THE BIG ISLAND: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

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Tucked away on the East side of the Big Island of Hawaii in Onomea Bay, just outside Hilo, hugging a bend on one of the most picturesque roads on the Big Island, is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

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The garden is a unique tropical nature preserve and sanctuary. But more than that, it is a testament to the vision and efforts of its founders, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse, who purchased 17 acres of land in 1978 and then proceeded to make a garden, literally inch by inch. When they brought the land it was covered in a dense, seemingly impenetrable jungle under which lay all kinds of junk: abandoned cars, machinery, appliances and trash as well as some treasures: amazing views of the Pacific, hidden waterfalls and the graves of an anonymous family of four.

The Lutkenhouses began chopping down jungle by hand with machetes because the jungle was so thick it was the only way to make space. Within six years they had reduced chaos and began the introduction of order with winding paths and groves of garden dedicated to different genus. There is a Bromeliad Hill, an Anthurium Corner, a Fern Circle and a Ginger Trail, among others.

The Lutkenhouses meant the garden to be a sanctuary for people as well as plants and on the January day I visited it lived up to their intention. It is a steep descent from the road and Visitor’s Center down into the garden. Almost immediately after getting on the boardwalk that takes you up and down into the garden you are engulfed in vegetation. The light is lovely, and intermittent. The hot Hawaiian sun so unforgiving on the beaches is in the garden is no more than a hidden guest playing hide and seek amid the foliage, making grand gestures when highlighting a hidden waterfall or spotlighting a bit of foliage. The foliage and flowers are accompanied by sounds of waterfalls, parrots and the crashing of the Pacific against the rocks. Even in January there was a lot in bloom to these North American eyes. I found myself thinking that even without blooms, the foliage, the light, the waterfalls, the ocean views and the opportunity to walk in this creation which was hewn out of neglect is well worth a visit.

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But don’t let the name deceive you! Yes, the garden is in Hawaii, yes it is tropical, yes it is botanical and yes it is a garden but it is not an Hawaiian Botanical Garden. The garden houses species from all over the tropical world. I became interested in counting the number of different pine trees, until I lost count. And I couldn’t get enough of the ginger or birds of paradise, which are so exotic to my Zone 5 sensibility.

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As I do whenever I travel, before I left I researched gardens to visit. There were several on the Big Island. I only had ½ a day to visit gardens because the reason I was on the Big Island was to go on a bicycle trip with my daughter. I flew over a few days ahead of my daughter and the start of the bike trip so I could savor the Big Island, get over jet lag and of course visit gardens. The Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden was on the other side of the island from where I was staying. I rented a car and drove several hours over to see it. From the East Coast of America, it seems like Hawaii and its sites are just that far to get to, but I am glad I made the effort. The garden is a remarkable memorial to Dan Lutkenhouse, who donated the garden and all the land for future conservation. I was also touched that there are quite a few memorial plaques honoring people who have been important to the garden, and the garden to them. Hawaiian Tropical Botanic Garden was a grand scale of a project, but I like to think that all gardens are in some small way share the vision, the effort and the loyalty that the Lutkenhouses and those who helped them achieve their dream garden.

If you find yourself on the Big Island, go see for yourself:  www.htbg.com

Aloha

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Update

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

I think this is a bit of a pyrrich victory, but at least it’s a stop gap measure.  UCLA has managed a compromise in its legal fight to sell the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden. Those of you who read about the initial uproar about UCLA’s proposal to sell the house and garden to developers (Ofgardens February 16, 2012) may remember that the historically important garden was given to UCLA with the stipulation that the house and garden never be sold. Nevertheless, in November 2011 the University went to court to break the bequest. The compromise reached recently is  that the garden can be sold, but the new owner will preserve and maintain the garden for at least 30 years.

I question the strength of the legal binding of this agreement. Afterall, it was only 50 years ago that UCLA was given the house and garden with instructions to maintain and preserve it forever. La plus la change….

Here is a synopsis of the update from The Cultural Landscape Foundation:

 

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has reached an agreement with the heirs of Edward and Hannah Carter, according to the Los Angeles Times, settling a legal dispute over the immediate fate of the historic Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel-Air. Under the terms of the new agreement, the university is permitted to sell the garden only on condition that the new owner agree to preserve and maintain it for at least 30 years. 

Created by Nagao Sakurai and faithfully reconstructed by Koichi Kawana, the garden is among the most significant examples of post-War Japanese gardens in the United States. It was entrusted to UCLA in 1964 by Edward W. Carter (and subsequently renamed to honor his wife Hannah) and the university pledged to maintain it in perpetuity. But in 2010, following Mrs. Carter’s death (Mr. Carter predeceased her), UCLA persuaded a judge to overturn the terms of the bequest and subsequently put the garden up for sale.

TCLF listed the garden in its Landslide program as an “at-risk” landscape in January 2012 and joined a coalition that included the Los Angeles Conservancy and others to halt its sale and ensure its long-term maintenance. Then, on July 27, 2012, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a temporary injunction delaying UCLA’s sale of the garden and upholding its legal obligation to maintain it. The garden has been closed to visitors for some time, and this most recent agreement contains no stipulation regarding public access. But it is the hope of the members of the Coalition to Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden that any new owner would seek a conservation easement and allow for periods of public visitation.

 

Global Re-Entry

 

La Foce
                                                                             La Foce

I’ve been away for many weeks, traveling on 3 continents. I am looking forward to sharing with you all the wonderful gardens I have seen.

Of course I had to come home sometime. Upon my arrival back in the USA I went through Customs at Logan International Airport in Boston, my hometown. When it was my turn the Custom Official listed the required questions to incoming residents “Where have you been? How long have you been away? What was the purpose of your visit?” Usually I give simple short answers but this time, still on a high from all the fabulous gardens I had seen and the fun I had had seeing them I answered with enthusiasm,  “I was on a Garden Tour in Italy. We saw 20 gardens in 2 weeks!”

Upon hearing this, the placid, somewhat bored features of the Customs Official turned quizzical, then incredulous before he asked skeptically, “How do they pick the gardens, by whoever has the best backyard?”

I was rendered speechless, stunned that the gardens I had seen were being called “back yards”. I had indeed been out of the country for a long time. How could I give an answer to this question and educate this person who thought of gardens as “back yards” on the achievements of Italian Gardens from the Renaissance up to the 21st Century in the nano second I had to answer before the line behind me erupted? My mind swirled, but my subconscious came up with an answer, “By historical significance”, I replied.

Now it was  his turn to be shocked and speechless. We looked at each other as if we were both from other planets, not the same city, and parted each other’s company without another word, but with a certain amount of disbelief  and suspicion on each other’s part.

Sometimes reentry can be challenging.

 

Gardens of Marrakesh

Photo: Alessio Mei
Photo: Alessio Mei

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Marrakesh, I have just read Gardens of Marrakesh by Angelica Gray. I’m glad I did. Until  reading Gardens of Marrakesh, I thought the only garden worth visiting in Marrakesh was  Le Jardin Marjorelle. It turns out that there are, according to  Gray, at least 20 gardens of note to visit. I know I will visit Le Jardin Marjorelle, after all it has been on my gardens to visit wish list for many years. But now, thanks to Angelica, I know to visit 19 other gardens. I don’t think I will get to them all, but I will certainly try. If you’re planning a visit to Marrakesh and are interested in Moroccan gardens, do read Gardens of Marrakesh. The photos by Alessio Mei are transportive.  As  author, Gray does a decent job of organizing the gardens one by one and describing their strengths and weaknesses. She clearly loves Marrakesh and her enthusiasm is evident in her garden descriptions. Most importantly, she has gathered  gardens worth visiting in one volume, which makes it very useful to the traveling garden visitor.

Has any one been to Marrakesh and visited gardens? Has anyone read Gray’s book? How do your experiences measure up to the written description of Marrakeshi gardens? I’d like to know.

 

The Gardens of Alcatraz

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Alcatraz Island sits out in San Francisco Bay beckoning. And although I have been to San Francisco many times, for a myriad of reasons I had never been to Alcatraz, until last week.

The reasons why it was last week among all the others that was the day I went to Alcatraz is as varied as the reasons why I had never been. But I do know why I was very motivated to go this time – the gardens of Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island has a long history, starting in the 1840s as the location of the first lighthouse on the West Coast, then a US military base and ending its tenure as a maximum-security prison. It is famous partly for housing Al Capone, partly for being ‘inescapable’ and partly because it is in San Francisco Bay. Throughout its history there have always been gardens,  and although they have never been as famous as their location the recent restoration project is bringing them their due attention.

Warden's Garden
Warden’s Garden

When Alcatraz was a maximum-security prison from 1934 – 1963 as many as 70 families of guards and staff lived on the island to service the prison. Under the unusual conditions of living on a desolate island along side a maximum-security prison, these families lived normal lives, including gardens. It is the gardens of this period of the island’s history, mainly the 1940s and 1950s, that are being restored. One warden had a garden and a greenhouse built for his wife, the officer’s had gardens along Officer’s Row, there was a Rose Terrace, the West lawn and Terraces and the Cellhouse Slope which faced San Francisco.  This slope was covered in iceplant, called “Persian carpet” by the inmates. The plantings served two purposes. One was erosion prevention and one was to soften the look of the island from the residents across the bay in San Francisco.

Officer's Row
Officer’s Row
Officer's Row
Officer’s Row
Officer's Row
Officer’s Row

 

 

Cellhouse Slope
Cellhouse Slope
Cellhouse Slope
Cellhouse Slope

In addition to working on the gardens of the warden and officers, the prisoners had their own garden at the end of the West Road. This garden was along the route that the prisoners took daily on their way to work in the prison industries. The soil was amended with garbage, a birdbath appeared, staff provided seeds and the prisoners gardened.

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Prisoner's Garden
Prisoner’s Garden
Prisoner's Garden
Prisoner’s Garden
Prisoner's Garden
Prisoner’s Garden

Alcatraz is an inhospitable place, known as “The Rock”. It is barren, windswept and sea splashed, not ideal garden conditions, but the residents – the voluntary and involuntary – created gardens for over a century. In the 1930s the warden’s secretary, Fred Reichel, contacted the California Horticultural Society and other western plant breeders to find out what types of plants would do well on the island’s harsh conditions and planted them.

Rose Terrace
Rose Terrace
Rose Terrace
Rose Terrace

The prison closed in 1963 and the island was abandoned. For 40 years the abandoned gardens were untouched. Beginning in 2003 the Garden Conservancy, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service began a joint effort to preserve and restore the gardens. Remarkably, under the random growth of 40 years of neglect, the original gardens and hundreds of the original plantings, including those researched and used by Fred Reichel, were found to alive.

Geraniums planted to beautify the road to the cellhouse
Geraniums planted to beautify the road to the cellhouse
Alcatraz Geraniums
Alcatraz Geraniums

 

Today, 11 years after restoration began, but decades after planting, the gardens are there to be seen. They are still works of restoration, but easily distinguished as gardens, and remain, as all gardens, marvels of determination and survival.