Tucked away on the lush green slopes of Mount Tantalus, immersed in the thriving forest fed by Manoa showers, sits one of our favorite flower farms: Tantalus Botanicals. This small operation is run by Chris Ritson and Michelle Broder Van Dyke on Michelle’s family property. Though the lush neighborhood is largely residential, the couple came to recognize the land’s agricultural potential, finding clumps of ornamental flowers in the jungle planted by previous owners. They began to cultivate the wilderness around them, and thus Tantalus Botanicals was born.
Our closest flower source, Tantalus Botanicals is directly inland from Paiko, a 20-minute drive mauka from our shop. Flowers grow throughout the rambling property and flourish naturally from the jungle conditions, and the couple’s permaculture practices. The healthy torch ginger, parakeet heliconia, and bird of paradise Chris bring us each week are cut that morning, then head straight down the hill to Paiko.
The farm is just one facet of the Tantalus’ rich history. Named Pu'u 'Ohi'a by the native Hawaiians, the mountain came to host many different peoples, from Hawaiian Royalty to diplomats, to the adventurous Punahou students who in the mid-1800’s assigned it the nickname ‘Tantalus’, after the Greek mythological figure. The land Tantalus Botanicals sits on was originally King Kalakaua’s. In 1890, the land was transferred to the Swedish diplomat H.W. Schmidt, rumor has it, to settle a gambling debt with the King. Schmidt hosted many picnics and parties, with guests often arriving via horseback After changing hands several times, the property was bought by Michelle’s family in 1987.
Now the couple makes their living on the land, working from home on their other jobs, Chris as an artist, Michelle as a writer, when not tending the farm and forest. In addition to growing flowers, they have also taken to restoring the property’s native forest. Chris has cut back much of the aggressive strawberry guava and has encouraged Koa seedlings to take their place. He sends his extra seedlings off to nourishing homes.
We are so grateful to work with Chris and Michelle. They not only bring us beautiful flowers, no doubt raised with love, but through their lifestyle and farm, they embrace the natural world around them. And it embraces them. As Michelle mentioned while we were visiting, “I would like to think Chris and I are now shaping the land, but as I watch the earth grow, I’m humbled by the understanding that it is shaping us.”
Story and photos by Emma Oshiro