HONOLULU (AP) - As he walks along neat rows of ti plants, David Yearian prunes brown leaves and checks on the “keiki,” or newest creations, in his garden.
Known islandwide as “the ti guy,” Yearian, 53, has been specializing in creating hybrids of ti, or Cordyline fruticosa, for the past 30 years. The self-taught gardener has created at least 300 varieties over the decades, using a small paintbrush to cross-pollinate and coax out new colors, textures and combinations.
One of his first hybrids was a medium, reddish-pink ti hybrid named after his mother, Beverly. There’s also a pink, green and purple twist named Ros Miller, after a client in Aiea. And then there’s the Root Beer, which is bronze.
His garden, however, includes more than just ti plants.
It’s a hidden oasis of Zen nestled on 2 acres in Waimanalo Valley. A broad gate opens up to a driveway that takes you past a gurgling stream to a garden lush with tropical flowers, palms and fruit trees. His two-story home has a lanai overlooking a 50-foot pond filled with koi.
“That’s what sold me on the place,” he said. “When I came here the stream immediately grabbed my thoughts. To have a stream in your yard is something that gardeners dream about.”
Twenty-two years ago Yearian transformed what was a dense thicket of haole koa, weeds and vines (he had to cut a path through it all with a machete) into the haven it is today. It’s named Maluhia, which means peace, quiet and serenity in Hawaiian.
Besides the sounds of flowing water, Peking nightingales sing in the trees, their tunes punctuated by squawks from Cyrus, Yearian’s pet blue-billed macaw. When tradewinds blow, a Hawaiian bass wind chime on a tree plays a sonorous melody.
Yearian’s favorite place to relax is in a teahouse that his partner, Antonio Muniz, built from reclaimed wood, near a small pond. When he works in the garden, his Jack Russell terrier, Jaquelin, tags along and explores.
At every turn the view is picture perfect.
A pair of Meiji-era crane sculptures preen in the pond. An antique, bronze bell is slung from the bough of a kukui nut tree behind a stone monk sitting in prayer. The monk faces a large Buddha head beneath the fan-shaped leaves of a Kerriodoxa elegans, an exotic palm from Thailand.
A collector of Asian antiques, Yearian puts a lot of thought into the placement of every piece, whether it’s a lantern or pot filled with lilies — each piece meant to pull the eye to the next.
“When you look at something in the garden, it’s always done in perspective,” he said. “It’s the Japanese concept of hide and reveal. It draws your eyes toward other things in the garden.”
Yearian’s philosophy is to embrace the natural ebb and flow of the topography. More than 400 varieties of his tis are clustered neatly alongside step stone pathways that flow along a curve, like a sweeping paintbrush stroke through the landscape.
They paint a palette of greens, purples, pinks and maroons, framed by the verdant Koolaus. The Akebono is a striking, pinkish-red ti. The “Amazing Grace,” by contrast, is a miniature ti, with delicate, light green leaves.
Yearian has had a passion for gardening since childhood. His first love was for orchids, which he learned how to grow from his grandmother Theresa Yearian, who died at 103. His love for tis came from the late Carin Procter of Nuuanu, who got him started in the ‘70s.
“She instilled in me a love for tis,” he said. “They’re so unique to Hawaii.”
The late landscape artist and horticulturalist Hiroshi Tagami was also an influence. He cherishes some of Tagami’s creations, including a rare miniature ti named “blushing bride,” which turns bubble-gum pink in the winter. Only one plant existed about 30 years ago. Yearian propagated it, eventually producing several hundred.
“I didn’t want to lose it,” he said, considering it one of his favorites.
Yearian’s goal is to create a repository for rare hybrid tis that were particularly prolific during the 1920s and 1930s.
“When people pass away, nobody else keeps up with it,” he said. “I’m trying to prevent them from disappearing.”
Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com
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