Don’t Miss This Must-See Flower and Horticultural Show Competition in May

The Garden Club of Honolulu’s flower show happens only once every three years.

Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.


Photos: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art


There’s a reason the Garden Club of Honolulu’s Major Flower Show takes place only every three years—it takes that long to gear up for this flower and horticultural extravaganza that brings thousands of people to the Honolulu Museum of Art over just three days.


The show is a competition, with the club’s 174 members vying for blue ribbons in dozens of categories, from “fragrant flowering plants” and miniature floral designs depicting “radiance” to photography and “jewelry” made from flora.  


But the foundation of the show is education—dispel any notions you may have of this being a hobby for ladies who lunch. Club members are hard-working, dirt-digging earth mamas who know how to put on a show. As the club mission tells it, members aim to “promote and participate in the restoration, improvement and protection of the environment through programs and actions in conservation, civic improvement and education.”


Priscilla Growney’s baby trees, which are already 5-and-a-half feet tall.

Take, for example, the competition’s “challenge class.” That’s where Garden Clubbers grow a designated plant from seedlings distributed by the Horticulture Committee. This year’s plant is the Acacia koai‘a, and seedlings were given out last May. Priscilla Growney, who is also in charge of workshops for this year’s show, arranged to have the competing Acacia koai‘a to be used for replanting the Olson Trust’s Palehua Ranch conservation land, near Makakilo.


“But the best laid plans went up in smoke when children accidentally started a fire last July,” says Growney. “The wild fire scorched thousands of acres of forest in the upper Makakilo/Palehua area over August and part of September. This area had been in the fifth year of drought and trees were struggling to survive. It was clear that the area was no longer a viable site for our little trees.”


Growney, a veteran of quick thinking for the many events she has helped organize for Honolulu nonprofits, contacted Kāne‘ohe nonprofit Papahana Kuaola, at the recommendation of the Olson Trust. Devoted to conservation and education of its 63-acre parcel, Papahana Kuaola, with the help of volunteers and core partners Kamehameha Schools and Hui o Ko‘olaupoko, is clearing this lush slice of Ha‘ikū Valley of invasive plants and replacing them with native ferns and trees, to create a healthy stream and riparian ecosystem that is the focus of environmental education programs.


“This is a perfect home for our trees,” says Growney.


Meanwhile, club member Lizzy Lowrey is busy masterminding the transformation of the Mediterranean Courtyard. For the first time, the Flower Show takes its theme from a museum exhibition—Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art, which is now on view through June 11. In keeping with the title Shangri La: The Flower Show, Lowrey and her committee will turn the Mediterranean Courtyard into a Persian garden.


As research, last October Lowrey traveled throughout Spain and Portugal visiting sites with Islamic gardens, such as the Alhambra. She found what she was looking for at Lisbon’s Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which has a collection of Eastern Islamic Art.


Lowrey trying out tiles that she picked after being inspired by the ceramics she saw in Portugal.


We can’t wait to see the result.


Shangri La: The Flower Show, May 8–10, included in museum admission ($10, free for visitors age 17 and under),

Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.