Our visit in late May to the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm in Maui’s lush upcountry was not timed to experience peak blooming season for the fields of lavender growing there. We needed a few more weeks of summer for that. The 13.5-acre property, which boasts a high, distant view of Maui’s north and south coasts, is a working farm and sanctuary for those who appreciate gardens and the art of gardening. Or maybe just the color and scent of bountiful acres of lavender. We enjoy botanical gardens, but also wanted to experience a bit of the upland’s majestic scenery, peace and charm. While we missed the riot of color and fragrance the farm is perhaps famous for, we found more than we expected here.
We learned a lot about lavender that we didn’t know. Most welcome to us was the tour guide’s story of the farm’s founder, Ali’i Chang. A master Maui grower, familiar with Maui’s exotic plants, he knew as little about lavender as we did when he started out. He received a lavender plant as a housewarming gift when he moved to the Protea farm he purchased for his retirement. The strange plant thrived despite very little attention. He was intrigued, studied it, rediscovered its value and uses, realized he had the perfect spot to grow it, and created a farm and place that offers something unique and magical as his legacy.
French, Spanish and English varieties of lavender can be found on the farm, along with Protea flowers, olive trees, native Hawaiian plants, citrus, avocado, and a variety of succulents mixed together in terraced garden beds along the hillside. Our walk took about 45-minutes, with ample stops along the way.
The terrain is hilly, but the pathways have been smoothed and terraced with handrails along the steeper sections to provide secure footing as you either self-tour or take the paid tour of the property. Leave the flip flops behind and wear sturdy shoes if you fear falling, but we’re of the older, less steady variety and had no problem. The feel of the winds, the smell of the flowers, and the beauty of the view are probably enough to make this worth the trip upcountry. The demonstration of “sustainable Aloha,” a grassroots movement of socially and culturally responsible people who choose to take action (big and small) to sustain and nurture themselves, their family, community and planet, may interest you as well. Bring a can of food with you and gain free admission. The fee to enter the park is a modest $3.
We began our visit at the gift shop where friendly staff made sure we were aware of the many available samples of amazing products produced from lavender. Island chefs have grown to prize these for their menus. We tasted a delicious strawberry lavender jelly spiced with jalapeno, rubbed a soothing lavender rosemary gardeners salve on our hands, enjoyed a taste of lavender coffee and a surprisingly flavorful bite of lavender fudge. Who knew lavender could improve coffee or fudge? Lavender tea and scones are served on the gift shop’s patio, which overlooks the gardens. We found them pricey, but then most delicacies are. You can find them for sale at www.aklmaui.com.
Our tour guide Sarah led a small group of us on one of the daily walking tours, costing $12. The skies threatened rain and umbrellas were available, but not needed. Sarah’s breadth of knowledge about the farm and lavender was impressive. Our group of five included three military personnel on leave from Oahu. We presumed they might have had little time for gardening. They surprised us by asking tons of questions, all of which Sarah answered patiently, seeming never at a loss for information. As we walked the garden paths, she told the story of Ali’i Chang and his farm and related fascinating details about the ancient history of lavender as a healing herb and compliment to food. To help us keep the varieties straight in our heads, she collected samples of lavender. Before presenting them to us, she crushed their blossoms to release their oils so that we could retain a memory of their different fragrances. Sarah kept the pace comfortable and interesting and was alert to anything new in the garden we might enjoy…a fresh blossom here, an interesting pruning method there, she even paused to lift a baby chameleon from a leaf so we could get a closer look. When the tour ended, we were each presented a small bouquet of the cuttings Sarah had taken. It smelled wonderful for days and reminded us of how much there is yet to respect, savor and enjoy in Maui.