Grace and I have been friends for years due to common ties. We were both born and raised in New York City and somehow, amidst all the city chaos, we found ourselves immersed in the field of horticulture. Meeting through a mutual gardening friend, we originally bonded over our horticultural educations, learning that Grace had studied at New York Botanical Garden. Often, back then, I would visit Grace in her gorgeous shop that was located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we would talk about plants, ideas, and drool over all the new books and vases and plants she was selling. More times than not I’d leave with something, as her passion for plants was infectious. Thank you Grace.
Thank you for agreeing to let us interview you for our Foreign Gardener series. If you don’t mind, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what your focus is:
Hello, thank you for the interview. Hello everyone, my name is Grace Martinelli and I am a horticulturist, floral and garden designer.
Where are you from and where did you move?
I am originally from New York, was living in Brooklyn and I moved to Maui, Hawaii.
When did you and why was it that you decided to move to Hawaii?
I moved almost two years ago in November of 2015. I lost the lease of my flower/plant shop in Brooklyn and I could have continued on in a studio doing events and garden design work but knew that it would not be as fulfilling as I wanted. I had always dreamed of living in Hawaii since it is a plant and natural beauty paradise, so I used that moment as the opportunity to follow a dream.
What is your current job?
I am currently working as a florist at the Four Seasons where we also take care of the potted orchids and anthuriums around the resort.
I am sure there are many differences you’ve encountered by trading NY for Hawaii. What are some of the benefits to being a gardener in Hawaii as opposed to New York City?
The benefits of being a gardener in Hawaii is definitely getting to have the year round growing season here, causing plants to grow quickly. Maui has the most temperate zones of almost any place in the world and you can grow almost anything here because of that. Also, due to the volcanic breakdown, the soil is really good here too.
Most people realize that living in NYC can be difficult but wouldn’t necessarily see Hawaii as anything else other than a living paradise. What are some of the difficulties you have encountered in your new environment with your profession?
The difficulties have been the wages in ratio to the cost of living. Old-school mentalities when it comes to running a business and people stuck in their ways. There are a lot of ‘farmers’ on this island but the farmers market is pretty pitiful compared to NYC. I was surprised at how few specialty plant growers there are here as well, considering how much wealth is here. There are few landscape designers though there are a ton of ‘mow and blow’ landscapers. The ones that are running businesses that I have worked with, surprisingly, did not know about any of the growers I found while living here in Hawaii. Cane burning is a big disappointment to me and I discovered that Oprah uses pesticides on her property but claims she is organic because her vegetable farm is organic. That was a huge disappointment to me.
On the flip side, I am sure there are many benefits to living where you are now. What were some surprising changes that you have welcomed/enjoyed in your new environment?
The pace is slower and the real local Hawaiians are kind. I love that you can make positive changes to the community without having to jump through red tape and a lot of paperwork. A while ago, I found out there was grant money for an orchard at the elementary school and thought it was a good idea to get something set up for the school children. So after looking into it, I messaged a pro surfer (Ian Walsh) and asked if he would help rally friends to come down and plant it up with us and within the span of 6 months, I can say that Haiku Elementary now has an orchard.
We always imagine a perfect life when we envision living somewhere as beautiful as Hawaii, but that is not always the case. What have some of the personal day to day struggles that you have encountered while living there?
Finding full-time meaningful work that pays you well has been difficult though I have found jobs with each of those qualities but rarely one that has both. I have struggled with co-workers – who I think might be threatened by my NYC experience and ambition (which by NY standards I am not that ambitious.). On the personal note, I am single and connecting with other single people, both male and female, has been difficult. I think because I am older this makes it difficult too. Friends from back home are smart, funny and full of character, so it is quite the adjustment to find a circle of friends like that again too.
How did you find your current job? Friends, internet, work relations, word of mouth…
Originally the job was posted on Craigslist, like all the jobs I have found here. I applied for my current job months before I was called. She pulled my resume up from her files and called me for an interview.
To others that might be making a similar move, what advice would you give to them to contemplate?
Honestly, it is really difficulty to live here on your own with a single income. So either come to Hawaii young and live with people, come with a mate or come with some money stockpiled.
Did you do anything to prepare yourself for this change?
I secured a job before I came here and I had a place to live with people that are like my family. The job ended up not being what it was supposed to be, since I was mostly sitting in front of a computer, but it did get me here to where I am now.
Hawaii has always been recognized by the world as a beautiful green paradise.. So share with us some of the great memories you have made so far that make you smile?
Gardening with the children (keiki) of Maui – the kids are really special here. I think this is because of the connection they have with the land and the ocean. Family life is also hugely important here. I hope as long as I am in Hawaii that somehow I can continue to work with the youth and gardening.
If you could give your younger self some advice for this change, what would it be?
Not to younger self: Don’t fuck up your credit- you’re going to need it 🙂
I can only imagine how much the plant palette must have changed when you moved from NYC. What would you say is your new favorite plant(s) that you can grow now that you weren’t able to enjoy before?
Well my favorite plant is passiflora- Hawaiians call it lilikoi. I grew it in Brooklyn for ornamental purposes but now i get to grow it to its fruition and it is so Ono!! (delicious) . I am also infatuated with night blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum – you haven’t lived until you smelled that plant- it’s divine. I just love that I can grow things like citrus, avocados, mangoes and bananas …. This place is amazing.
Thank you Grace for agreeing to be interviewed and for sharing your story with Plinth et al.. If you’d like to reach out to Grace or to see and know more please click on her links below. Thank you….
Website: Lilikoi Grace