Visiting Foster Botanical Gardens in Honolulu, Hawaii

Guest Post: Ruth Elayne Kongaika

One Aloha Friday afternoon, as my husband and I were making our way through the rush hour traffic on Vineyard Street in Honolulu, we saw a sign that said Foster Botanical Gardens. Since we were not in a hurry, we pulled over into the parking lot. The moment we opened our car doors, the most beautiful fragrance drifted to our nostrils. It was coming from the heavily endowed flowering trees surrounding the entrance to the gardens. That was enough to prod us toward the entrance to check things out further.

After paying a nominal fee, we swooped up our map of the gardens and started our adventure. I honestly felt transfigured to another place and time. Luckily, I had brought along my camera, since I was enthralled with the many beautiful tropical flowers in a various shapes and colors. Just as I would start to put my camera away, I would see something else I was stimulated to capture a photo of. Well-placed signs indicated the name and species of many of the flowers and plants. We were surprised at how many of them we had never witnessed before.Foster’s White Lilies , Foster Botanical Gardens Honolulu, Hawaii Copyright Ruth Elayne Kongaika

We discovered that some of the incredibly large trees that towered over the gardens were planted around 1853. There were trees from many countries around the world including Africa. These giants were so magnificent! They actually refer to them as exceptional trees because of their age, rarity, size, location and historical and cultural significance. They were massive, indeed, and I had to get a few pictures of my husband standing next to the trunks so we could remember how enormous they were.Native African Tree at Foster Botanical Gardens Honolulu, Hawaii Copyright Ruth Elayne Kongaika

Foster's Flame Flowers, Foster Botanical Gardens Honolulu, Hawaii Copyright Ruth Elayne KongaikaFoster Botanical Garden is divided according to the following:

  • Lyon Orchid Garden – a collection of Old and New World orchid species
  • Main Terrace – the oldest part of the garden dating from 1853.
  • Middle Terraces – palms, aroids, heliconia and ginger plants.
  • Economic Garden – herb garden, spices, dyes, poisons and beverage plants.
  • Prehistoric Glen – primitive plants from around the world.
  • The Orchid Conservatory – blooming orchid display.
  • Exceptional Trees – 24 trees designated "exceptional" throughout the Garden

The gardens are very well taken care of, and you easily forget that you are almost in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the United States. The gardens cover 5.5 acres of land off Vineyard Boulevard and Nuuanu Avenue in Honolulu.

The history of the garden goes back to 1853 when the land was leased to a young German doctor, William Hillebrand by Queen Kalama. He built his home on the property, and being a botanist as well as a physician, he planted many trees that still remain in the gardens today. Later, the lot was sold to Captain Thomas and Mary Foster. They continued to maintain and develop the garden. Upon Mary’s death, the garden was bequeathed to the City and County of Honolulu. It was opened as a public garden in 1931, directed by Dr. Harold Lyon. Ten thousand new trees and plants were introduced by Dr. Lyon.

As we strolled through the gardens, I could not help but think it would be the perfect setting for a wedding. I learned that it is possible to have weddings and wedding photos there with a permit. They also offer guided tours and several times a year, school children get to enjoy this enchanting place.

I witnessed flowers and trees that I have never seen before, and had quite an educational and fascinating experience at the Foster Botanical Gardens. It is part of the Department of Parks and Recreation of Hawaii and well worth a look.


Ruth Elayne Kongaika was raised in the mainland, USA, but has been living in the South Pacific for the past forty years. She enjoys trying to capture the beauty of the Polynesian islands through her photography, painting and writing. She has a blog which shares some of her art and favorite subjects at:



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