The Hilo Conference  September 2004

[Several VRS members attended the ARS Western Conference in Hilo, Hawaii, (the luckies!) and we are delighted to have two accounts of their journeys.]

Firstly, from Keiko Alkire:  “I start with a personal note. About thirty years ago, we bought 2 one-acre subdivision lots outside of Hilo.  The idea was that we sell one lot and use its proceeds to build a house on the other lot for our retirement.  It did not work out that way because the price of the lot did not appreciate enough to build a house. Hawaii's sugar cane industry collapsed due to the competition from Caribbean Islands and other South American agricultural nations. The pineapple industry collapsed due to competition from Philippines and other producers.  These events meant lots of land became available and without much industry in Hilo area, our plan did not succeed”.   (Keiko then moved on to San Francisco before coming to Victoria.  Can you imagine living in three such places of quality?)

“Since we are facing our conference next year, I could not help observing the organization of the conference.   It was very friendly and good.  A few things we can make sure: the guided garden tours – all the guides should be familiar not only rhododendrons and Vancouver Island's flora, but also the history of Victoria.   One guide was so knowledgeable of the local history, making it great fun.  Self guided garden tours – printed maps could be useful, and lots of choice would be needed to avoid congestion.   Entertainment:– The local flavour is greatly appreciated.  Besides songs and dances by the local Indian group, Victoria can offer very good music groups as well as dancers.

As for ’vireyas’ – There were no fantastic vireya gardens there, compared to the gardens of temperate zone rhododendrons.   Splendour comes from their height, girth and arrangement.  We learned a lot about ideal conditions to grow vireyas.   In essence, preparations for planting are very similar to growing orchids but with less humid heat.  Of course no rhododendrons here can match the sensual colour of vireyas.    

And from Judy Gordon:  “We arrived in Kona, Hawaii, in a heat wave, 33º -35ºC in the midst of.  a drought. After spending the night in Kona, we drove across the island to Hilo, and our first tour on Wednesday, starting with the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Botanical Garden. The Hawaii Chapter has created a beautiful vireya garden there; very colourful. It was interesting to see the vireya growing outdoors (not in pots). Then, it was on to Sherla and Richard Marque's Pacific Island Nursery, a commercial vireya nursery where, subsequently, Don Whittle, Keiko and I managed to make a few purchases. After lunch at the Nani Mau Gardens, a public garden with a large and elaborate layout, we went to the vireya garden of Mitch and Sandy Mitchell (Mitch is a noted hybridizer of vireya). Their garden features vireya and maddenii with native and other companion plants – a most outstanding collection of plants with 128 species and about 400 hybrids! The last stop was the Hawaii Volcano Coffee Co where we were given a tour of the garden and roasting facilities.


Thursday's tour took us north of Hilo, along the Hamakua Coast, to the garden of Charles and Marina Trommer situated on a bluff with a fantastic ocean view and an impressive collection of exotic trees and plants. On this tour we also stopped at two orchid nurseries, one, a state of the art facility and, the other, one of the oldest on the island.


Friday we set off for Volcano National Park, home of Pele, the volcano goddess. It was a very interesting tour showing the aftermath of such a destructive force and how plants have adapted. We walked through the lava bore (tunnel) and peered in to the crater – all most memorable. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at another orchid nursery – their plants were for sale but my permit didn't include orchids.


Friday evening was a fun time – a Hawaiian "Fellowship Dinner" in the Park, inside a giant

pavilion (fortunately since, during the festivities, the rain "came down in buckets") – a very

relaxed and friendly affair with great traditional Hawaiian food.


Saturday was a full day of lectures followed by the "Aloha" Banquet, silent auction and Hawaiian dancers, which brought the conference to a happy ending.


We will always remember the extremely pleasant and friendly people. We came away with many happy memories – my best being given a "just picked" pineapple from Charles Martin's garden – never have I tasted one so good.”