The lush “garden isle” of Kauai is a natural spot for the unconventional duo known as the Allerton and McBryde Gardens (the Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden), part of five sites that make up the National Tropical Botanical Garden (the other three are in Florida, Maui and elsewhere on Kauai).
The side-by-side Allerton and McBryde Gardens
In the secluded Lawai Valley between rugged cliffs, the two neighbouring Kauai gardens encompass 350 acres of land, showcasing a magnificent variety of tropical plants.
We’re not green thumbs. But we love visiting gardens. In Puerto Vallarta, we hiked miles of tropical forest trails – past tangled vines and with the symphony of birdsong in our ears – at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.
So when given the chance to explore the Allerton and McBryde Gardens on a recent visit to the Kauai island, we signed up.
Guided visits share a bit of the quirky history of these Kauai gardens.
The Allerton Garden was once a retreat of Hawaii’s Queen Emma.
The Allertons, world travellers and wealthy philanthropists, bought it in the 1930’s. Robert, an artist, and his adopted son John Gregg Allerton, an architect, created unique outdoor “rooms” with walls of plants, featuring European statuary, fountains, gravity-fed pools and cascading waterfalls.
Jacqueline Kennedy enjoyed visiting the Allertons’ garden estate – in part, rumour has it, because the Allertons had an impressive collection of ballet slippers.
The garden’s towering Moreton Bay Figs were featured in the Jurassic Park movie.
Remember the enormous exposed buttress roots that hid the raptor eggs? Today, these trees are a favourite spot for visitor photo-ops. Fittingly, Michael Crichton once married in the gardens too.
More than just pretty flowers
The McBryde Garden is a veritable Noah’s Ark for plant conservation, protecting endangered tropical plant species from around the world from extinction, in particular endemic Hawaiian plants. This includes 27 “canoe plants” that the early Polynesians brought with them in their voyaging canoes to Hawaii to sow for food, medicine and shelter.
Even world hunger is tackled. Thousands of breadfruits originating here have been shipped to developing countries, with information on how to grow the trees for food.
Touring these gardens is an eye-opener in more ways than one.
A version of this story was first published as “Allerton and McBryde Gardens: Botanical Kauai” in NUVO magazine’s Spring, 2013 issue.