Talk Story with Adolf Befurt

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    This is one of Adolf Befurt’s orchids that have a natural smell and are currently blooming in his yard.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Adolf Befurt smells one of the orchids in his yard.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    This is one of Adolf Befurt’s orchids that have a natural smell and are currently blooming in his yard.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Adolf Befurt smells one of the orchids in his yard.

It’s not the soft pinks or vibrant yellows that draw you closer to this plant.

It’s not the blossoms — about 9 inches across — or the way lingering dew catches the morning light that attract attention.

It’s the orchid’s smell that makes it most enticing, and Adolf Befurt has given this special flower a home at head-level in the crook of one of the trees in his yard.

“I’ve been able to get two that have a natural smell,” Befurt said. “It’s really hard to get ones with a natural smell because most are grown in greenhouses, but these are naturally grown.”

Befurt’s orchid collection began a decade ago with two flowers and a dream. Now he has 13 flowers and the orchid nestled in his front yard tree is his pollinated piece de resistance.

Of those 13, the two scented orchids carry very different aromas, both sweet. The larger flowers send honeysuckle through the air and the smaller, more compact plants smell like fruit.

They grow without any soil amendments or any other enhancements — just the Kauai sunshine, sea air and red dirt. That, and Befurt’s voice.

“I talk to them and that’s why they grow so well,” Befurt said. “I don’t use any fertilizers or anything, I just come out and talk to them. Every morning I come out and say hi. I call them my ladies.”

The primadonna of the group is picky when it comes to showtime, and is at its best in the mid-morning, before the sun passes behind the tree where the orchid is planted.

“With the way it’s situated, you really only get the best light for a while in the morning,” Befurt said, “but she really loves this spot, right here in the tree.”

A few feet away, the orchid’s sister blossoms at the base of a cluster of smaller trees. Her colors are more erratic, with some blossoms boasting a bright yellow tinged with maroon.

Others mirror a sunset, with rose and oranges streaking through narrow petals and a deep magenta staining the edges of the orchid’s center.

“This one smells too,” Befurt said as he cradled a sorbet-like blossom in his fingers. “So sweet and beautiful.”

These varieties — whose scientific names are unknown to Befurt — have been a long time coming and are the result of countless experiments with seeds and planting techniques.

“I like to play with flowers,” Befurt said. “I grow my own and replant the seeds.”

All of it is a labor of love for Befut, who keeps them around his home to add an extra level of beauty and, hopefully, to tinge the air with their scent.

He says looking at them is like soul food.

Befurt’s also proud that his lifestyle is a step away from a technology-driven society, and said he welcomes the time he has away from screens, connecting with the natural world.

“Today, now, it’s just all these screens and phones and kids have technology addictions,” Befurt said. “Here, there’s none of that.”

While he has put extra effort and loving care into the orchids in the front of his house, in Befurt’s back yard are some natural varieties that have just popped up on their own.

He’s just as thrilled to watch those flowers make themselves at home on his property, which hangs on the edge of the Wailua River Valley.

“I have the bamboo orchids, the wild ones, and some ferns. The wind blows out here and moves the seeds around and some of them ended up in my yard,” he said. “It’s like how the island was formed, the vegetation had to populate like that.”

The wild orchids and ferns surround a swimming pool that overlooks the valley. On the edge of his property, Befurt has planted an avocado tree, citrus trees and a noni tree.

“The noni tree was here before and I planted the avocado tree. It split into two and was taking up too much nutrients, not fruiting, so I chopped one side off,” Befurt said.

Now, the tree is heavy with avocados and Befurt says he’s seen the fruits reach the size of footballs.

He’s lived in Kauai for 40 years but grew up in Yugoslavia in the 1940s. He and his family were evacuated from his hometown to an Austrian refugee camp when he was 8 years old.

After sneaking out of Austria with his family, Befurt went to Germany and then made his way to Montreal, Canada, before coming to Kauai.

“When I got here I had $36 in my pocket and knew the auto trade,” he said. “Now I’ve been here for 40 years and I’ll never go anywhere else. Why leave Kauai?”

Orchids are his way of making life beautiful and creating a sanctuary out of his Wailua home.

Befurt also has a 1986 El Camino and a 1967 Mercedes to keep him busy — one to haul the bigger things and one to cruise the island in style, he says.

When he’s not gardening or working on his classic cars, Befurt spends his time investing in his neighbors and friends and finding ways to keep the relationships he’s built on this island strong.

Often he’s handing out grapefruit or avocados from his trees and talking story with people that he meets.

“I like being involved in my neighborhood and helping people,” he said.

At 81, Befurt said he’s happy he’s still going strong and uses gardening as a way to keep his mind and body engaged in life and active.

“This keeps me healthy enough to take care of myself and I want to do that until the day I die,” he said. “We’re not going to live forever, but the quality of life that we have, we have a say in that.”

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