Nursery’s donations of flowers carry on Merrie Monarch tradition

By Nina Wu / nwu@staradvertiser.com on April 24, 2014
Eric Tanouye and his son Jon Tanouye, surrounded by anthuriums at their Green Point Nurseries.

Eric Tanouye and his son Jon Tanouye, surrounded by anthuriums at their Green Point Nurseries.

HILO » The fragrance and color of flowers adorn dancers, spectators and the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium during the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Every dancer participating in the competition will pass through two, 7-foot-tall floral arrangements before walking up the ramp to the stage to perform their numbers.

For the sixth year, Green Point Nurseries of Hilo is donating the flowers for the arrangements, according to Vice President Eric Tanouye, as part of a local tradition.

Tanouye, 55, is carrying on the tradition this year for his father, Harold, who died in September.

“In 2009, when we were in the depths of the recession, I remember my father saying he just wanted to do something for the community,” Tanouye said. “Being that this is the biggest cultural event in Hilo, even the state, we thought this was the best way to help.”

So they met with the Merrie Monarch Festival committee, and the collaboration began.

Festival President Luana Kawelu said she welcomed the contribution, especially since the families have known each other a long time, going back several generations. Hilo-based hula halau also volunteer to decorate the stage and other parts of the stadium.

“When Harold offered to help, it meant a lot to me because of our family ties,” Kawelu said. “We’re just so thankful for all the kokua that we’ve gotten year after year. For Merrie Monarch, it’s not just us who run it, it’s also all the community people that contribute that make it a success.”

Tanouye estimates the commercial value of the two floral arrangements are about $500 apiece, or $1,000 total.

More than 100 shiny, red “tropic fire” anthuriums cascade down a column resembling a volcano atop two rectangular vases, according to floral designer Phoebe Anderson, who volunteers to assemble the donated flowers. The anthuriums are interspersed with clusters of red aranthera orchids, as well as coconut fibers and ukiuki grass that Anderson personally gathered up in Volcano.

Five strands of ti leaf lei 7 feet long are woven into the arrangement, from top to bottom, representing the coming together of the community, according to Anderson.

The work was labor-intensive, given that every anthurium flower and orchid had to be hand-tied onto the frame of bamboo and Asian willow. It took Anderson and her business partner, Doris Iwaoka, eight hours to tie the flowers on-site.

Anderson, 57, of Keaukaha, does not dance, but her mother was a student of festival co-founder “Uncle George” Na‘ope.

“It’s such an awesome experience because the music is going, and sometimes with a certain halau, you gotta stop and watch,” said Anderson, referring to hula halau that are rehearsing before the competition officially gets underway on Thursday. “Just the music, the people that walk through … Everyone’s got the aloha spirit.”

Tanouye is also president of the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, representing about 300 growers statewide that donate to the festival for other decorations in the stadium as well as the floats in the Merrie Monarch Royal Parade on Saturday morning.

Green Point Nurseries, which grows anthuriums and orchids on 40 acres in Panaewa, about 5 miles south of Hilo, has been in business since the mid-1970s.

It’s a multigenerational business. Tanouye’s 25-year-old son, Jon, is the production manager. Another son sells the anthuriums at the farmers market at Kapiolani Community College on Saturday mornings.

They cultivate at least 40 different varieties of anthuriums, which grow in about 2 feet of Kapoho cinder, which has proved to be an ideal medium. The anthuriums grow in numerous shades of reds, pinks, purples, white and green. Red anthuriums are the most popular, Tanouye said, followed by green.

The beauty of growing anthuriums in Hawaii, according to Tanouye, is that they bloom 52 weeks a year.

The nursery also purchases other kinds of flora, including protea, ti leaf, ferns, ginger and birds of paradise from specialty growers, and ships its floral arrangements throughout North America, as well as to Canada, Japan, Saipan and Guam.

Merrie Monarch is a busy time for the nursery, as is May, with Mother’s Day coming up. Tanouye says he plans to keep the tradition of donating flowers to the festival as long as he can because it was his late father’s wish.

Hundreds of hula fans, meanwhile, lined up outside the stadium entrance as early as 4 a.m. Wednesday to get a coveted seat for the free Ho‘ike exhibition performance featuring Halau o Kekuhi, ‘Ilima Hula Studio and Family, and two halau from Japan, as well as a Maori dance group from New Zealand.

The hula competition begins Thursday night with 13 dancers vying for the Miss Aloha Hula title, followed by the group kahiko (ancient-style) competition Friday night and auana (modern-style) competition and presentation of awards on Saturday night.