The lush garden isle of Kauai is a natural spot for the unconventional duo known as 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 northern Kauai). Between rugged cliffs in the secluded Lawai Valley, the two neighbouring gardens of Allerton and McBryde comprise 350 acres of land, showcasing a magnificent variety of tropical plants.
Guided visits reveal a bit of the quirky history. Once a retreat of Hawaii’s Queen Emma, the Allerton Garden was bought in the late 1930s by the Allertons, world travellers and wealthy philanthropists. 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 their 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 Jurassic Park, where their enormous exposed buttress roots hid raptor eggs; it’s a favourite spot for visitor photo ops.
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, including 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 being tackled: thousands of breadfruits originating here have been shipped to developing countries, with information on how to grow the trees for food.