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by MATTHEW NASH
Corinne Villa-Riese and Ted Riese uncovered a treasure for their family tree.
“As I was working on old family photos handed down to me by my mother and grandmother, I came upon a trove of articles and memorabilia, including articles my grandfather was planning to rework into a new book on sustainable gardening before he died in 1986,” Villa-Riese said.
Her grandfather was Fortunato Teho, Hawaii’s foremost gardening expert, author of hundreds of columns on planting for island homes, a gardening broadcaster for three decades and author of “Plants of Hawaii: How To Grow Them,” which sold 50,000 copies during his lifetime.
Villa-Riese said his in-development book called “Making the Most of Your Hawaii Yard: How to Cultivate Food and Flowers in Your Living Space” would have been visionary.
“It was based on ideas of sustainability, simplicity and mixed use that wouldn’t become popular for another 25 years,” she said.
She and her husband realized they had enough for a companion book to “Plants of Hawaii,” called “Hawaii Gardens.” It’s in three parts; Teho’s biography, a collection of his gardening articles and a timeline of his life in relation to Hawaii’s development.
Riese said the tips are universal to gardeners, but they did choose some articles specific to the Hawaiian islands because they found them so engaging.
Some of the tips include:
• Soil and watering tips
• 10 helpful tips to fight plant pests without using chemicals like planting garlic and basil
• How to grow fruits and vegetables in small urban spaces
• How to make and use mulch
• Culinary herbs and vegetables for ornamental landscaping
Pioneering an island
Villa-Riese said her grandfather was a pioneer.
He emigrated from Manila, Philippines, at age 3 and graduated at 19 from the University of Hawaii, becoming the first Filipino to graduate from the college. He also became the first naturalized Filipino-American citizen in Hawaii in 1948.
“He was a role model for his peers,” Riese said.
Teho worked for sugar companies before becoming a publicist and later a columnist. His work appeared in newspapers across the islands. He eventually went into broadcasting, too, giving garden advice on radio and TV. His show became one of the longest running across the state.
Villa-Riese said her grandfather received many accolades including Mid-Pacific Institute Man of the Year, the national American Association of Nurserymen’s Garden Communicators Award, and the Hawaii State Senate Resolution honored him for 25 years of broadcasting.
Villa-Riese said putting out “Hawaii Gardens” is one way to prolong her grandfather’s name in the Filipino-American community.
“It’s a shame to have this work forgotten,” she said.
Initially, the couple intended for the book to go to family and friends only, but after giving out more than 100 books, they wanted to reach a wider audience.
Unfolding the memories
Many of the photos and much of the research come from a family photo album Villa-Riese’s grandmother, Susan, gave to her in 1988 because she saw how interested Villa-Riese was in the history.
“For all these years, I kept the book, and when I last visited, my mom gave me more photos, and I started to put them in chronological order,” she said. “I was learning how outstanding of an individual he was.”
Villa-Riese said she didn’t know her grandfather as well as her grandmother.
“He was a quiet, soft-spoken person and that was definitely different from his job as a personality,” she said. “When looking through the photos he wasn’t always in them. He was always the one taking the family photos.”
Villa-Riese and Riese moved to Sequim in 2007. She is one of 13 grandchildren of Fortunato Teho.