For the past 30 years, Garden Manager Peter Van Dyke has worked in Amy’s Garden. He knows more about who planted what tree, which irrigation pipeline leads to what faucet, and the back story to each endangered species growing in the Garden – better than anyone else on the planet. No wonder that…
Peter is often referred to reverentially as Doctor Van Dyke for his incredible wealth of botanical, cultural and archeological knowledge. However, Peter actually has an advanced degree in education…which seems very fitting given the significance of teaching and mentoring in the Garden. No one has answered more questions about noni bushes and ‘ulu trees with more expertise (or patience) than Peter.
Peter’s horticulture education started much earlier when, as a child, he helped his father, a UCLA-educated ornamental horticulturist, maintain the gardens of estates in Santa Barbara. Peter’s dad worked with Ganna Walska, the owner of Lotusland, in creating a “dramatic, unexpected, whimsical” 37-acre property in Montecito that is the home to “several extraordinary plant collections." In a parallel to Amy Greenwell Garden, in 1984, after Ganna’s death, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanic garden. According to its website, Lotusland is recognized today as one of the ten best gardens in the world.
Having learned horticulture basics while working with his dad, it’s no surprise that Peter went into the landscape business after graduating from the University of California Santa Barbara with a degree in Anthropology. His landscaping jobs were both in CA and HI and in 1973 Peter moved permanently to Hawaii.
Peter lived first in Puna, then migrated to Kona. He bought an abandoned coffee farm on which he planted avocados and mangos. After seven years of supporting himself on landscape jobs, Peter enrolled in the English as a Second Language Master’s program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. There he met his wife, Shannon, and upon completion of the program, they both taught ESL in Egypt. When they returned to Hawaii, Peter and Shannon worked for a few years at UH at Manoa.
In 1990, Peter answered a Bishop Museum ad looking for a plant propagationist for Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. Fortunately for all of us, he was hired by Brien Meilleur who was Garden Manager at that time. Peter describes the Garden as being a blank slate planted with golf-course-like grass. He was involved in implementing the conceptual plan for the Garden as we know it today. When Brien left in 1993, Peter became the Acting Manager and in 1996 he became the permanent Garden Manager.
During his tenure with the Garden, Peter has seen both boom and bust: going from a fully staffed ethnobotanical garden with the support of renowned scientific and cultural experts at Bishop Museum, to one closed to the public with a skeleton crew of one person – Peter! However, through it all, he has maintained his incredible optimism, seeing a future for the Garden that builds upon the legacy of its incredible past.
The successful purchase of Amy’s Garden could never have happened without Peter’s whole hearted support! His connections to the Hawaiian plant loving community are strong because of his warm aloha spirit. For thirty years, he has welcomed everyone – cultural practitioners, excited students of all ages, visiting Phds and curious visitors – into the Garden to enjoy and learn from the plants. His enthusiastic admiration and concern for the plant collection under his care is deep and inspiring.
During the past four years while we raised money for our Garden’s purchase, Peter has been our guide, our cheerleader, and our Encyclopedia Hawaiiana. In addition, he took on the role of ambassador and go-between to Bishop Museum on our behalf when our Friends’ organization was feeling its way forward. In 2020, the fact we plan for a bright green future with the ongoing financial support of Bishop Museum is in many ways due to our indispensable and much loved Garden Manager! His father must have taught him well.
Mahalo, Peter, for everything you have done in the Garden.
Little known factoids: Peter is a published and award-winning writer of short fiction!
He is a grandfather several times over and such a fun one at that!
Words and photo by Pat Todd (with help from Maile Melrose)