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). These botanical gardens in Kauai are two of five garden sites that make up the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG).
(The other three NTBG gardens are in Florida, Maui and elsewhere on Kauai.)
Side-by-side botanical gardens in Kauai
In the secluded Lawai Valley between rugged cliffs, the two neighboring 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’ve hiked miles of tropical forest trails – past tangled vines and with the symphony of birdsong in our ears – at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.
And in Victoria where we live, we take out-of-town company to Victoria gardens like the world-famous Butchart Gardens. And we walk most days through the Government House Gardens near our house.
So when given the chance to explore the Allerton and McBryde Gardens on our last visit to the Kauai island, we signed up.
And we’re so glad we did! Exploring these Kauai botanical gardens turned out to be one of our favorite things to do in Kauai.
Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden: History
Guided visits share a bit of the quirky history of these Kauai botanical gardens in the southwest part of the island.
The Allerton Garden was once a favored retreat of Hawaii’s Queen Emma in the late 1800s. She loved to plant rose apples, mangoes, bamboo and bougainvillea on the valley cliffs (you can still see some of these plants today).
The McBryde family (who owned a large section of agricultural land nearby) bought the property from her, conveying the lower valley to Alexander McBryde in 1899.
Alexander moved one of Queen Emma’s cottages to the valley floor, and lived in it for many years. He also planted ferns, ginger, plumeria and palms in beachside gardens.
The Allertons, world travelers and wealthy philanthropists, bought the property from Alexander in 1938.
Robert Allerton, who was an artist, and his adopted son John Gregg Allerton, an architect, then set about creating unique outdoor “rooms” with walls of plants, featuring European statuary, fountains, gravity-fed pools and cascading waterfalls.
Later, Jacqueline Kennedy enjoyed visiting the Allertons’ garden estate – in part, rumor has it, because the Allertons had an impressive collection of ballet slippers.
Monk seal spotting? Tubing? Check out these other cool things to do in Kauai (besides the gardens)
Today, the Allerton Garden covers an 80-acre area.
And it’s a garden masterpiece – a unique and whimsical combination of garden rooms, sculptures, water features and exotic plants.
You can also see the garden’s towering Moreton Bay Figs that were featured in the Jurassic Park movie.
Remember the enormous exposed buttress roots that hid the raptor eggs? Today, these trees are a favorite spot for visitor photo-ops.
Fittingly, best-selling author Michael Crichton (who wrote the Jurassic Park book) once married in the gardens too.
The McBryde Garden has a more scientific focus.
It 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. Breadfruit is an important Hawaiian fruit. Thousands of breadfruits originating here have been shipped to developing countries, with information on how to grow the trees for food.
We’re suckers for gardens! In Vancouver, BC, get your flower fix at the VanDusen Botanical Garden
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
The third Kauai botanical garden in the NTBG collection of gardens on Kauai is Limahuli Garden, located on the north shore of Kauai.
Part of the 985-acre Limahuli Preserve, the garden is a 17-acre terraced garden with taro fields and other native Hawaiian plants.
We haven’t had a chance yet to personally tour Limahuli Garden.
Just another reason to revisit Kauai in future, right?
Photo credits: 1, 6, 7, 8 and 11 to 14 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except where noted)