Botanical Garden Adds Joy to Residents of United Church of Christ’s Arcadia

Residents who visit the waterfall and koi pond at Arcadia come away feeling renewed and refreshed.

A waterfall and koi pond — complete with taro, a myriad of trees, paths to stroll through and places to sit and reflect. These are just some of the features of the botanical garden that serves residents of the United Church of Christ’s Arcadia in Honolulu.

The site originally was home to Walter and Mary Emma Dillingham Frear. Walter Frear was a former governor of the Territory of Hawaii, appointed in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. “The property had a garden and a beautiful old home,” says Vonnie Turner, chair of Arcadia’s landscape committee. “So after Arcadia was built [in 1967], it was so perfect to establish a garden again.”

Arcadia “is in the Makiki historic area of trees,” Turner adds. “If you have to cut one down, you must plant a new one in its place.” So although the garden sits near a major freeway, the lush vegetation buffers the sound, allowing residents to enjoy their plot of paradise. Many of the historic “veteran trees” have been part of the garden since the Frear family owned the land.

The garden, which is tended by two full-time gardeners, is ever-changing. Species varieties include Rainbow Shower trees, red ginger, Cuban Royal Palms, and a Meyer Lemon Tree (a cross between lemon and mandarin orange that originated in China), among many others. In addition to native Hawaiian species, the garden includes plants and trees from various parts of the world, including China, Japan, Indonesia, the Pacific Islands, Madagascar, Cuba, Mexico, and the continents of South America, Australia and Africa.

A peaceful respite for residents

Over the years, Arcadia has incorporated the garden into resident activities, including as a venue for exercise and for an annual ice cream social. Aides also bring out residents in wheelchairs or assist people with walkers so that they can enjoy the garden.

For residents who want to tour the garden on their own, a new brochure highlights the many plant and tree species. Residents recently kicked off the new brochure’s debut with a party that included personal tours of the garden by Arcadia’s horticulturist, Heidi Bornhorst. In honor of Arcadia’s 50th anniversary in 2017, the garden received wider, safer sidewalks, new teak garden benches, and several new plants and trees.

“There are sidewalks around the garden and building for walking,” Turner says. “The walk is measured, and those who want to walk a mile or more can count their laps.”

A fairy tern, or Manu o Ku, in flight.

Another highlight of the garden is being able to observe the birds and small animals who make it their home, including native Hawai’ian fairy terns (Manu o Ku), who “nest in our trees and are fun to look up at,” says Turner. “They do not make a nest. They lay the egg on the bare branch, and the baby (keiki) hatches and stays put until time to fly on. They are fed by their parents, who fly out to sea each day for fish for them.”

Margaret Frear’s footprints.

Near the koi pond is a secluded area with a meditation bench, where 1-2 people can take in the garden, and meditate or read. In addition, artifacts from the original Frear garden can be found along the path, including a concrete slab with a child’s footprints — those of Margaret Frear. The beauty of the grounds has been noticed by area organizations. In 2011, the garden received the Scenic Hawaii Landscape Award of Honor for Outstanding Gardens.

Horticulturist Bornhorst attends the landscape committee meetings, Turner says, and offers a walk around for members at each meeting. “The members are very helpful in pointing out an insect infestation, for example, when they walk around, and then it can be taken care of right away,” she says.

A greenhouse helps bring the outdoors in

Horticulturist Bornhorst leads residents on a tour of the garden.

The garden also has a small greenhouse, overseen by a different committee that maintains potted plants, nurses some plants back to health, and holds a potted plant sale twice a year. Both residents and employees enjoy being able to purchase plants during the sale, says Turner. The greenhouse even has Christmas trees.

“The past two years, we have raised Norfolk pine Christmas trees from seed, and have them for sale at Christmastime with tiny ornaments, or just plain,” Turner says. “They range from 7 to 18 inches tall.”

Many studies have shown that access to nature promotes health and well-being. The profound effect of the garden on Arcadia residents and employees may not be easy to measure, but is plain to see.

“Being able to enjoy this garden is a joy, and relaxing,” says Turner. “We are so fortunate to have a year-round garden full of flowers, plants and many trees, and nice cement sidewalks to walk or ride around and see it all. The garden has a very calming effect with all its beauty.”

Arcadia is a CHHSM-member ministry conveniently located on three beautiful acres in Makiki, and since 1967, has been serving Hawaii’s older adults in an exceptional and vibrant community setting. Founded by Central Union Church UCC with a commitment for compassionate and gracious care, Arcadia encourages residents to live life to the fullest. As a Continuing Care Retirement Community, Arcadia offers independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing.

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