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Foster Botanical Garden - Impact On A Jamaican American

Updated on June 17, 2013
Foster Botanical Garden
Foster Botanical Garden | Source
Big Tree - Foster Botanical Garden
Big Tree - Foster Botanical Garden | Source

The Avid Gardener - Me Not So Much

My wife considers herself an avid gardener. I think really think she is. But, truth be told, I am the one who prepares the soil, dig the holes, and create the raised beds, which are the inevitable receptacles for her beautiful plants. So, does that make me and avid gardener as well? Apparently not, since, when showing off the garden to friends and relatives she often refers to it as my garden. On the rare occasions, when I jokingly protest, she will credit me generously, for all the manual work that I do, in her beautiful garden.

Fun aside, we both enjoy our garden, and, my wife does spend much more time in it than I do. She enjoys planting and nurturing her flowers, ornamentals and shrubs; like roses, red ginger, crotons and hibiscus. When we're not travelling, she often spends the weekends, tending her plants; weeding, clipping, and deadheading her roses and other plants. For her, it’s a source of relaxation, and a welcome break from her full time job, as a busy medical professional.

Me - Garden To Table

For my part, I prefer to plant vegetables and herbs, such as; tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, thyme & basil. I like to plant, but I also like to reap. The concept of ‘garden to table’ has great appeal to me. Perhaps, attributable to my growing up in rural Jamaica, where many families practiced what is known as subsistence farming, - meaning most or all the food and livestock they produced was, strictly for family consumption. They lived off the land, not necessarily the best land; nor did they not have much of it. But, they made the best of what they had. In a way, these rural folk enjoyed the best of both worlds. They had both flower, and vegetable gardens; typically, a colorful flower garden in the front of the home, and a full fledge vegetable garden at the back, where it would not be unusual to find a pig pen, with one or two pigs, a goat tethered to a fruit tree, a few chickens, and a noisy rooster, roaming the yard.

My avid gardener and I enjoy discovering and learning about plants. In college, I studied the Natural Sciences; Chemistry major, and minor in Botany – the science of plants. Back then, I could tell you all you needed to know about, Xylem, Phloem, and Parenchyma. Now it’s about observing, appreciating and being around plants that holds my interest.

Ackee Tree With Pods - Foster Botanical Garden
Ackee Tree With Pods - Foster Botanical Garden | Source
Breadfruit Tree - Foster Botanical Garden
Breadfruit Tree - Foster Botanical Garden | Source
Large Tree - Foster Botanical Garden
Large Tree - Foster Botanical Garden | Source
Large Tree - Foster Botanical Garden
Large Tree - Foster Botanical Garden | Source

Foster Botanical Garden - A Cultural Connection

Wherever our travels have taken us, we always try to see the local Botanical Garden. Perhaps, influenced by our own Hope Botanical Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica, where, as young college students, we spent many picnic hours, enjoying the lush, quiet, beautiful surroundings, of this 200 acre garden oasis. That was our 'New York City Central Park'.

While attending a conference in Honolulu recently, we had an opportunity to visit the stunning Foster Botanical Gardens, (13.5 Acres), in beautiful downtown Honolulu.

All the gardens we have visited, have been fascinating and interesting places. They were all wonderful spaces for observing plants, for quiet enjoyment and relaxation. Each was unique, in size, type of plants, and the feel of the garden. Without a doubt, the Garden that has had the greatest impact on me, a Jamaican-American was the Foster Botanical Garden, in Honolulu.

The lush plant growth, the health and vigor of all the plants throughout the garden. Although it was one of the smaller gardens we have visited, this one brought back cherished memories of growing up in Jamaica, some 5200 miles away from Honolulu. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the plants in the Economic/Herb Spice garden were instantly familiar to me. Some of these plants I had not seen in a long time. Nor had I seen them anywhere, outside of Jamaica; The Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Pimento (Pimento dioica - Allspice), Guava (Psidium guajava), Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), Ackee (Blighia sapida). Named in honor of British Captain William Bligh, who brought the Ackee and Breadfruit to Jamaica, from the East Indies, in the late 18th Century. The Ackee, is of great cultural significance to Jamaicans; It is Jamaica’s National Fruit, and the delicious Jamaican dish Ackee And Salted Codfish, is Jamaica’s National Dish. A word of caution is needed here. The Ackee pod must be fully ripe and opened on the tree, before it is used for cooking. Otherwise, eating it may cause toxic hypoglycemia, and possibly death. The Breadfruit is another important staple of the Jamaican diet. No kidding. Nearly, every home in Jamaica has a Breadfruit tree, and or a Ackee tree.

This large light green fruit, is a tasty inexpensive source of carbohydrates. It can be peeled, sliced, and boiled. Alternatively, it can also, roasted, or baked, then peeled, sliced and served. It’s actually an excellent partner when served with Ackee and Codfish. Really Yummy!

Crotons - Foster Botanical Garden
Crotons - Foster Botanical Garden | Source
Orchids - Foster Botanical Garden
Orchids - Foster Botanical Garden | Source
Orchids - Foster Botanical Garden
Orchids - Foster Botanical Garden | Source

From Giant Trees To Black Pepper Vines

One of the required ingredients of our tasty national dish is Black Pepper. I had never seen the Black Pepper plant (Piper nigrum) until I visited the Foster Botanical Gardens.

Obviously, I have used this ground spice. I have seen the little black pepper corns, but never the plant itself. It was fascinating to see the actual plant, a perennial flowering vine. That was a neat experience.

The phenomenal height and size of the trees in the Foster Botanical Garden, was mind-blowing. They stand as symbols of strength, permanence, and immortality. Standing at the foot of these trees, renders the human frame shockingly diminutive. The Cannonball tree. What can I say? We paid special attention to the warning sign that read: Caution - Watch Out For Falling Cannonballs. You do not want to be under that tree, if one of those large brown fruits(cannonball) decides to fall.

The Orchid Garden, with its collection of new and old world orchid species was also a highlight of our tour. The orchids, like all the other plants in this garden seem to thrive in this environment. The colors of the blooms were bright and intense.

We really were stunned to see the enormous size, of the Heliconias, Gingers, the vivid colors and variety of Crotons on display.

We spent about 4 hours in the garden, and the only complaint I have is, it was not enough. I hope to go back. It is indeed a special place.


In Gratitude

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Queen Kalama, who in 1853 leased a small plot of land to William Hillebrand, the German Physician and Botanist, who built his home there, and planted those trees. To Captain Thomas and Mary Foster who later bought the property and continued to develop the gardens, and who later bequeathed it to the City of Honolulu, in 1930. We owe these folk big time.


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