Tucked away in the Lawai Valley, in the middle of busy, sunny Poipu, on the South Shore of Kauai, the Allerton Garden is as close to the Garden of Eden as you may ever see. The Garden is the labor of love of Robert Allerton, heir of Samuel Allerton, a wealthy Illinois businessman who made his millions as a farmer, co-founder of the First National Bank of Chicago, and owner of five Chicago stockyards—about as far from the Garden of Eden as you can get.
The tour begins at the top of the valley where you board a van that descends old sugar cane roads down to sea level where a magical garden has been coaxed out of the dry, South Shore desert. The location for movies such as Jurassic Park, Allerton Garden boasts a vast array of beautiful, unusual, and improbable plants.
A series of garden rooms unfold between the Lawai Stream and the cliffs of the Valley. The sound of water is in abundance in pools, miniature waterfalls, and fountains. Statues grace this former estate and resonate with a European influence.
Towering rainforest trees with tall curving roots grow near bronze mermaids, a grove of swaying golden bamboo, a cut-flower garden, and tropical fruit trees. Here the focus is on landscape design, but among the plantings are botanically important species of the tropics, including varieties of palms, ti, heliconias, and gingers.
Allerton is where giant Moreton Bay Fig trees from Australia with sinuous, above-ground roots cradled Jurassic Park creator John Hammond’s granddaughter when a brachiosaurus sneezed on her.
The graceful, (and deadly) pendulous flowers of the Angel’s Trumpet from South America were once used in potions to knock out unsuspecting landlubbers who later awoke to find themselves unwilling servants on ships at sea.
Heliconias are in abundance, but the weirdest of them looks like it belongs on a plate with A-1 sauce and a baked potato. It is aptly named the beefsteak.
Catch-your-breath surprises appear at every turn, including a mystical lotus and water lily garden.
The only thing that could add to this setting’s perfection is a gorgeous, empty stretch of white sand with azure, emerald, and turquoise waves crashing on the beach—and it is here.
Known as Lawai Kai, this masterwork of landscape design created by Robert and his son, John Gregg Allerton, extends over an area of nearly 80 acres and serves as a majestic public entrance to the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Allerton is the fulfillment of the ideal of a garden paradise, imagined first by Hawaii’s Queen Emma in the late 19th century, and then by sugar-magnate Alexander McBryde at the turn of the 20th century.
Kiawe trees planted by Emma still flourish here, though over time they have tumbled sideways and replanted themselves. The cliffs of the Lawai Valley still cascade with her favorite deep-purple bougainvillea. Her simple cottage sanctuary also remains.
It was the Allertons, however, who explored the endless possibilities of garden landscaping to be found in this dramatic topography and created this masterpiece of garden art. At Allerton Garden, nature and human creativity meet in a place of unparalleled beauty. While preserving its natural character, successive caretakers of the land have sculpted it, added paths, walls, and watercourses, eventually creating an environment aptly described as “Garden as Art.”
The Allerton Garden is one of five gardens and three preserves that comprise the National Tropical Botanical Garden, whose mission is to “enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions.”
Guided tours are given seven days a week and last approximately 2 1/2 hours. The Allerton Visitors Center is located in Poipu across from “Spouting Horn.” Reservations are required and there is a fee. Call (808) 742-2623 for information and reservations.
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