Creating a park: Rocky and Gwen Campbell transform Pu’uanahulu property
Driving onto Rocky and Gwen Campbell’s property in Pu’uanahulu, I found myself driving up an attractive stamped and stained driveway into a landscape with an expanse of well mowed grass, well-manicured beds of ornamental plants, growing areas for edible plants and the occasional park bench placed in the shade of a tall tree.
When the couple first bought the place, it was mostly rocks and weeds. They replaced weeds with grass and used the rocks to build a few walls.
Sitting in the center of the acre of land was a small stone cottage that was built in the ‘80s. Rocky took me on a tour of what was once a hunters’ cabin. He reported that the one of the former owners had added a few rooms to the cabin and later a small separate building behind it. Before he and Gwen bought the place, the small building was joined to the main cabin greatly expanding the cabin’s footprint.
He went on to say, “We now have a three-bedroom house that is very comfortable for us and can easily accommodate our visiting family members.”
Though the house was expansive and welcoming, it was the plants that captured my fancy. I was struck by the different agave species that graced their drought tolerant landscape. The giant Agave americana demanded attention as it dwarfed the other ornamentals in a side bed. Another large agave species took command of a partially shaded area on another side of the property.
After 17 years here, the pair have collected and planted lots of interesting specimens and are still adding more. The park-like appearance they have created exudes a very relaxing vibe; one that Rocky and Gwen can thoroughly enjoy now that they are both retired.
Rocky, you might recognize as the former owner of Trojan Lumber in Kailua-Kona. His dad started Trojan in Hilo in 1969 and Rocky opened the Kona store in 1973. After a 30-year run, he closed the store and retired in 2010. Then he started gardening, seriously.
Gwen retired three years ago from her work in a dental office and began gardening full time. She had learned a lot about tropical plants during her college days in Florida and was tasked with finding drought-tolerant tropicals for their very dry location.
At first, they grew edible plants. Vegetables and herbs grew well. They got rosemary, lemon grass, and chili peppers going at first then added lots of other herbs including sage, parsley and mint. They then planted some fruit trees. Papayas and citrus trees have been highly productive for them. Recently they have added a mango and an avocado.
Things really started to flourish when they found themselves home bound at the height of the pandemic. Several gardens contain beautiful bromeliads, blue daze and galphimia along with some interesting garden art and the ubiquitous ti varieties. Of course, succulents and plumeria appear throughout the property as they do well in this dry location.
The pair have plenty of work to do to keep their “park” beautiful. Over the years they have added rock walls and new beds as well as lots of interesting specimen plants. Though they report spending about twenty hours a week in the garden, both agreed that maintaining their landscape is an enjoyable way to spend their days. Weeding, mowing and weed whacking head the list of scheduled chores while watering, fertilizing and installing new plants all add to the fun.
As we walked around the garden, their two dogs, Brandy Bear and Lizzy kept up with us and seemed equally interested in the tour. Though the whole property is beautifully landscaped, several areas have special appeal. Large, old trees add welcome shade to the hot, dry climate. A very attractive water garden and fish pond is in a large cement “bowl” on their back lanai. Created by a local artist, this feature adds a nice contrast to the somewhat arid landscape.
Gwen responded to my question about her favorite plants, “I really like the flowering plants best. This includes the hibiscus, the belladonna and the calla lilies. Colorful ones with fragrant flowers are my favorites.”
Their property is a great example of what can be done on a hot, dry acre of land. They left the large pride of India and pepper trees in place. Maintaining the old trees and planting new ones right away to add more shade was a good plan. Choosing xeriscape plants that need little water was another wise decision. Creating a tranquil atmosphere with places to sit and enjoy the garden definitely makes this a pleasant garden to visit or work in.
I imagine they will continue to enhance their park with lots of new drought tolerant species as they continue enjoying their retirement jobs as gardeners.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona