One day out of the entire year, Hoaloha day, the entry to the Na ‘Āina Kai Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park is only 10 dollars. From 9-1 you get to wander about, a fantastic deal as normally one must pay from $35 to $80 depending on which guided tour you take. Tours that don’t seem to be the sort of thing you should bring your 4 year old and infant on.
So there I was on Hoaloha day gladly handing over the 10 dollars in exchange for a turtle handstamp and map of the gardens that Gids immediately commandeered holding upside down as he headed off in the wrong direction, authoritatively requesting I follow him. Redirecting him was made easy thanks to The Duchess, her hand waving hello as she called out a greeting.
The Duchess was there volunteering with her mother at the entrance. Na ‘Āina Kai has an army of volunteers, which basically translates into people very happy to be there. (Great way to get free good quality customer service!) Duchess is unsettling. A picture of her would lend the idea of a perky cheerleader, but in person Lauren Bacall always seems to have possessed her. I found myself, while making small talk with her and her mother, scanning the bushes half expecting a Humphrey Bogart looking fellow to emerge and light her a cigarette so the two of them could engage in witty banter while crime solving.
Vera arrived pulling me back to reality and in we went. Gids racing her daughter down the path leading to the various gardens, a path hedged with hibiscus and to my horror ixora. I hadn’t realized what sort of creature the foot high red flowered bush in a container would grow to be when I bought it at the nursery last week. We pass the herb section, gigantic basil plants the size of trees their purple blooms leaping toward the sky, threatening to break apart and seed the next generation. Then off to a maze of mock orange plants, lily pad laden lagoon, and everywhere whimsical statutes immortalized in stillshots of lifelike movement.
Vera was married here. I didn’t realize it was a botanical garden then despite the large sign saying so at the entrance, and to be honest my 20 year old self didn’t care much for gardens. The day of the wedding I was just happy to be drinking in a place with lots of photo opportunities we could blast on Facebook, posing goofily with the rest of the bridal party next to statues trying to imitate their whimsy and elegance.
Years later finding myself on Oahu vacationing after Rossi was born I wanted to fill the days with something besides sand between my toes and discovered I was a starry eyed fan of botanical gardens. The bizarre and spectacular plants were horribly entertaining, as were the stories of people who had traveled the earth collecting them for one reason or another bringing them to Hawai’i to plant. The cannonball tree blooming at Fosters is quite a strange sight, one where you pause because you’ve never seen anything like it and then you begin to circle it, and all the while it never occurs that a picture should be taken because your mind is so puzzled. Then snow falling, covering the ground in Honolulu but no… it’s silk cotton trees, fuzzy remnants of blossoms floating down and blowing about. Around the next corner a grove of gargantuans a herd of elephant’s legs rising high in the sky disappearing in the clouds before you see their bodies.
You see in botanical gardens the trees and plants captivate you. Take you away on a flight of fancy. Well it was hard at Na ‘Āina Kai to get this, there was something off. I began to fear that was it. That I had just spent hours wandering about memory lane with Vera admiring sculptures as we took turns chasing after the kids. I was getting nothing from this place, this great beautiful place other than disappointment I hadn’t researched ixora, and happiness over the fact my basils would grow into a small forest.
Then that changed. Vera was running up stone steps, climbing higher and higher above the waterfall that feeds the lily pad laden lagoon. She was rushing to apprehend the children from causing mayhem. So off I went following Vera up the hill to a Japanese Teahouse. A volunteer had already done the parenting for us, telling Gids and Vera’s daughter the little zen box of sand on the table was not to be played with despite the rather obvious little rake placed in it begging to differ. So the kids were leaning in staring at it then each other, “You don’t touch it!”
“I’m not touching, you don’t touch it!” And so it was going back and forth when the volunteer launched into a very rehearsed info spiel she had likely performed a hundred or so times before our arrival.
“And then Joyce, after the waterfall was built, sat on this hill and said, “Ed something is missing!” A few days later she told him it was a teahouse. She wanted a Japanese Teahouse!” I would have let out a little chuckle then if I was the lady, a kind of can you believe it?! Chuckle. At the point I began thinking who does that? Who is this lady Joyce? Why a teahouse? Did she live on Mount Fuji drinking tea for a few years then after descending find herself awash in nostalgia? The volunteer continued on with details on the authenticity of the teahouse. A bonsai tree contorted into a hook, pink and gold blooms intertwined with green bursts all of them twisting down its lone crippled branch. Reflected up from the polished wood next to it a Tea Set one of the pieces crafted to resemble a fish, its blue painted face puckering up at the ceiling. Across from them a painting- no not a painting at all but a mash up of silk sewn together as two Red Crowned Cranes. The bones of the teahouse were imported wood, save for one central piece of local wood as teahouses must include one piece from the native land. My eyes caught the view again. It was nice. I would sub the tea for sake, but otherwise, sure, why not a teahouse? Still though that idea, who was she to have come up with it? What kind of life had she led? What places had she been?
I realized then why this place seemed out of context compared to the other botanical gardens. This was a garden in its infancy. We had been strolling through the dreams and visions of a single woman. An individual who had meticulously carried out and executed them down to the finest detail. The ones I had visited before had of course been that at one time, but that time had been a hundred or more years ago and many other people had come after them, superimposing their own dreams and visions over the original. You weren’t at all walking through bits and pieces of a single individuals life, their inspirations, desires and dreams clearly stamped upon the land. The voice of the creators in the other places had been long lost, replaced by their creations, but this wasn’t the case at Na ‘Āina Kai yet.
Google. At home I was logged on typing away dismissing the first page of search results, it would seem the botanical garden lady shared the same name as someone else. It couldn’t possibly be the same person. I was irritated at first, thinking research would turn into a 1 A.M internet stalking session. Well there on page two it all came to light, the grisly aftereffects of a divorce. Joyce Doty v Charles M. Schulz. You’re kidding. I picked up the phone incredulous needing verification, not believing the ex wife of the man whose creations lambaste the TV every holiday and pop out of the newspaper comics could have ended up on Kaua’i and embarked upon a horticultural fantasy life.
But it was true. I also discovered she’s incredibly kind and charitable. Hanging up the phone I was left with the distinct impression that she loved people. Loved helping them, not so much the idea that it was her helping them, but that they were being helped and she was just a means to that end. Her gardens- I read online they had planned to open to the public only after her and her husbands passing but when they gave a few preemptive tours Joyce realized how happy she felt sharing it with others. Their website Naainakai.org will tell you more info on the concept and creation of the garden if it’s of interest to you.
I never found out if she visited Japan, lived on Mount Fujii, or perhaps simply owned a book on teahouses and wanted one for herself. But I did realize that the woman is an artist on a grand and beautiful scale. We live in a world where Shia Labeouf films himself sitting on his ass watching all his own movies and calls it art. The fact critics even reviewed it as art in the first place, as some cultural phenomenon, the artist watching… himself! is sad. But this place on earth, this garden, the amount of love and effort it represents, is a beautiful celebration of life. A work of art, still expanding under the hand of its creator Joyce Doty.
Thank you reader for having patronized my attempt at twisting words into art today! I hope for the opportunity to do so for you again!
Sincerely, The Chauffeur