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Dedicated duo: Glennie pair working for decades to keep Kona green

September 24, 2017 - 12:05am

KONA — After being involved in Kona’s landscape industry for over 25 years, Alastair Glennie and Janice Palma-Glennie are a knowledgeable couple when it comes to keeping Kona green. Today, Alastair is an experienced irrigation specialist while Janice’s skills are in design and landscape management.

The two arrived in Kona more than 25 years ago from New Zealand. Alastair grew up in New Zealand, where he spent his childhood helping his dad cultivate a veggie garden.

“I didn’t really like the work at the time, but something about it stuck,” he said. “Today, I actually enjoy gardening.”

Janice spent her childhood in New Jersey. She also had a dad who loved tending an ornamental garden. Her job was weeding.

“I hated to weed,” Janice said. “As a kid, I cried when my parents made me do it but I think their love of yard work sunk in somehow.”

That early exposure led her to pursue a degree in horticulture. A few years after college graduation, Janice moved to Maui. Five years later, she decided to go to New Zealand on vacation. One of the stops on her trip was at Haast Pass, a remote mountainous area on South Island. Alastair was working there as a jet boat driver, but on the day Janice arrived he was filling in at the reception desk. When she asked him to recommend a good walk to explore the area, Alastair volunteered to take her after work. That was the first of many walks the couple has taken.

After some time together, the couple got a job working in the film industry in Australia. The plan was aborted when they both came down with mononucleosis. As soon as they could travel, they decided to recoup in a place that Janice knew and loved — they came to Hawaii. They both were comfortable with the open living style that was part of the South Pacific culture, here. That was in 1989 and they still consider Hawaii Island their home.

After several months of recovery, work opportunities began to happen. Alastair took a job working with established landscape contractor Gene Power, and soon found himself learning basic irrigation principles. Janice took on the task of growing thousands of honeysuckle plants for one of Gene’s clients.

“The plant requests kept coming and before I knew it I was running a wholesale nursery, and loving it,” she said.

Alastair was also enjoying learning irrigation and decided to take courses through the Irrigation Association. He also vowed to absorb as much information as possible from his friends at Kona Irrigation Supply. Alastair also credits Jerry Walsh (formerly of Kainaliu Gardens) with sending him lots of jobs early in his career and Garrett Webb for helping him hone his irrigation skills.

According to Alastair, “Those guys really helped me out. Gene got me started and the folks at Kona Irrigation taught me the ropes … or the pipes. I learned on the job and by making a few mistakes.”

In order to specialize in irrigation, Alastair had lots to learn. He had to know the various water needs of individual plants and how to work those needs into a system. Designing or redesigning a system requires an understanding of water pressure, slope and drainage and an ability to do the necessary math and calculations to achieve the desired result. He also had to learn to read and draw irrigation plans so that systems could be installed, work properly and be easily repaired.

Today, Alastair doesn’t make irrigation mistakes. He now draws irrigation plans, and is one of the most experienced and sought after irrigation specialists in Kona. Though he still does some installation, he confesses that a lot of his work is fixing other people’s mistakes or just repairing worn out or dysfunctional systems.

Janice’s business also grew. She was propagating plants for Gene, as well as for Margo at Sunrise Nursery and Jerry at Kainaliu Gardens. Over 10 years ago, after experiencing thousands of plant propagations and the stresses of wholesale growing, Janice changed her focus to landscape design. She would still do lots of propagation but most of it was for her own clients.

“My plant knowledge really helped me create gardens with the right plants in the right place, which is the key to successful landscape design.”

Not long after their businesses got going they took on the name Keauhou Gardens and Irrigation. Today, they have a professional website at as well as a Facebook page in their name.

Both related that though they love what they do, running a business based on your passion is challenging.

“You have to promote your business and you have to remember to bill your clients for your work,” Janice said. “Loving to work with plants doesn’t automatically bring money in the door.”

Beyond running a business are the daily challenges of dealing with plants here on a remote tropical island. When she first started working with plants, Janice remembers that disease and pest pressure were far less. It was the increase in invasive pests that really convinced her to start doing more design work.

“Coqui frogs, little fire ants, armored scale, rapid ohia death, rat lung disease … they weren’t here when I started,” Janice said. “As an organic gardener who prefers not to use toxic chemicals, their arrival made my life very difficult.”

She went on to point out that these issues have a huge effect on what and how one can grow plants here these days. Vigilance against these and the hundreds of other invasives is costly. It’s very difficult to make a living in the nursery business today, especially if you want to also protect the fragile Hawaiian environment.

Doing design allows Janice a chance to exercise her creativity but her favorite part of any job is still putting the plants in place. The follow up, managing the client’s landscape, is also part of the service she offers.

Gardening Events

Wednesday: “Tropical Soils,” 5:30-7:30 p.m. at UH-Hilo in the University Classroom Building (UCB) Room 100. Free public lecture by Australian research scientist Gavin Gillman on the work of Hawaiian soil scientist Goro Uehara covering sustainable and resilient tropical soil management. Info: Contact Dean Bruce Mathews, CAFNRM, at 932-7036.

Thursday: “Tropical Soils,” 3 p.m. at the Kohala Institute at Iole’s Grace Center Dining Hall in Kapaau. Info: Contact Dean Bruce Mathews, CAFNRM, at 932-7036.

Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden,” 9 a.m.-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. Info: Call Peter at 323-3318.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Sunset Farmers Market,” 2-6 p.m. in the HPM parking lot, 74-5511 Luhia St., in Kailua-Kona (across from Target)

Wednesday and Friday: “Hooulu Farmers Market,” 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay

Friday: “Pure Kona Market,” 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market,” 8 a.m.-noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market,” 7 a.m.-noon at Pukalani Stables

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market,” 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Tuesday-Saturday: “U-Pick greens and produce,” 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Tropical Edibles Nursery in Captain Cook

Plant Advice Lines


Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m.-noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu at 322-4892

Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays: 9 a.m.-noon at UH-CES at Komohana in Hilo at 981-5199 or

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