Barbara Bolton offers extraordinary plant world at Tutu’s Garden

  • High above her house Barbara gets a great view of town from the ten foot wide old rail bed that runs through her property.
  • The unusual Jatropha podagrica is one of the unique species in Barbara’s collection. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The pervasive orange gladiolas in Barbara’s garden were her grandmother’s favorite flower and are a reminder of her horticultural mentor. (Photos by Diana Duff /Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Hundreds of plants fill every available space at Tutu’s Garden. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Barbara’s cottage store is right by the entrance to her property and is stocked daily.

KAILUA-KONA — Barbara Bolton has the perfect attitude for a nurserywoman: “The joy of growing is to share.”

And share she does, in spades sometimes, but mostly in plants. Growing plants is in her blood.


Her grandparents were farmers and her mom was an avid gardener. Her military family was constantly moving but she remembers that, wherever they lived, her mother always planted a garden. Barbara followed in her family’s horticultural footsteps when she bought a 12-acre piece of open land in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1971. She proceeded to plant a garden and populated it with numerous fruit trees.

Her husband’s construction business kept them on the move, however, as they purchased new properties to build on and sell every few years. Like her mom, Barbara always planted wherever they landed. A stint on 300 California acres that they leased to a cattle rancher was one of their last stops before they decided to move to Hawaii in 1981.

To the amazement of many, including Barbara, the grass cuttings she planted in the lava on their property in Ocean View actually grew into an expansive lawn.

“You can’t just leave a piece of land sitting idle,” Barbara declared. She had to plant and the grass grew.

Continuing in horticulture, Barbara, her husband and their youngest son purchased the old Nani Kailua Nursery site and worked with what remained to bring it back into production.

Barbara was anxious to get the nursery going.

“I wanted to quickly fill the space with beautiful plants,” she said.

Without really knowing the business ropes they entered the trade more as a hobby than a reliable income source. The plants seemed to grow easily. When issues arose they considered them a learning challenge.

At this point Barbara was delighting in her role as a grandmother so the natural name for her business was Tutu’s Plants.

Eight years and many challenges later, Barbara and her family moved to their current location. None of the land at the intersection of Hualalai and Hienaloli roads in Kailua-Kona was planted when they arrived. Now, 14 years later, their acre and a half is filled with hundreds of specimens.

Both ornamentals and edibles seem to thrive under Barbara’s care. Seasonal produce that includes papayas, avocados, dragon fruit, white pineapple, mangos, lilikoi and lots of citrus are offered in her small cottage store and she’s happy to sell plants from her collection and offer seeds when she has them.

In high production season, Barbara also sells her overflow to local stores. You can often find some of her produce at Island Naturals, KTA and ChoiceMart. All of her crops are organically grown and filled with the love she has for growing them.

Barbara invites visitors to come for a tour, to dig up a plant, collect some seeds or buy some produce. Though her store is usually open and well stocked, folks are advised to call her ahead at 896-7906 if they want to buy plants or take a tour.

The day I visited, Barbara was conducting a tour for the Community Seed Library’s “Seed Sisters.”

In addition to lots of lovely ornamentals growing near her house, including multi-colored pentas, interesting tillansias and lots of hoya vine, we also got to see her stand of the small jatropha podagrica with its bulbous lower trunk.

Several highly scented gardenia varieties were pouring out sweet aromas as we walked into the garden. The cinnamon gardenia and the less common heaven scent were blooming profusely. Along the path her puakenikeni further perfumed our tour. Farther uphill her yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) had flowers in all shades of lavender pumping their alluring fragrance into the air.

Barbara loves including fragrant flowers in her collection and delights in sharing interesting species that are not commonly available in Kona. Her garden also includes fragrant specimens like angels trumpet, ixora odorata, a Kula gardenia and lots of ginger varieties.

Barbara’s garden is full. Every available space is planted with only room for paths up the slopes among the specimens. Her lower gardens are filled with ground covers, bedding plants, shrubs and trees. She has several orchard areas planted with mangos, dragonfruit and lilikoi as well as interesting citrus varieties. She has even tucked a small pond in the garden for her water lilies. Filled with a variety of color, texture, size and shape, Tutu’s Plants is a joy for the senses.

On the hill behind her house, Barbara took us past her established stand of asparagus to an old railroad bed. At least 30 feet above her garden runs a narrow bed that dates from the turn of the century. With little left other than occasional pieces of iron, Barbara imagines that it was an old sugar cane railway that ran between farms.

From up on the railbed we caught a panoramic view of Kailua Bay and beyond. The narrow bed was planted sparsely allowing for great viewing but it was a little scary for the acrophobics among us.

Throughout the garden we came across stands of orange gladiolas in full bloom. This was Barbara’s grandmother’s favorite flower and the plantings continue to remind her of her gardening heritage.

When I asked Barbara what plant or plants were her favorite, her reply was true tutu.

“I can’t choose a favorite plant any more than I can choose a favorite grandchild,” she insisted. “They all have their own distinct character and that can change with the weather.”

Barbara works hard to maintain her garden. She’s out there for at least four hours six days a week with only about five hours of outside help weekly. She is tireless in the garden loving what she does.

That is what she recommends to those wanting gardening success. Start with easy-to-grow plants, love what you do and don’t give up. Consider any problems that arise an opportunity to learn and keep on learning.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Monday: “Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Monthly Meeting from 7-9 p.m. at West Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers office, 81-6393 Mamalahoa Highway in Kealakekua. White wooden building on makai side across from the Department of Transportation yard. Choosing a grafting scion will be discussed. Bring seeds and scion for exchange. Park in front or on the north side. For more information contact Brian Lievens President West Hawaii Chapter at 895-8753 or

Friday: “Outreach Briefings by FSA and NRCS on Disaster Relief” from 4-6 p.m. at the UH Cooperative Extension Service office in Kainaliu, across from the Aloha Theatre. Learn about assistance available for crop losses from VOG or hurricane damage. For more information call FSA at 933-8381 x2 or contact Lester Ueda at

Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Hooulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7 a.m. to noon next to Thelma Parker Gym in front of Thelma Parker Library.

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honokaa


Plant Advice Lines Anytime: Tuesdays &Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892

Mon., Tues. &Fri: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or

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