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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Spring a good time to visit Maui's Upcountry gardens

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KULA, Maui — While many tourists plan their Maui vacations around the humpback whales in winter, spring is the best season to visit the rural Upcountry area.

Charlie Goodwin, Naomi Schmidt and Kai Schmidt, 3, stroll through the Enchanting Floral Gardens of Kula.

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

Not only are the lavender jacaranda blooms and golden flowers of the silk oak in all their glory, but the rolling pastures sport a bright green coat of grass, newly lush from winter rains.

Spring is also the best time to see Upcountry's gardens and flower farms.

Nestled on the cool, sunny slopes of Hale-akala, they come to life each spring while taking full advantage of the same rich volcanic soil that makes the area one of the most prosperous agricultural regions in Hawai'i and home to the renowned Maui onion.

A visit Upcountry also provides an opportunity to get close to another plant Maui is famous for — the strangely beautiful protea.

Off Highway 37, past the towns of Pukalani and Makawao, is the Enchanting Floral Gardens, a collection of plants and flowers on eight acres at about the 2,500-foot elevation.

Visitors will find a glorious splash of color along paths that meander through a surprising variety of tropical and semi-tropical plants and flowers from around the world.

If you go

Maui's Upcountry gardens

• Kula Botanical Garden — Open daily 9 a.m to 4 p.m., Highway 377, near the Kula Highway junction; $5 entrance fee for adults, $1 for children ages 6 to 12; (808) 878-1715

• Enchanting Floral Gardens — Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Highway 37 in Kula; $5 entrance fee; (808) 878-2531

• University of Hawai'i's Maui Agricultural Research Center. Open 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays; at the end of Mauna Place, off Copp Road; (808) 878-1213

• Protea farms offering tours by appointment: Island Flower Designs, Tom and Jody Jewell, (808) 878-6059; Anuhea Farms, Bill Merten, (808) 572-6877 or 283-9032; Alii Gardens of Maui, Alii Chang, (808) 878-3004

Established 14 years ago, the garden was a favorite stop for Japanese tourist Kazuo Takeda, who ended up buying the place and retiring here 11 years ago. Over the years, Takeda has applied lots of tender loving care to the land, increasing the number of species from 400 to about 4,000.

There are blazing banks of flowers as well as exotic orchids, hibiscus, jade vines and other varieties found nowhere else on Maui. There are also a wide variety of fruit trees and small theme gardens.

"Most visitors come in the winter, but the best time is in the spring," says Darlene Yamada, garden manager.

Many tourists to Maui don't even bother heading Upcountry. If they do, it's often only to Haleakala National Park.

"Just last week, we had a customer who had been to Maui a number of times but totally missed the garden,'' Yamada says.

Farther out on Highway 37, turn left just past Rice Park and go up Highway 377 (Kekaulike Highway) to Kula Botanical Garden, which opened in 1971 as a native Hawaiian plant reserve.

The six-acre garden is a beautiful oasis at the 3,300-foot elevation, offering thousands of flowers and plants, including varieties of tropical and semi-tropical flowers, among them the protea. Visitors can also view orchids, bromeliads and native plants, most of which are labeled with botanical name, common name and country of origin.

Along a network of wheelchair-accessible paths are features that include an aviary, koi pond, waterfalls and a covered bridge.

Kula Botanical Garden was the dream of Warren and Helen McCord, who did most of the work with the help of family and one or two hired hands. The couple continues the work today with a staff of three part-time gardeners and two receptionists.

The entrance fee at the Enchanting Floral Gardens and Kula Botanical Garden is $5, and both have gift shops with snacks for sale and tables where visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch with a view.

Along Upcountry roads, protea can be seen growing in the gardens of Kula residents. Native to South Africa, protea were brought to Maui decades ago and found to grow especially well in this area. In 2000, $1.4 million worth of Hawai'i protea was sold, making it second only to anthuriums and roses as an island cut-flower crop, according to state statistics.

There are at least 10 working protea farms in the Upcountry area. Several of the farms maintain retail shops, and some offer tours of their grounds by appointment.

No appointment is necessary to visit the University of Hawai'i's Maui Agricultural Research Center at the end of Mauna Place, off Copp Road. It's a 20-acre research farm and public garden where scientists, are, among other things, developing new varieties of protea. Hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Guided tours are not available, but a map for a free self-guided exploration of the garden can be obtained at the office.

At Sunrise Market and Protea Farm on Highway 378 (Crater Road) near its junction with Kekaulike Highway, tourists can purchase bouquets for shipping home, but you also can browse a small protea demonstration garden.

Make an afternoon of your Upcountry visit and stay long enough to watch the sun set over the West Maui Mountains.

Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at Kula Lodge on Highway 377, Cafe 808 on Lower Kula Road, or at any number of restaurants in Makawao.

Or, drive out to 'Ulupalakua on Highway 37 to the Tedeschi Vineyards tasting room. There is no charge for use of the shaded picnic grounds. Pack a meal or walk across the street to the 'Ulupalakua Ranch Store for sandwiches.