Kelley O’Brien: Manager extraordinaire at Ili Kupono Nursery

  • Caz Di Marco of Hawaii Lawn & Landscape and ‘Ili Kupono Nursery is proud to have received the 2021 Best Landscaping in Kailua-Kona Award this last Tuesday. Kelley O’Brien/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Ili Kupona purchased many of Garrett Webb’s palms including this fishtail which is a favorite of Kelley’s. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Hundreds of crotons fill just one of several of the shade houses at ‘Ili Kupono nursery. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The rust coloration of the Peter Buck ti makes this variety especially popular in Kona.

  • Kelley propagates dozens of ti varieties on her propagation tables at the nursery. (Kelley O’Brien/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The “duckfoot” croton is aptly named considering the shape of the leaf. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Feather DiMarco served as greeter at the first Palisades Farmer’s Market event at the new ‘Ili Kupono Nursery. (Caz DiMarco/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Caz and Feather DiMarco are delighted to have Kelley and Josiah overseeing nursery operations at ‘Ili Kupono. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Both Kelley and Caz are delighted to sport their new Plant Pono swag. Naomi DiMarco/Special to West Hawaii Today)

I first met Kelly O’Brien on a landscaping job where we shared a client. She was new to landscape maintenance at the time, but enthusiastically sought answers to questions and learned quickly. I suspected she was headed for greater things and she certainly was.

Today, she is the manager for a new nursery in Kona. ‘Ili Kupono nursery is on the site of Garrett Webb’s former palm nursery Kalaua Gardens and offers many of the interesting palm species Garrett featured as well as lots of ornamentals.


A friend of Garrett’s, Caz DiMarco, was looking to expand his Hawaii Lawn & Landscape business and start a nursery. Garrett was ready to downsize a bit, and he began the process of reassigning his Ag Lots lease to Caz. A year and a half later, the transfer paperwork has been completed and ‘Ili Kupono Nursery has been re-designed and stocked with thousands of new plants.

Caz runs his landscaping business like a well-functioning family. His wife and daughter manage outreach and social media while all of his sons are trained landscapers. His operations manager, Josiah Olival has been with him for several years and is definitely part of the family. As the manager of the new nursery, Kelley is also in the extended family.

The nursery’s official opening was held April 3 at their location at 72-4261 Lau’i Street, and included a community market as well as tours of the nursery. It was a busy day for Kelley and all of the DiMarcos. The whole family was on site for opening day at the nursery and the first Palisades Farmer’s Market event.

The market at ‘Ili Kupono Gardens will be a regular event, occurring from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month. They hope to involve many neighbors and community members in the monthly event. Anyone interested in having a booth at the market should call the company to place a request at (808) 989-0323.

After several years of experience in landscape maintenance, Kelley is well-prepared for this challenging position at ‘Ili Kupono. Her job responsibilities are an excellent match for her interests and skill. Her enthusiasm for her new job was apparent the day I visited and we toured the nursery.

I found some of the more unusual varieties of palms very interesting. The ‘Joey’ features upright solid fan-shaped fronds and one of their manila palms has variegated fronds. Several fishtail palms are also in the collection. Kelley introduced me to several unusual croton varieties. I particularly liked one named ‘duckfoot,’ with a leaf shape that fits the name. Many different ti varieties are also available at ‘Ili Kupono, including the popular variegated ‘Hawaiian flag’ and the rust-colored ‘Peter Buck.’ The nursery features palms and ornamentals but also carries some fruit trees and native plants that work well in Kona landscapes.

Kelley’s responsibilities at the nursery include overall site maintenance as well as weed, pest and disease control for the thousands of plants they have in stock. She is also continually propagating new plants to maintain their supply and replace those that sell or move into landscapes around town.

She reports, “I use different propagation techniques for different species but most ornamentals and ti plants are fairly easy to duplicate vegetatively.”

Healthy ‘mother’ plants have been planted in the ground for some of the most popular species. Most of Kelley’s propagations are from cuttings. She usually takes a 4- to 6-inch woody cutting from the “mother” to start. Older somewhat woody cuttings seem to grow best at her location. Dipping the bottom of the cuttings into a rooting compound, she then places them in one-gallon pot filled with a propagating medium.

For her hot, dry location, she needs a medium that drains well but also holds sufficient moisture. A combination of soil, compost, coconut coir and cinder seems to work well for her. She places cuttings like croton, gardenia or hibiscus into the medium. Within three months, most nodes have rooted and put our new leaves.

Ti plants are propagated a bit differently. She takes 3-inch clippings from her ti ‘mothers’ and lays down 10 to 15 cuttings in a flat. Her soil cinder blend holds enough moisture to encourage the clippings to sprout at every node. In three to four months, the cuttings are ready to be cut into individual plants and added to their ti collection.

Tours of the nursery and plant sales occur from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday as well as on the first Saturday of each month. When you go to the nursery, plan to see lots of healthy palms and beautiful ornamental plants on display. All the mature species are ready for sale or installation through Hawaii Lawn & Landscape.

One of Kelley’s recent achievements was to host a visit by folks from the Plant Pono endorsement program. The program grants Plant Pono status to businesses that agree to offer plants that are not invasive threats to our aina. The program is a partnership between the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC) and green businesses on the Big Island. The visit resulted in ‘Ili Kupono Nursery being listed as a participating business in the Plant Pono program.

Caz called in to report new information, “Hawaii Lawn & Landscape was just selected by the Kailua-Kona Award Program as the 2021 winner of the Best of Kailua Kona in the Landscaping category. We are thrilled and honored to be so recognized.”

Congratulations to all in the extended DiMarco family business.

This and many other achievements by Hawaii Lawn and Landscape and ‘Ili Kupono Nursery are evidence of Kelley’s and the DiMarco family’s dedication to take care of our ‘aina every day. Go visit the lovely nursery that is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Be sure to check out the hundreds of healthy plants they offer to our local community. Don’t miss the next Palisades Farmer’s Market at ‘Ili Kupono from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., June 5.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Every 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. Come with a mask and be prepared to practice social distancing. Volunteers can help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at (808) 323-3318 for more information.

Tuesday and Wednesday – “Sprayer Calibration Field Day for Handheld Sprayers” at Kona Research Station 79-7381 Mamalahoa Highway in Kainaliu. Tuesday from 10 to 11:30 am and (in Spanish) 4 to 5:30 pm. Wednesday from 4 to 5:30 pm. Free. Registration at or by calling Matt at (808) 322-0164 two days prior to the event.

May 16 and May 17 – “Sprayer Calibration Field Day for Handheld Sprayers” at The Rising Sun just past the Kaʻu Coffee Mill (follow signs). Sunday 1 to 3 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to noon at Kaʻu Coffee Mill (96-2694 Wood Valley Road in Pahala). Both events in English with a Spanish translator available. Registration at or by calling Matt at (808) 322-0164 two days prior to the event.

June 5: Basic Botany and Horticultural Principles from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, 72-100 Ka’upulehu Drive. Instructor: Erin Lee, Four Seasons Landscape Director. Hands-on workshop sponsored by Hawaii Island Landscape Association. $60 for HILA members/$95 nonmembers. For HILA membership and registration visit For information contact Ty McDonald at or 322-4884

June 24 and 25 – Save the dates for the Hawaii Coffee Association 2021 Virtual Conference and 12th annual Cupping Competion. For more information, visit

Available online: “Brochure on Hawaii Leaf Rust” available at or contact Andrea Kawabata by e-mail at, by text at (415) 694-1511 or phone at (808) 322-4892.

“Video on Little Fire Ants” with new information from the Hawaii Ant Lab and Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers at

Farmer Direct Markets (check websites for the latest hours and online markets)

Wednesday: “Ho’oulu Farmers Market” at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay

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

Information on their online market at

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7:30 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 Honoka’a


Plant Advice Lines

Anytime:; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu at (808) 322-4893.

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