over time, the variety of plants has fluctuated, with some thriving and others coming and going like the ebb & flow of the tidal waters. In the past few years, the landscape committee of Wailea Point has worked to re-establish the diversity of this seawalk by contracting Anna Palomino, owner of Ho’olawa Farms, in Haiku, Maui, to evaluate the existing plants, re-introduce plant species and introduce new species. Alex Cortez, the maintenance supervisor for Island Plant Company, LLC, which cares for the entirety of the Wailea Point landscape, has helped Anna establish the new plantings as well as maintain the existing gardens.
The tapestry of hedges, including naupaka, pohinahina (Vitex rotundifolia), and u’ulei (Osteomeles anthyllidifolia) remain. Vignettes of mixed species including dwarf naupaka (Scaevola coriacea), ‘a’ali’i (Dodonea viscosa), ‘ihi (Portulaca molokiniensis), ‘uki ‘uki (Dianella sandwicense), ko’oloa ‘ula (Abutilon menziesii) and mau’u’aki’aki (Fimbristylis cymosa) were planted in open more expanses. Trailing groundcovers such as ilima papa (Sida fallax), akulikuli (Sesuvium portulacastrum) and pau o hi’iaka (Jacquemontia sandwicensis) fill the space between the sidewalk and the hedges. Mindful of the ‘ua’u kani, Anna has also introduced kawelu (Eragrostis variagilis),a native grass used for nesting material. As part of this re-establishment, new labels were placed to identify plants throughout the gardens including both Hawaiian and botanical names.
This project has not been without challenges. Temporary drip irrigation was installed to help the plants become established. Rats were found to be repeatedly eating the alula (Brighamia insignis). Ants inevitably try to farm the different varieties of scale and mealy bugs that have appeared. South swells cause physical damage to the plants, burning off leaves with waves and heavy salt air. Despite signs being installed warning of dangerous cliffs or new plantings, people unwittingly cause the most damage to the new plants by stepping of the sidewalk to allow others to pass, or to get a better view of the seashore. Alex makes sure the newly planted areas of the gardens are guarded with bamboo stakes to help slow the damage from the foot traffic. The seawalk’s assigned gardener, Jhay-Are Acido, is tasked with manicuring this space, including maintaining the undulating hedges just tall enough for safety but not too tall to block views. Weeds may not just be invasive asparagus fern or ficus but also native noni (Morinda citrifolia) or milo (Thespesia populnea), whose seedlings pop up in an inappropriate spot. After all, a weed is just a plant out of place.
This garden of rare & endangered plants has been sustainably manicured for over 30 years. Tamara reminds us that the Bud Wagner Memorial Garden at Wailea Point “is now a prominent example of how resort areas can incorporate native plants to create a unique sense of place.”
Allison Wright has worked for Island Plant Company, LLC on Maui since 2003 where she is currently a maintenance superintendant. She is also a co-owner of Valhalla Flower Farm and is the current president of the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals. Island Plant Company, LLC, is a landscape maintenance and installation company, owned by Thom and Beverly Foster and was established on Maui over 30 years ago.