comscore Mary Foster's birthday celebrated among flora | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Mary Foster’s birthday celebrated among flora


Friends and supporters of Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster, who bequeathed us with Foster Botanical Garden and a whole lot more for Hawaii and the world, celebrated her birthday last week under bicentennial trees, in the gorgeous afternoon light, with music and hula from the tremendously talented Royal Hawaiian Band Glee Club and their amazing hula dancer.

We hope to make this an annual event so more people can enjoy the garden and learn about Foster.

Educator and writer Pat Masters, who had a Fulbright fellowship to learn more about Foster and is working on a book about her life, shared details about Foster and her ohana and friends.

She said many people know of Victoria Robinson Ward and Mark Robinson but are not familiar with their oldest sister, Mary. Their mother was a descendent of Maui alii.

Foster was one of the closest friends of Queen Liliuokalani and was one of only two people allowed to visit the queen during her imprisonment at Iolani Palace. Both women loved plants and gardens, which helped them overcome anger and sorrow. Both also lived long, productive lives and wholeheartedly supported the Hawaiian community.


» Where: 50 N. Vineyard Blvd.

» Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except furlough Fridays, with guided tours offered at 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

» Admission: $5 for ages 13 and older; $3 for kamaaina; $1 for children ages 6 to 12; younger kids are free. An annual family pass can be had for $25.

» Call: 522-7066


The birthday paina was held near the hula mound on the main terrace of the 14-acre Foster Botanical Garden, a living museum and oasis in the heart of urban Honolulu. This is near where her house originally stood and where 150-year-old majestic trees still grow on the lush green lawn.

The garden actually traces its beginning to 1853 when Queen Kalama leased a small area of land to William Hillebrand, a young German doctor and noted botanist. After 20 years in Hawaii, he returned to Germany, and the property was later sold to Mary Foster and her husband, Thomas. The Fosters expanded the garden, and upon Mary’s death in 1930, she bequeathed the site to the city as a public garden.

A special choral piece, "Beautiful Kahana," made famous with an arrangement by Robert Cazimero, recalls Foster’s country home in Kahana Valley. Many people don’t know about how she saved 99 percent of Kahana Valley from being burned for grass for cattle and then gifted the land for Hawaiian families to live on and grow food and other crops for health and well-being.

At Tuesday’s event we sang "Happy Birthday" to Foster, and then Glee Club members Scot Furushima, Kaipo Asing and Gary Keawe Aiko and hula dancer Kuulei Hazelwood entertained and enlightened us with perfect music from the time of Queen Liliuokalani and Foster.

Karen Miyano made gourmet gingerbread chocolate cupcakes, decorated with white dendrobium orchids, and a delightful punch flavored with tamarind and roselle, a type of nutritious hibiscus rich in vitamin C.

Two large tamarind trees grow in Foster Botanical Garden and in the smaller Liliuokalani Botanical Garden on North Kuakini Street, which is mauka of Foster Garden and separated by the freeway.

Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst is a Hawaiian horticulturist, arborist, food gardener and sustainable landscape designer. E-mail her at


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