Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kaui, Allerton Gardens

Moreton Bay fig trees in
Kauai's Allerton Garden
While in Kaui, we visited Allerton Gardens. This garden is one of five overseen by the National Tropical Botanical Gardens trust (NTBG). The only way to view them is to take a guided tour, which is a good thing. Many of the plant specimens here are imperilled and visitors to gardens are prone to taking seedlings and seeds home in pockets. Limiting visitors controls the volume of people traipsing through the space.  The guided tour also means, if you have a good guide, that you get to hear a bit of the backstory about the place. 

It was our guide's first tour, and he did a great job of telling stories without dropping Latin plant names.

The gardens were originally created by Robert Allerton and John Gregg Allerton, lifelong companions.
On March 4, 1960, Robert Allerton became a father. He was 86 at the time and his newly adopted son, John Wyatt Gregg, was 60. They had met 38 years previously at a "Father-Son" fraternity banquet at the University of Illinois where the single and childless Allerton, 49, had been invited by a friend to stand in as a "father" to a then 22 year-old Gregg, who was an orphan. Interviewed in the 1980s, Gregg explained: "Robert Allerton was invited over there for lunch for a football game and he didn't have a son and I didn't have a father so we were paired off and lived happily ever after. Historical Perspectives on Kinship
Robert Allerton was the artist and John Gregg Allerton was the architect. Together, their combined talents designed a unique garden concept of linked outdoor rooms. They would invite guests for dinner and feast in the moonlit garden. Visitors would be invited to choose costumes to suit their mood from a vast wardrobe. It sounds like the Allerton's knew how to entertain.

The Thanksgiving Room, where they often held their dinner parties, isn't named after the American holiday, but because Allerton was grateful he had not committed suicide earlier in his life, at a point of deep despair. Persevering had meant he lived to share the gardens with friends to an old age.

The Mermaid Room has a fountain that beats 52 times per minute. Just sitting there quietly is lovely meditation, as the fountain is timed to beat at the pace of the human heart at rest. Another area is planted with clumps of golden bamboo that tower overhead, making beautiful music on a windy day. Fountains and statuary adorn the landscape throughout. The gardens were ahead of their time and influenced landscape architecture for decades to come. 

Today the estate is maintained by NTBG and people can sign up for the tours, but it's also been the site of several films, including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Research is underway here and at the McBride Gardens to study the potential of plants as healing pharmaceuticals and food sources. We saw a  seeded form of Breadfruit known as 'breadnut' that is grown for its nutritious, tasty seeds which contain 13-20% protein, 6-29% fat, and are a good source of potassium, calcium, and niacin. Seeds are boiled, roasted, or ground into meal or flour. This superfood is highly nutritious and has the potential to feed the world's hungry. NTBG is helping to study, propagate, and deliver breadnut plugs for planting to feed the hungry in Zambia, Costa Rica, Ghana and Nicaragua.

Just spending three hours here I could breathe easier - all the oxygen and the calming effects of the plants. Definitely one of the highlights of our Hawaii trip!

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