Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mughal Gardens, Hawai'i Style

I’m thoroughly convinced that everything we choose for our outer surroundings reflects our inner landscape. Private, tasteful, extravagant, anachronistic, oddly out of place yet beautiful – that about sums up Shangri La on O'ahu and its creator, tobacco and hydroelectric power heiress Doris Duke.

Built in 1937, Shangri La sits high on Black Point on Diamond Head, the volcanic crater and tuff cone named Leahi (brow of the tuna) by the ancient Hawaiians. Indoors at Shangri La, there is an extensive collection of rare and priceless Islamic treasures that are the envy of world-class museums. As a gardener, though, I was naturally drawn to ponder the landscape outside: A natural Hawaiian reef and coastline that was forever changed through the unlimited wealth of one woman and her passion for the aesthetics of the Mughal Empire. To me the result is nothing short of astonishing, albeit tempered with a bit of melancholy, given the history of the person and the location of the estate.

Duke wanted to recreate the feeling of Mughal gardens, and while the hardscape mimics those traditional designs, the plants used are tough, drought tolerant, tropical types, typical of what you see around Hawaii’s lowland and beachfront homes exposed to salt spray and wind.

Are there earth-friendly, sustainable practices in these gardens? Only if you're musing the possibility that some vegetation choices might have been made in the context of xeriscaping. Other than that, hardly. But a visit here is interesting, nonetheless, especially because Islamic influences are rarely seen in Hawai'i.

Plants at Shangri La include:

Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)
Tiare, Tahitian Gardenia, (Gardenia taitensis)
Naupaka kahakai (Scaevola taccada), a native Hawaiian species
Oyster Plant (Tradescantia spathacea)
Joyweed (Alternanthera sp.)
Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

This Mughal garden design at Shangri La was inspired by
Shalimar Garden, Lahore (now modern Pakistan.)

Although Doris Duke was reputedly an orchid breeder to the highest degree, you won’t see any of her orchids at Shangri La. You might have a chance, though, if you travel to New Jersey to see the Orchid Range at Duke Farms.

To visit Shangri La, you must make reservations through the Honolulu Academy of Arts. For more info, click here.


Hermes said...

I have no chance of going here, but one of the great things about blogs like yours is discovering such wonderful places exist. Thanks.

Janice said...

And surely one of the great things about blogging is the opportunity to share such experiences with people around the world. Thanks for reading -- Mahalo!

Sunita said...

That is almost weird in a way to someone from India, like me. I think I would rather have a Hawaiian-style garden . (I personally find the Mughal gardens too regimented.) I guess I shouldn't be saying that, unpatriotic, etc... but its funny how I'm exposed to Mughal architecture, etc., here but prefer Hawaiian style while someone in Hawaii prefers Mughal style!