The Creation of the Botanical Garden

“We’re preserving the valley so that mankind can enjoy it forever.” -Dan Lutkenhouse Sr.


The Founder Dan Lutkenhouse Sr. discovered the Onomea Valley while on a vacation to the Big Island of Hawai’i in 1977. Lutkenhouse was in the process of selling his 40-year-old trucking business in California and retiring. He and his wife  agreed that this is where they would like to spend the rest of their lives. They purchased the 17-acre parcel for its seclusion and beauty and once Dan began exploring the land, he decided to establish a botanical garden in order to preserve the valley and its beauty forever. Onomea Valley was once an overgrown and virtually impenetrable jungle, choked with invasive species, weed and thorn thickets.


Every day, seven days a week, until the Garden opened in 1984, Dan, his assistant Terry Taikue worked with cane knives, sickles, picks, shovels and a chainsaw to clear paths through the jungle. His wife, Pauline would pack Dan a brown bag lunch and he would disappear into the jungle, returning at night dirty and tired. 

All the work was done by hand to avoid disturbing the natural environment or destroying valuable plants and tree roots. 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. 


Without formal botanical training, but with a love of nature and the Onomea Valley, Lutkenhouse created a living tapestry of plants.   


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 he discovered one of the crown jewels of the Garden – a three-tiered waterfall said to be the most beautiful in all Hawaii which can be viewed at Onomea Falls in the Garden.


Over the course of the next 17 years, Dan lovingly cultivated, collected and planted over 2,500 tropical and subtropical plants, both native and species from around the globe. Over 100 of these species were personally procured on plant collecting trips to countries as far as Madagascar. Dan and Pauline cultivated relationships with local horticulturists and brought back plants and trees from other tropical environments. Some of these plants are now extinct in the wild and the Garden remains a seed bank for these species to live on for future generations. 


After the passing of Dan Lutkenhouse Sr. in 2007 and Pauline Lutkenhouse in 2017, Dan’s children Dan Lutkenhouse Jr. and daughter Debi Lutkenhouse-Frost took over operation of the Garden under the guidance of the Board of Directors. Their vision is to use the power of the existing Garden to create a larger hub for sustainability education and climate change