And I thought my garden was hard work.

In 1977, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse from San Francisco bought an overgrown valley that tilted steeply toward the ocean, between two rocky coves. With three helpers, Dan started clearing it by hand. It’s mind-boggling, because tropical plants aren’t exactly flimsy, and the soil is mainly rock and cinder. But in only eight years, they opened the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to the public.

Today, asphalt paths lined by low, lichen-covered rock walls wind down the sea, with little spurs leading to waterfalls, a bird house, a gazebo. Everywhere, there are flowers in every pattern and color, pastels as well as bright tropical reds and oranges. You can’t find these  in a florist shop. There are dozens of orchids, bromeliads, anthuriums and the helicones we saw so often in Costa Rica, resembling a flattened cob of corn.

geckoNear the mouth of a stream, we watch a neon-green gecko slither up the stem of a spider lily, out onto one of the drooping petals, then arch back and climb down. What is it up to? We wish we had a guide, as we did in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, to answer questions.

We try to see as much as we can, but this canvas is crammed with too many details to commit to memory. Thank God for the camera.