Dianne Zink came to Kona on vacation in 1987. She was a young plant science graduate from Utah State with some nursery and golf course maintenance experience on the mainland. She was ready for a change and her vacation here kept extending until she realized she wasn’t going to leave.
She found work with Kelly Greenwell at Hawaiian Gardens and became friends with many in the local landscape industry. When she decided to start her own nursery in 1991, she found a perfect spot on Old Government Highway above Matsayama’s store and began selling plants.
She knew that she wanted to offer native plants at her nursery and was especially interested in ones that could thrive in Kona’s often dry climate. One of her favorite native Hawaiian plants was the pua kala, often known as the Hawaiian poppy. It’s large, white flower with the bright yellow center seemed to perfectly embody the image she was seeking for her new venture.
When she learned that the flower was also known as the money blossom she thought, “That’s definitely going to be my name.” Pua Kala Nursery was born and is still growing strong.
Dianne clearly identifies as a plant person. Although I’ve known her for many years, we haven’t seen each other for a while. We had to laugh when we met up recently.
She greeted me with “I can’t believe we are still doing this after all these years.”
And, we are. In the more than 25 years she’s been there, Dianne has expanded beyond her original 1 1/2 acres onto a neighboring property, which she now leases adding another half-acre to her nursery. Her place is populated with thousands of plants, mostly ornamentals but also some edibles, natives, herbs and medicinals.
Dianne claims that her father was her first gardening mentor. Though he was in the Air Force and moved his family around a lot, they always had a garden. Her dad was an excellent gardener having grown up on a family farm in North Dakota and was happy to pass his knowledge on to his plant loving daughter. According to Dianne she inherited her interest in plants from her father.
“Like my dad, gardening is in my blood,” she reports.
It didn’t take her long after arriving in Kona to find a local mentor. Kaz Shigizawa was one of the Kona Nursery Partners that she met during her early years here. His expertise has been very important to Dianne as she grew her nursery.
She found that starting a nursery involved a steep learning curve. Beyond her love of plants, she also needed to develop skills as a problem solver. She needed to learn a lot about the plants including the best ways to grow them and how to handle pests or diseases they might encounter. She also had to teach herself the skills needed to run a successful business including tracking her inventory, doing her own bookkeeping and marketing her nursery and her plants to local buyers as well as corporate accounts. She has succeeded as a local business woman.
Her advice to others who might dream of starting their own business is, “Go ahead, give it a try and don’t be afraid of failure. I’ve found determination can pay off and lead to success.”
Today, Pua Kala Nursery is one of a few local places serving the landscape industry with plants for new projects as well for refurbishing existing landscapes. Working with her landscaper husband, Flynn Baggs, she not only learns what the industry is seeking but also manages to get lots of propagation material from him.
Beyond local landscapers, Dianne’s clients include a few big box nurseries, condo complexes and hotels. Although she does occasionally serve retail customers, she does so by appointment.
Dianne says that an important part of her job is keeping up with trends in the industry. She points out, “As our Kona climate gets drier the demand for xeriscape plants has increased.”
Though she still carries hundreds of plant species and varieties, she is focusing these days on succulents and others that are drought tolerant to meet the increasing demand. Her agave collection was particularly impressive and she was proud of her colorful succulent bedding plants including the multicolored portulaca. Her current favorite agave is “Ray of Light,” Agave attenuate, but her collection includes Yucca filmentosa, or “color guard,” as well as the subtropical Dracaena draco from the Canary Islands. Her nursery is full of these and other drought tolerant agaves, yuccas and dracaenas as well as the ubiquitous pua kala that has popped up all over her property.
Dianne does have help at the nursery today but she still puts in about 40 hours a week herself accompanied by her cocker spaniel, Daisy. With a full-time and a part-time helper, she finds she can keep up with orders while constantly propagating new material. Though she often propagates from cuttings or grows out new plants from seeds, she also has seedling flats shipped regularly from the mainland to expand her inventory.
Dianne says she still enjoys being a nurserywoman even as her business has grown. She likes both the intellectual as well as the physical parts of her job. She started out as a plant lover who loved working outdoors with plants. Now she finds that she enjoys reading about plants and taking care of business almost as much. It balances her days and her life to be actively involved with all parts of the business.
As we toured her property, Dianne showed me some of her new plantings of tropical exotics. She has found the demand for cut flowers in Kona has dramatically increased recently and she’s getting ready to enter that market to meet the demand. For more information on her business and additional photos of plants, go to Pua Kala Nursery’s Facebook page.
Even though she’s been at it for years, she admitted, “Growing plants for me is just a labor of love. I simply can’t stop doing it.”
Many plant lovers can identify with this obsession. We are all just keeping at it after all these years.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.
Thursday: “Proper Pesticide Use &Safety” from 6-8 p.m. at the Waimea Civic Center Conference Room in Waimea at 67-5189 Kamamalu Road., next to the police station. The workshop is sponsored by UH-CTAHR and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture with by Cal Westergard of HDOA presenting. It will cover federal Worker Protection Standards (WPS). Registration required. For information or to register go to https://us18.campaign-archive.com/?u=4e20f2f3acb7d5da424bb6054&id=15bcdfce77.
Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.
Farmer Direct Markets
Wednesday: “Hooulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay
Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center
“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables
“Waimea Town Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea
“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at the Waimea Middle and Elementary School Playground
Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook
“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honokaa
Plant Advice Lines
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4893
Mondays and Fridays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or email@example.com