COURTESY FOSTER BOTANICAL GARDEN
Sunlight streams through the centuries-old canopy at Foster Botanical Garden.
Foster Botanical Garden oasis amid bustling downtown Oahu
Downtown Honolulu grew around Foster Botanical Garden, the seeds for which were literally sown by William Hillebrand, a young doctor and botanist from Germany.
Foster Botanical Garden
» Address: 50 N. Vineyard Boulevard, Honolulu
» Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (except Christmas and New Year's Day)
» Admission: $5 for 13 and older ($3 for kamaaina), $1 for ages 6 through 12, free for 5 and younger. A $25 family pass, good for one year from date of purchase, admits two adults and their children (under 18 years old).
» Call: 522-7060
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» On the Net: www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/hbg/fbg.htm
» Notes: One-hour guided tours are offered at 1 p.m. daily except Sunday (included in the admission cost). Reservations recommended. Tours at other times may be arranged upon request. Call 522-7066.
In 1853, Hillebrand and his wife built a home on the outskirts of the city, where he began planting an array of trees and flowers, including exotic specimens sea captains brought back for him from faraway lands. Within a year he was tending about 160 different species.
At the same time, Hillebrand's career in medicine was flourishing. He became the personal physician of Hawaii's royal family and the head physician of the Queen's Hospital (now the Queen's Medical Center) when Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV opened it in 1859.
Six years later, Hillebrand traveled to China as a representative of Hawaii's Bureau of Immigration to facilitate the importation of laborers for the sugar cane industry. During that trip he also studied and sent back plants he thought would be desirable to cultivate in the islands.
Hillebrand moved back to Germany in 1871. For nearly a decade he considered returning to Hawaii, but in 1880, when he determined that wouldn't happen, he sold his home to shipping entrepreneur Thomas Foster and his wife, Mary, who lived on an adjacent lot. Mary loved gardening and added to the magnificent oasis Hillebrand had started.
Among her most notable contributions was a sacred fig or bo tree. As the story goes, on a visit to India, Mary decided to sponsor a yoga instructor's stay in the United States. To thank her, the yogi presented her with a cutting that supposedly came from India's famed bo tree, dating back to 288 B.C., under which Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, sat when he attained enlightenment.
When Mary died in 1930, 41 years after her husband, she bequeathed her home and 5.5-acre garden to the City and County of Honolulu with the stipulation that it was to "accept and forever keep and properly maintain the (garden) as a public and tropical park."
Foster Park and Gardens, as it was then known, opened on Nov. 30, 1931, with botanist Harold Lyon as its first director.
COURTESY FOSTER BOTANICAL GARDEN
Botanist William Hillebrand started planting exotic flora abound his home in 1853. His former home and adjacent lots now comprise Foster Botanical Garden.
OVER THE NEXT 33 years, the garden slowly grew through the purchase of lots along School Street and the gift of several acres from Bishop Estate along Nuuanu Stream. Its present boundaries were established in 1964 with the acquisition of a 2-acre parcel on the corner of Vineyard Boulevard and Nuuanu Avenue.
Today, highlights of the 13.5-acre garden include the Lyon Orchid Garden, started with blooms from Lyon's personal collection; the Prehistoric Glen, spotlighting plant species that predate civilization; the Economic Garden, including herbs, spices and plants yielding dyes, poisons and beverages; and 24 exceptional trees, deemed so because of their age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality, endemic status or historical and cultural significance.
Foster Botanical Garden was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1988 and 1993, respectively. It hosts numerous activities year-round, including plant sales; craft classes; a summer concert series; themed tours and educational classes; and Midsummer Night's Gleam, an annual evening event that was launched in 1968.
This year's Midsummer Night's Gleam takes place Saturday.
"It transforms the garden into a magical place," says recreation specialist Joyce Spoehr. "Lights are shining in the trees and along the paths; you smell flowers that only bloom after dark; and there's music, dancing and other activities that your whole family will enjoy. It's enchanting -- like a fairy tale come to life!"
STAR-BULLETIN / 1998
Lanterns light up Foster Botanical Garden at the Midsummer Night's Gleam event.
Gleaming Garden Fun
Midsummer Night's Gleam
» Time: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday
» Admission: Free
» Activities: The garden will be lighted with 2,500 luminarias. Entertainment includes belly dancing, a Chinese lion dance and performances by Skylark (Celtic music), the Royal Scottish Dance Society, Pacific University's string quartet and the Manoa Voices.
» For keiki: Children's activities from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. will include face painting, weaving lau hala stars and bookmarks, fishing for guppies in plastic pools and decorating fans, visors and headbands. Also planned are plant giveaways, an exotic fruit display and a wishing tree (write your wish on colorful paper and tie it on the tree).
Three concerts remain in the garden's Twilight Summer Concert Series on Thursdays. Admission is free between 4:30 and 7:15 p.m.; bring supper. Unless otherwise stated, concerts are from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m.
» Thursday: Tejuino (classic rock), 5:30 p.m.
» July 24: Satomi Jazz Group
» July 31: Harp Ensemble and Teddy Bear Picnic (real teddy bears welcome)
Tours and classes
Reservations are required. Call 522-7064 for the weaving class and story hour and 522-7066 for the tours.
» Making Lau Hala Turtles: Session A runs Wednesday and July 23 and 30. Session B: Aug. 13, 20 and 27. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; $10 with garden admission.
» Storytime in the Garden: Sessions include reading stories, a nature craft and singing. From 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday and July 24 and 31. Free.
» Dr. William F. Hillebrand Garden Tour: Focuses on trees Hillebrand planted in the 1850s. At 1 p.m. Aug. 9 and Sept. 13. Free with garden admission.
» Medicinal Plants Tour: At 1 p.m. Aug. 16 and Sept. 20. Free with garden admission.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.