Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden reopens Feb. 29 following four-year closure

  • Booths displaying items taken on a voyaging canoe are at the 2015 Grow Hawaiian Festival at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A variety of decorated gourds are displayed at the 2015 Grow Hawaiian Festival Saturday at Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Attendees visit booths at the 2015 Grow Hawaiian Festival at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A demonstration of Kapa stamping is seen at the 2015 Grow Hawaiian Festival at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • The Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden Visitor Center is seen in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A mao hau hele, hibiscus brackridgei, grows at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kalo grows at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Many specimen plants of the state flower, ma’o hau hele, grow at Amy B. H. Greenwell Garden. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Peter Van Dyke cuts back sugar cane growing at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook at a 2017 volunteer day. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii’s state flower, pua mao hau hele blooms at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical garden in Captain Cook. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • 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)

  • Native plants grow at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

With a horticulturist for a dad and a mom who cultivates roses, the love of plants is bound to wear off on you. Peter Van Dyke’s dad brought his young son on his landscaping jobs teaching him gardening skills like grafting early on. Though Peter’s degree from the University of California was in anthropology, his early jobs were mostly in landscape maintenance.

“I absorbed enough plant knowledge through osmosis when I was young to be able to work in landscaping without much formal training,” said Peter.


Early in his formative years, he fell in love with tropical plants. This love finally led him to apply to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to pursue a degree in agriculture.

Once in Hawaii, he never really wanted to leave. In 1975, he leased a 4.5-acre abandoned coffee farm in Captain Cook where he still lives today. Soon after taking over the land on Painted Church Road, he planted avocados and mangos as well as coffee and other edibles.

In 1980, he returned to Honolulu to get a master’s degree that would prepare him for a job teaching English as a second language. By early 1990, however, he delighted at the opportunity to return to the Big Island and take a job at the Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden nursery working for Bishop Museum as a plant propagator. Four years later, the manager left and Peter became the new garden manager. He has held this job since then.

Under his tutelage the job grew and the South Kona garden became an important community resource. A database was initiated for cataloging and tracking plants. Classes, workshops and other educational opportunities flourished. Regular plant sales occurred, tours were established and school groups were encouraged to visit. More recently a new visitor center was built and a small onsite retail shop opened. All this occurred while Peter managed the staff member who took on some of these tasks while working to maintain the garden.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for me to study and learn about Hawaiian plants and culture,” Peter declared with gratitude.

I then asked him if he could name a favorite Hawaiian plant. He hesitated, said he had had many favorites, but today felt like his favorite was the kukui tree. Many of these majestic trees have been planted on the site and grace Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden today.

In 2016, Bishop Museum closed the garden and put it on the market for sale. Until then, Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden had become the go-to spot for acquiring and learning about native Hawaiian plants. Several community members, upset that access to the garden had become very limited, started volunteering hours on Saturdays to help maintain the garden and continue to work with native plants.

This small group of early volunteers, grew into a larger group of local community members who wanted the garden to again serve the community.

Led by Maile Melrose, a nonprofit organization, Friends of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, was established, a board was created and Maile became its president. Energy and interest grew and with lots of hard work and many volunteer hours, the group managed to get enough money through grants and donations to make an offer to buy the property from Bishop Museum.

The transaction occurred in November with Bishop Museum agreeing to offer some financial and program support to the organization.

Once the organization’s mission was accomplished, they began planning to reopen the garden. Peter’s invaluable experience with the Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden made it inevitable that they would invite him to remain manager. He has agreed to put off his retirement for now with the caveat that he have an assistant enabling him to cut back his hours. Currently his assistant is his old friend and colleague Glenn Akamine. Along with the Friends of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, they are working hard to prepare for the reopening on Feb. 29.

The grand reopening will revive the annual Grow Hawaiian Festival with lots of opportunities to learn about Hawaiian plants and culture. It will also be a reunion of many cultural experts who have been connected with the garden for years. Don’t miss this event.

The garden will officially open at 9 a.m. on Feb. 29 with a tribute to Amy Greenwell followed by a welcome from Melrose, representing the Friends of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden.

Pumehana Imada, who has worked in the botany, invertebrates, and birds collections at Bishop Museum, will discuss the importance of natural history collections following the welcome.

Revitalizing Breadfruit will be the topic of a talk by Aunty Shirley Ann Pualani Kauhaihao and Craig Elevitch before Bishop Museum CEO Melanie Ide presents her vision for the garden’s future.

Big Jake’s BBQ will be selling lunches including items from their regular menu as well as a vegan ulu curry. After lunch, the afternoon will be filled with music by the South Kona Kupuna Ukelele Band and Apokolani with a closing pule planned for 2:30 p.m.

And that’s not all.

Throughout the day, garden tours will be offered, plant and cultural experts will be staffing identification booths, demonstrations of a variety of cultural practices will be held and the Visitor Center, a Makeke Market — Hawaiian Arts Market — will be stocked and open. Local artisans will be demonstrating Hawaiian dying, weaving, net-making and more while lomilomi- and poi- making demos take place.

Free and open to the public, the event is sponsored by ChoiceMART with additional support by Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii Forest &Trail, TryLookInside/’Ouli Wai Graphics, and over a hundred volunteer helpers.

The garden is located at 82-6160 Mamalahoa Highway in Captain Cook, approximately 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona via Highway 11. Parking for the event is on site or at Kealakekua Ranch Center, lower level, with regular shuttle service to the event.

Come meet Peter and the Friends and reacquaint yourself with this wonderfully revitalized native plant garden and community resource. While you are there, look around for your favorite native Hawaiian plant. Maybe you’ll agree with Peter and pick the kukui tree.

For a complete schedule and list of activities, visit

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

Gardening Events

Monday: “Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers meeting” from 7 to 9 pm. 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. Park in front or on the north side. Topic: “Male and female trees or why some trees don’t fruit.” For more information contact Brian Lievens President West Hawaii Chapter at 895-8753 or

Wednesday: “Coffee Pruning and Leaf/Soil Sampling Field Day” from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Kona Research Station behind the Kona Cooperative Extension Office at 79-7381 Mamalahoa Highway, across from the Aloha Theater in Kainaliu. Learn coffee pruning methods, leaf and soil sampling procedures and see examples of different pruning techniques. Registration required. RSVP to Matt at (808)322-0164 at least 2 days before the event. Go to for more information or to register online.

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 to prepare for the grand reopening 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: “Ho’oulu 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. – 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hwy 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a

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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