Kula Botanical Gardens

Kula Botanical Gardens -- Unique Family-run Gardens in Maui's Upcountry
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Kula Botanical Gardens spans just eight acres and yet boasts an incredible array of plantlife (some estimates have it well over 2,000 unique species of plants). This is a family-ran, neighbor-supported garden endeavor that is well worth the visit for those who want to see beautiful, lush landscaping and garden design. 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Most people who go out to build a popular attraction do so with the purpose to establish something meaningful for the general public, but there are also some who wind up doing so on accident. The Kula Botanical Gardens was one such happy accident that today attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world every year. 

But, again, a garden that attracted global visitors was not the initial goal of the Kula Botanical Gardens. Not even close. Back in the mid-1960s, San Francisco landscape architect Warren McCord relocated his family and his private business to Maui. He was looking for ways to drum up business when he happened upon a small picturesque valley in the midst of a cattle ranch. Inspiration struck him and he reached a deal in 1968 with the ranch owner to buy seventeen acres of the valley. He and his wife Helen quickly got to work clearing out the land so as to create a small garden in which to showcase Warren’s landscaping design. 

This garden that would grow into the Kula Botanical Gardens would always be a family affair. Husband and wife and their children worked together to transform the valley outcropping into a small garden that really accentuated Warren’s best designs. A large part of these efforts involved installing an assorted array of plants hailing from all parts of Maui, both those deemed always native and non-native tropical species that have since thrived on the island. 

During those first years, friends, neighbors, and potential clients were all invited to see the growing gardens. Some of those visitors invited McCord to see their own gardens and plant collections, offering him new varieties to add to his growing collection. Other visitors asked about inviting their own guests to see the McCord property until soon it was apparent that what began as a more private collection of landscaping design and gardens was not meant to be so private.

In April 1971, Helen and Warren McCord officially opened their garden to the general public. They were, in fact, the very first public gardens on the entirety of Maui.  People came and the McCord family kept growing their garden. Every year saw a new addition as it slowly grew into the very multi-faceted Kula Botanical Gardens that is known and loved today. 

Today’s public Kula Botanical Gardens covers eight acres and features not only a rich variety of plants (at best estimate, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 unique plant species here), but also wonderful architectural add-ins like a covered bridge, aviary, koi pond, and a carved tiki exhibit. There is even a Jackson chameleon exhibit that tends to be a huge hit among children. Admission to the gardens is $10 for adults, $3 for older children, and free for those under the age of 6. 

Insider Tips:
-Kula Botanical Gardens is also a great destination for Christmas trees. Every year, the family plants, prunes, and harvests a new growth of Monterey Pine Christmas Trees, and they have since become among the largest producers of such trees in all of Hawaii.
-Don’t rush through these gardens. While the variety of plants is rich, remember, the Kula Botanical Gardens doesn’t really cover that much ground at just eight acres, which includes the gift shop. As such, it is easy to miss so many of the unique varieties of plants if you don’t stop to really look.