Bezona column: Become a Master Gardener

  • These amazing blue marble trees at Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary produce seeds that are used to make Buddhist prayer beads. The curtain buttress roots create living sculptures. Plants are available by contacting Gary Kastle, Master Gardener. (Courtesy photo/Voltaire Moise)

It might be too early to think about New Year’s resolutions but look at the big stores already promoting Christmas and it isn’t even Halloween! New Year resolutions are fun to make every year, but it is sometimes hard to measure their success.

Learning about landscaping and gardening is a good example. Hawaii is unique in its horticultural blend of plants and landscapes. Although we live in the tropics, gardening is heavily influenced by the ways of Europe and the Americas. This plus Asian, Polynesian and African agricultural influences have made landscaping and gardening fun but a bit complicated.


Fortunately, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources has been active in the development of the Master Gardener Program in Hawaii County. If you decide to get involved with the Master program you will have 45 hours of classroom and hands-on horticultural training plus ongoing continuing education. Course topics include basic botany, native plants, nutrition, insect and disease management, propagation, pruning and much more. Once you finish the course you will become a local expert to assist others to be better gardeners. Master Gardeners also have several outings each year and get involved with community landscape projects.

Registration for the 2020 class series will close Nov. 15 so you will want to register as soon as possible. Classes start Jan. 14 and run to April 7 every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon.

The program includes field trips like visiting the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka where they will be planting native hibiscus and collecting seed of the famous Blue Marble trees used in the making of Buddhist prayer beads. For more information and Blue Marble trees, contact Gary Kastle, Master Gardener at 929-8726.

The sanctuary is a 70-acre forest dedicated to teaching living forest friendly and to remind folks that our forests are the lungs of the planet. Most of the land is native forest, but 15 acres that were originally pasture are now totally reforested with a variety of plants and trees donated by plant societies and Hawaii’s Department of Wildlife and Forestry. Once the aggressive Kikuyu grass was suppressed by shade, many native plants began to reestablish.

Hawaii Island Land Trust and Moku Keawe Land Conservancy are cooperating in preserving the sanctuary forest. For information on the conservancy, contact Janet Britt at 769-4343 or email

To learn more about the Master Gardener program in West Hawaii, contact Ty McDonald, UH Extension agent at 322-4893 or by email at In East Hawaii call UH Extension Agent Eli Isele at 969-8209 or by email at


Other opportunities to learn and apply your horticultural knowledge is to join a plant society like the Hawaii Island Palm Society, Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society or one of the many orchid societies. We also have societies and associations focusing on coffee, tea, nuts and tropical fruits.

Information on getting in touch is available on line or by contacting the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources offices in Hilo and Kona. Getting connected with local plant enthusiasts is a great way to expand your knowledge with others of our Island community and make friends as well.

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