Sky is the limit: Friends of Greenwell planning big now that garden is theirs

  • Garden Manager Peter Van Dyke tends to the Kalo patch in 2018 at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)
  • Maile Melrose checks on an abutilon flower in 2018 at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)
  • Melanie Ide, Bishop Museum president and CEO, left, and Maile Melrose, Friends of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. Courtesy Photo
  • Amy B.H. Greenwell (Courtesy Photo)

KAILUA-KONA — Plans for a Kealakekua gem are in the works now that the Friends of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden purchased the land from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.

Friends president Maile Melrose says she is “ecstatic” about the finalized purchase, which was announced late Monday. The garden has been closed to the public since 2016.

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“We had a wonderful meeting on Sunday with Melanie Ide (Bishop Museum president and CEO) and museum executive staff,” said Melrose. “We formed a unique partnership.”

The Friends are planning a Feb. 29 grand re-opening with a Grow Hawaiian Festival, an annual event held before the garden closed.

“We’re going to have botanists and practitioners, and if people want to be part of it, if they have something to offer, let us know,” Melrose said.

The free family friendly event is open to the public.

But before their rebirth celebration, there’s so much more to accomplish.

Melrose said the agreement includes a two-year contract that states Bishop and the Friends want to work together for the success of the garden. The museum will continue to pay garden manager Peter Van Dyke’s salary for the next two years. They may also provide guest speakers to give presentations at the South Kona sanctuary.

For that past three-plus years the Friends’ whole focus was finding out who the new owner would be and just maintaining the garden.

The Friends were able to secure the garden by raising the $1.4 million purchase price using public and private funds, including grants from the state of Hawaii’s Legacy Land Conservation Program under the DLNR and the Community Forest Program under the USDA Forest Service, among others.

“I’d like to open the garden tomorrow, but after four years of very low maintenance we have to have a tree assessment for safety and we want to make the garden shiny,” said Melrose.

Amy Greenwell was born in 1920, so in 2020 it would have been her 100 birthday. Melrose said they will have celebrations throughout the year honoring the botanist and garden namesake.

“The Friends and community own the garden and our job is going to be to mobilize volunteers to help weed,” she said.

Volunteers meet at the garden at 9 a.m. on Saturdays, don gloves and tools and make their way through the 12-acre estate. All are welcome.

“We are an open transparent organization with 16 board members. Meetings are open to the public and we want people to come,” Melrose said. “We are open to ideas. Come in on Saturdays and weed and talk to us. Let us know what you want.”

Melrose said they will be fundraising to get the garden back open.

“We welcome everybody’s presence, help, kokua, aloha, you name it … and money. We welcome money,” she laughed. “We need a new commercial grade SKAG zero turning radius lawn mower, a new push mower, termite tent and new roofing.”

As for future plans, Melrose said the sky’s the limit.

“We would like to have cultural practitioners come into the garden, lauhala weavers, poi pounders, and so much more,” she said. “I want a butterfly house. We’re going to do it. We’re going to find a way to incorporate that into our garden. We always want to be the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical garden but we want to be something bigger and better, something new and different as well. We have a lot of big ideas we have to pull out of the sky and put in the garden to make these dreams come true.”

Melrose said one of their goals is to get kids back to the garden.

“That’s going to be a big focus, one of our first outreaches, get the children back in the garden and get our nursery back up and running to get these Hawaiian plants back into people’s gardens,” she said.

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“Our future’s so bright,” said Melrose. “Amy’s legacy has been rescued.”

For more information or to learn about volunteer opportunities visit amygreenwell.garden/the-friends/

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