At Ahonui Botanical Gardens, Kauai

Unusual tinge to this tropical broadleaf

Visit the Ahonui Botanical Garden near the north shore of Kauai, and you’ll see how one determined family can take a piece of land choked with invasive species and degraded soil, put in some serious sweat equity for a decade or more, and turn their own unique vision of a botanical garden into reality.  Like any good botanical garden, Ahonui has real beauty, but besides that, it has a genuine personal touch – the owners themselves may take you on a tour.

Today, the Robertson family’s garden features an impressive collection of fruit trees, medicinal and ornamental plants from around the world.  Jason Robertson led a group of us on a private tour and showed us how stunningly well things are going.

Tour departs upper meadow

After walking a good portion of the grounds, we gathered under a canopy while Jason gave a us a tutorial on growing cacao. At Ahonui Gardens, he explained, the Robertson family produces chocolate, not for sale, but for tasting by their guests. It’s truly a hobby – Jason said if they intended to make a profit, they’d probably have to sell it for $40 or $50 dollars a bar.

Chocolate samples for tasting

While he told us how chocolatiers takes cacao fruit through the numerous processing steps as it turns into the chocolate we all know, Jason provided samples of chocolate from the Ahounui garden, along with maybe a dozen other chocolates from around the world to compare it to.  He taught us how to experience and describe differences in flavor, texture, and tone.

On Kauai, the climate is a little cool to be ideal for cacao, so they have experimented a little with processing like adding a touch of yeast, to get the results they want.

A cycad on a flat spot above the creek

Jason was passionate about Ahonui garden, growing cacao and making chocolate.  He was refreshing too – he would tell us when he didn’t know something, and he noted he started as a novice only a few years ago when he arrived on Kauai to help his parents. As the tours have become more popular, the garden has brought in two more  guides; Lorri, came to Kauai after many years of experience in the greenhouse industry, and Holly, a PhD in ethnopharmacognosy (the indigenous uses of plant materials), who has worked with the NTBG on many research projects.

It’s a place I could go back to, again and again.

Jason poses with a charming couple of amateur botanists from Santa Barbara

Another beautiful palm

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