Meet the Founders
The Vision of Dan Lutkenhouse
The Garden was created through the untiring efforts of one man, Dan J. Lutkenhouse, who discovered Onomea Valley in 1977 while vacationing with his wife, Pauline. Mr. Lutkenhouse purchased the 17-acre parcel for its seclusion and beauty, without knowing exactly what to do with it. Quickly abandoning ideas for a commercial venture which would destroy the natural environment, he decided instead to establish a botanical garden to preserve the valley and its beauty forever.
When first located by the Lutkenhouses, Onomea Valley was an overgrown and virtually impenetrable jungle, choked with wild invasive trees, weed and thorn thickets, and strangling vines.
Mr. Lutkenhouse sold his 40-year-old trucking business in San Francisco and moved to the island of Hawaii in order to devote himself full time to the development of the Garden.
Every day for eight years, Pauline would pack Dan a brown bag lunch and he would disappear into the jungle, returning at night dirty and tired, but happy. During that time Dan, his assistant Terry Takiue, and two helpers worked with cane knives, sickles, picks, shovels, and a chain saw clearing paths through the jungle. All the work was done by hand to avoid disturbing the natural environment or destroying valuable plants and tree roots. The men kept a slow and easy pace, so as not to suffer heat stroke or dehydration in the steamy jungle. The work would continue seven days a week until the Garden opened to the public in 1984.
Trails were hewn from hard lava rock with picks and shovels. To keep the soil from compacting and the natural beauty from being destroyed, no tractors were used; excess rock was removed and gravel brought in by wheelbarrow. Mr. Lutkenhouse followed the contours of the land in designing the Garden trails, which curve and wind their way throughout the jungle. Gradually, secret landscapes revealed themselves. It took years of carefully clearing the jungle before Mr. Lutkenhouse discovered the crown jewel of the Garden - a three-tiered waterfall said to be the most beautiful in all Hawaii.
Though Mr. Lutkenhouse has no formal botanical training, with his love of nature he has created a living tapestry in keeping with the intimate nature of the site. Subtle vistas unfold as you meander along the Garden paths. Patterned foliage and brilliantly colored flowers invite close inspection, enticing you further into the mysteries of the jungle. This is the allure of paradise. The Hawaiians have a word for it - aina, or "the spirit of the land."
Mr.Lutkenhouse, himself, has chosen the location of every plant and tree introduced to the Garden. From the Lily Lake Vista, more species of plants can be seen in one place than anywhere else on earth. Over 110 species have been counted within this vista, most planted by Mr. Lutkenhouse and his staff.
This vivid experience of the tropics has been enriched by the plant collecting trips Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse have taken to tropical jungles around the world.
Preserving the Spirit of the Land
To protect the Garden site, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse have established a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation and have taken legal steps to insure the land will never be sold or commercially developed. Dan is adamant on this point. "It's too precious a valley to be developed. We're preserving the valley so that mankind can enjoy it forever." He adds, "I believe that we should all try to leave the world a better place than we found it."
From a diamond in the rough, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is being polished to perfection. While the star of the show is the Garden itself, its creation and success are attributed to more than 17 years of hard work and dedication, as well as the prior business experience of Dan and Pauline. Today the Garden has 17 full-time employees and is financially self-supporting. Dan and Pauline gain no financial rewards from the Garden; instead, they have contributed more than $2 million of their own personal funds to establish it. Their reward is the true enjoyment the Garden provides to its visitors. Dan and Pauline's vision of preserving rare tropical plants in one of Hawaii's most beautiful natural settings has been shared by more than 700,000 visitors to date. In the year 1995, they donated the land to HTBG.
The Lutkenhouses have listened to the land and its creator, and allowed the aina to guide them. Under their protection, the spectacular flora and fauna of Onomea Bay are flourishing as a world-class botanical garden, described by many as the most beautiful accessible tropical jungle garden in the world. Truly the Garden is a perfect expression of the state motto of Hawaii, ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono, or "the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."
Hear Mrs. lutkenhouse describe the Garden in the video below from our 30 year Anniversary Celebration.