For those of us who love to explore gardens, it is always satisfying to discover one where the story behind the garden is as compelling as the garden itself. The Allerton Garden in Kauai is such a place, inspiring visitors to get to know the creators of the garden as well as the plants and the design.
A visitor’s first view of Allerton Garden is from a cliff, looking down upon a pristine crescent beach of white sand and a verdant jungle of exotic growth. From this vantage point it is easy to appreciate the beauty of the tropical setting and begin to grasp the significance of the huge collection of South Pacific and native Hawaiian plants. When you travel down to sea-level and your guide begins to impart the history of Allerton Garden, your mind moves beyond palms and bamboo to Hawaiian royalty, Chicago wealth, European tours, intriguing life styles and Hollywood movies.
We are told that the McBryde family purchased the estate from the Hawaiian Queen Emma in the 19th century and turned it into a sugar plantation. Then in the 1930’s, Robert Allerton, a philanthropist from Chicago, acquired the property when visiting Kauai with John Gregg, his companion of 30 years (who he adopted as his son at the age of 86). As you tour the site, it is not surprising to learn that the two men had travelled in Europe extensively – Allerton to pursue his interest in art and Gregg his study of architecture. The garden may be located in the tropics but it is imbued with a European sensibility.
Allerton Garden is home to torch ginger, ever-blooming ixora, skunk tree, angel’s trumpet and an impressive collection of palms. The multipurpose breadfruit tree that grows here and in the adjacent McBryde Garden is promoted as a kind of miracle plant that can combat hunger in the tropics because it grows quickly and produces abundant fruit. And of interest to movie fans, the visually stunning Moreton Bay fig trees of ‘Jurassic Park’ fame also grow on the site. The incredible roots of these trees played a cameo role in the scene where Dr. Alan Grant and the children discovered dinosaur eggs.
This abundance of trees, vines and groundcover is displayed in and around elegant ‘rooms’ with their water features, pathways, gazebos and sculptures – a lovely mix of exotic plants in a setting more characteristic of a garden in a temperate zone.
The Allerton and McBryde Gardens are two of five gardens included in the National Tropical Botanical Garden whose mission is to preserve and protect plants, ecosystems and cultural knowledge of tropical regions. The gardens are located at 4425 Lawai Road in Poipu, Kauai, across from ‘Spouting Horn’.
By Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
© Riding the buses 2013