Gathering elements for haku lei with Elvrine Chow in her garden is like going on a joyful treasure hunt. She sees lei material everywhere, a petal here, a leaf there, colorful seeds and stems, gathering items that will look beautiful once her experienced hands entwine them together into bold yet delicate looking wearable bouquets.
A haku lei is the commonly used name for a garland of blossoms worn around your forehead, a Hawaiian tiara of sorts, a distinctly special form of lei that allows the wearer to feel like the most gorgeous woman around. (Quick language lesson: In Hawaiian, the plural of lei is lei â€“ no added s, and the real name for lei worn around the head is poâ€™o.)
â€śRainbowâ€ť lei, Chowâ€™s specialty in her business Heavenly Hakus, explode with color in a tightly woven, intricately artful blend of 20 or more blossoms, seeds, leaves, ferns and herbs, freshly-picked and full of color. Picture pink plumeria and small purple orchids next to green and yellow-striped leaves gently looped to make â€śribbons,â€ť nestled alongside magenta bougainvillea blooms, side-by-side with tiny white roses and bright orange and yellow flowers. With accents of fragrant sage and thyme leaves between dark purple basil flowers and tiny white cilantro flowers, Chowâ€™s leis smell as good as they look.
â€śGrowing up, we always had flowers in the house and always had a beautiful garden that my parents created together wherever we lived,â€ť Chow says. â€śOur gardens were magical and my playground. I try to create that now in my own garden.â€ť
Chow, who moved to Kauai when she was 18 years old and married into a local family, became a lei-maker almost by accident more than 20 years ago, when her sister-in-law recruited family members to make lei for their children to wear in a hula performance.
â€śWhen she started to teach us how to make leis, I got so excited. And when she taught us to make haku leis, I totally fell in love,â€ť she says. â€śEver since, thatâ€™s all Iâ€™ve ever wanted to do.â€ť
Chow accepts special orders for weddings, graduations and other special events, honoring specific color requests provided the appropriate flowers are in bloom. Depending upon the season, she also collects flowers from her auntieâ€™s garden and occasionally alongside the highway where wild plants often grow.
You can see Chow in action making haku lei at her booth Saturday mornings at Kauai Community College Farmers Market. She can also be reached at (808) 634-9999.