Moriso Teraoka
100th Infantry Battalion

Cactus and Succulent Garden

In the summer of 1988, Moriso gets permission to landscape a small area on campus. He creates a cactus and succulent garden. Eventually, he is hired by the college to work on the garden.

Over the years, Moriso and a host of volunteers are able to expand the garden. His dream is that upkeep of the garden will become a community effort, uniting the college and surrounding neighborhood.

In 1990 and 1998, the garden wins the Outdoor Circle Beautification Award.

[The following text is excerpted from "My Legacy: The Inheritance of a Will" by Moriso Teraoka.]

Genesis of the Garden

During the summer of 1988, I was taking the World Civilization course from Mr. O’Donnell. On my way to class from Parking Lot B, I would walk up the steps and pass the bronze sculpture built by artist Sean Browne in 1986 called the “Spirits’ Way.”

Spirits' Way by Sean Browne at Kapiolani Community College.
Spirits' Way by Sean Browne at Kapiolani Community College.

The weeds and the ice plants were overrunning the ground on the left side of the sculpture. I recall telling myself, “What a perfect place to plant my cactus and succulents.” One of my hobbies was collecting, and I was convinced that my plants would be right at home here at KCC.

After a few weeks of looking at the weeds, I decided to do something about it and turned to Emmet Calloway, the Student Council president. I approached him and wanted to know if the school would allow me to clear out the area and let me landscape the site with cactus and succulents at no cost to the school. My friend Bill Jones and I were going to donate all the plants from our backyards which were overflowing and would benefit from a little thinning anyway.

Moriso Teraoka and Bill Jones in the Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).
Moriso Teraoka and Bill Jones in the Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).

Pat Snyder, Assistant to the Provost, gave me a resounding, “Yes.”

During that spring break of 1988, five students from Nelda Quensell’s botany class and I cleared the weeds and planted the cactus and succulents that Jones and I brought to school. This was the beginning of our cactus and succulent garden, which has grown in unbelievable proportion.

The Garden Grows

Pat Snyder liked what was done and a month later asked if I would consider doing something to the barren area fronting the new administration building. This was an area ten times larger than the site by the bronze sculpture and it was not an easy commitment to make.

Kapiolani Communiity College Cactus and Succulent Garden with steps in background. Honolulu, Hawaii. 1988-1989.
Kapiolani Communiity College Cactus and Succulent Garden with steps in background. Honolulu, Hawaii. 1988-1989.

It took me a while to decide, but eventually I agreed to landscape the barren site.

I realized what an overwhelming challenge I had taken on when the first swing of the pick bounced off the rocky ground. There was just one remedy and that was quite distressing because it required a lot more work. I had to build raised beds before I could plant anything.

Cactus and Succulent Garden with wheelbarrow in foreground. 1988-1989.
Cactus and Succulent Garden with wheelbarrow in foreground. 1988-1989.

Throughout the summer of 1988, three, sometimes four days a week, I toiled to build planting areas, bordering each area with rocks that I carted from the construction site where the new library was being built.

Then one Thanksgiving Day morning in 1988, while I was working on the cactus garden, the security guard on duty approached me and asked, “Is it worth it?”

Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).

I was just about to return the pickup truck key into the mail drop at the mail and distribution room. I had been in school since seven o’clock and had gathered three truckloads of rocks and had unloaded each rock at the garden fronting the Ilima building. Since it was a holiday, the building site was vacated and I was able to load the pickup without interfering with the construction. After loading forty or more rocks with each load I drove over to Ilima. I was dripping wet with perspiration and must have looked ragged for the guard to repeat, “Is it worth it?”

“Yes, I guess so,” I replied and headed back to my car. Driving home I started to wonder why the guard asked me such a question. I surmised that he thought I was nuts, and to him it must have been unbelievable that I was picking up rocks on Thanksgiving Day.

Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).

But for me, I had planned to add more planting beds to the garden and needed more rocks to make the raised beds. Adversity never entered my mind and Thanksgiving Day was perfect for my efforts; nobody was around the construction site, and only the security guard was on duty.

This incident was one of many reactions that I had been getting from the people who saw me in the garden. It was all the more worth it, for the very reason that getting paid for my effort never entered my mind. I was my own boss, I did what I wanted to do, I did it whenever I wanted to, and nobody could tell me what to do. This freedom to come and go as I pleased has sustained me for all these years, from the initial garden by the bronze sculpture, to the area fronting the Ilima building, to the area along Parking Lot B.

Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).

By the end of the first year, the once barren site began to look like a garden with raised beds planted with cactus and succulents. I emptied my backyard in Kalihi and brought all of my plants to KCC. Sue Isonaga, Susan Hunt, Geri Ham-Young, Bill Jones, and Ben Okabe and friends from the Cactus and Succulent Society of Hawaii heard about my project and graciously donated their plants. Without their generosity, I could never have filled the garden.

Although keeping the garden free of unwanted intruders was a never-ending chore, I managed to keep the weeds under control with occasional help from my wife and grandchildren during many Saturday mornings.

Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).

Using the steps leading to the Ilima building from Parking Lot C as a reference boundary, the right side of the steps teemed with cactus and succulents by the summer of 1989. I gradually started to landscape the left side of the steps and by the end of that summer I had cleared the entire frontage down to the sandbox tree. The natural rock formation was left as is and after about two years, I was able to complete the planting on that side.

Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (1989).

In addition to the cactus and succulent garden, I started growing herbs for the food service instructors for their cooking classes. Although we are struggling to meet the demands of the food service students, our intention is to keep growing the herbs.

Others Begin to Volunteer

The expansion attracted many, especially the neighborhood residents. I began to notice that someone was clearing weeds and piling them along the sidewalk. As luck would have it, one morning I saw a middle-aged Japanese woman working in the garden. I hurriedly walked down the steps and asked her, “Are you the person that has been clearing out the weeds?”

“Yes,” she replied. Her husband, her children, and she were coming over from their nearby home and pulling weeds in the evenings and whenever they found the time. She also added that her family wanted to help the person who was landscaping and building the garden. What could I have said but to thank her from the bottom of my heart that there were families like the Rosas who lived on Alohea Street. I began to realize that there were others like the Rosas who found satisfaction and pleasure in doing something for others.

As the garden expanded, the weeds became overwhelming and I could no longer keep them under control. Fortunately, because of my close ties with the food service staff and students, they began to come out to the garden to pull weeds. One of the first students to offer her help was Irene Kitagawa. “I made a pledge to help, and I love to keep myself busy,” she said.

After about four more years of my voluntary efforts, Vernon Wong, the maintenance supervisor, decided that I should be paid for what I was doing. I never expected to be paid for my labor, but this compensation was nice to have.

Walter Schiess retired from his baking instructor’s position in the fall of 1992 and began to volunteer his services to maintain an area of the garden until his untimely death in 1995. One of his cacti is over twenty feet in height today.

Harold Fujita, a graduate of the food service department and a retiree from IBM, began helping in the garden about eight years ago. In 2002, I asked John Messina, Auxiliary Services Officer, for additional help. We had a working force of six to keep the weeds under control. Presently, we only have a gang of three. But, I hope to complete the landscaping of the area by Iliahi with our present work crew.

UCactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (2003)
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (2003).

Accolades for the Garden

In 1989, Moriso Teraoka receives a Service Award for his work creating the garden from Kapiolani Community College (KCC) Chancellor John Morton.

In 1989, KCC instructor Bill Reisner writes an article in the Community Colleges newspaper about the newly developed garden. According to Reisner, “While new buildings continue to spring up at the Diamond Head campus of Kapiolani Community College, two landscaped gardens of cactus and succulent are growing with a variety of plants from all over the world. The best part of the gardens is their volunteer landscaper and gardener, alumnus and continuing student Moriso Teraoka.”

In 1990, KCC receives one of four annual Beautification Awards presented by the Outdoor Circle.

In the same year, Honolulu Star-Bulletin columnist Lois Taylor featured the Cactus and Succulent Garden in her weekly Friday column, writing “Say ‘thank you’ to Moriso Teraoka, the man who transformed a weed-covered hillside on Diamond Head into a world-class cactus and succulent garden. And he didn’t plant it to improve his property, he did it for us.”

In 1995, Walter Schiess and Moriso Teraoka are featured on Leslie Wilcox’s “That’s Life” program on Channel 2. The interview focused on the creation and maintenance of the cactus garden.

In 1996, both are featured on the “UH Today” segment of the Hawaii NBC Morning News.

In 1998, the Outdoor Circle again recognizes KCC with a Beautification Award, this time in recognition of the continuing effort to beautify the campus.

In 1999, Ric Valdez writes an article about Moriso Teraoka in Midweek, a free weekly. According to Valdez, “He is Kapiolani’s resident Renaissance Man, Jack of All Trades and the selfless keeper and creator of the highly regarded cactus garden.”

In 2001, Wayne Muromoto profiles Harold Fujita and Moriso Teraoka in an article about the garden in The Hawaii Herald. Muromoto writes, “It isn’t often that a student is so well known that even the provost of the college knows his name. But it’s rarer still if that provost will also refer to that student as one of the real ‘powers’ on campus.”

UCactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (2003)
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (2003).

In 2006, Hawaiian Airlines publishes an article in their Hana Hou In-flight Magazine. It states, “Another day, another encounter: A stranger has once again approached Moriso Teraoka for horticultural advice. Teraoka is standing inside the marvelous cactus garden that has been the object of his love and toil for the last sixteen years, but he modestly shrugs and offers, ‘Just do it and learn by your mistake.’

UCactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (2004)
Cactus and Succulent Garden at Kapiolani Community College (2003).

Cactus & Coffee

My goal is that someday the Cactus and Succulent Garden would be maintained by the combined efforts of the college community, students, and neighborhood residents.

This effort began in the spring of 1998. Roy Onomura, the International Student Club president and the Board of Student Activities chair, organized a group of volunteers to spend a Saturday morning in the garden. “To give Moriso some help,” Onomura said. The outing was a huge success. The initial group wanted this project continued.

Student Activities Coordinator/Advisor George Higa schedules this outing once a semester and calls the project “Cactus & Coffee.” Sophia Hu, a biology instructor from McKinley High School has come with her students to every session for years.

Cactus and Coffee Cleanup at Kapiolani Community College.
Cactus and Coffee Cleanup at Kapiolani Community College.

The Garden Becomes Accessible

The biggest change to the appearance of the Cactus and Succulent Garden occurred in the spring of 2000. A pathway was constructed through the garden so that those in wheelchairs could get to the campus from the parking lot and the bus stop.

Architect Thomas Lum said that he took great pains to develop a plan that would preserve the garden while serving the needs of the disabled. True to his commitments, the pathway really complements the garden today.

Refining the Garden

As the garden became more accessible to the general public, I decided on an expansion plan that would be planted with cactus and succulent fronting the whole Parking Lot B area.

In the summer of 2005, Chancellor Morton agreed to the plan to remove three monkeypod trees fronting Parking Lot B on the mauka side. The trees were not intentionally part of the landscape. Birds had probably dropped the seeds, which had taken root.

The area of the trees was in the expansion area and the removal of the monkeypods would be more complementary to the cactus and succulents. The removal revealed a huge outcrop of ancient lava rocks where the cactus would blend well among the rock formations.

We later removed two additional trees to further enhance the overall view.

The Garden Continues to be a Community Effort

With the expansion of the garden, many more plants were needed. Kikue Akiyama, a Kapahulu resident and a long-time friend, has been a very generous donor to the school. Having been an ardent hobbyist, Kikue had given me many exotic succulents to add to the garden.

Nobu and Elsie Horikawa from Kahaluu have also donated many of their plants to KCC.

In 2006, a Department of Agriculture retiree, Sam Camp, begins volunteering in the garden every day.

The Future

Visitors from Europe, Canada, the mainland USA, and Japan are always surprised to see the garden with the many different forms of cactus and succulents here at KCC.

The potential to make the garden the largest in the state is within my helpers and me. The total length of the garden is about 820 feet, with a depth of 50 to 100 feet.

I dream to see the twenty-five pachypodium lamerii that are planted in the new area in full bloom with plumeria-like flowers. Nowhere in this state will you be able to see and enjoy such a spectacle, perhaps only in Madagascar where the original pachypodium lamerii came from.

In the early 1990s when I was a news reporter for Kapio, Winifred Au, the journalism advisor, prophesized that the Cactus and Succulent Garden can well become the rallying point for KCC. The entire school, faculty, staff, students and the neighborhood will maintain the garden in perpetuity for the enjoyment of all those who visit the school.


In the spring of 2005, Chancellor John Morton decided to recognize my efforts. Morton presented me with a plaque cast in aluminum with a bas-relief of my profile and with the following inscription:

With grateful appreciation to
Whose vision and hard work
Created these lovely gardens
From the faculty, staff and students
Of Kapiolani Community College

The plaque is mounted on a huge rock in the central part of the garden.

Unveiling of the plaque ceremony in the KCC cactus and succulent garden honoring Moriso Teraoka.  Chancellor John Morton (left) and a member of Mayor Mufi Hanneman’s staff (right). Honolulu, Hawaii. 2005.
Unveiling of the plaque ceremony in the KCC cactus and succulent garden honoring Moriso Teraoka.

The work I’ve done on the Cactus and Succulent and Herb Garden has received the blessings of and recognition by the community.

But the most cherished blessing that I received is the expressions of gratitude by the faculty and the staff members as they come to school in the morning. The other day my former English instructor told me that she was going to have her friend come and see the aloe gigantea in bloom, with huge orange clusters of flowers. The clusters are all the more spectacular because thirty or more clusters are in bloom at the same time. “I never saw anything like this before,” she said. Another staff member told me that she looks to the garden to give her a boost each day before working.

These expressions of appreciation are what I cherish the most.

"My Legacy: The Inheritance of a Will" was reprinted with the permission of Moriso Teraoka. Photographs courtesy of Moriso Teraoka.

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