“One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.” This observation is as true today as it was in 1937 when English writer W.E. Johns included it in “The Passing Show—a Happy Book for Gardeners.”
Anticipation also can be a gardener’s best friend. Collinsdictionary.com defines anticipation as “a feeling of excitement about something pleasant that you know is going to happen.” Synonyms are hope, joy and preconception.
All these words work for a new plumeria plant, also called frangipani or the Hawaiian lei plant. Anticipation comes with the expectation of new leaves this spring, followed by gorgeous, fragrant flowers used to create Hawaiian leis (floral garlands).
At this time of year, anticipation is especially important because my plumeria looks like a stick in a decorative pot. But, it did what it was supposed to do — go dormant and drop its leaves. In Arkansas, overwintering plumeria indoors is necessary. It should be stored in a room that doesn’t get much light and ignored until spring.
Plumeria was a surprise passalong from fellow Master Gardener Susan Horton who has become quite an expert on this plant in the past 10-plus years since receiving a cutting from a friend who brought it back from a vacation in Maui.
“It was an 8-inch stick about 2 inches in diameter. I potted it in sandy soil, put it outdoors in the sun and watered it frequently.”
It flourished, and since then she has shared cuttings with family and friends.
“I love the blooms and get happy when I see flowers begin to form,” she said — a reminder of her childhood in Hawaii where her father was stationed in the Navy, not once but twice.
Susan was in her early teens during her father’s second tour, and she remembers plumeria as trees 8 to 12 feet tall with fragrant colorful flowers, mostly pink, yellow and rose or a combination.
Related to the Oleander (Nerium oleander), plumeria usually blooms four or five weeks here in the summer and is easy to grow, according to Susan. Guidelines include:
• Grow in full sun for prolific blooming.
• Water well and then allow soil to dry out. Overwatering is the quickest way to kill your plant. Some experts suggest a terracotta pot.
• Fertilize frequently during the active growing period (spring and summer). Susan uses osmacote.
A light pruning keeps a potted plumeria small and compact, but branches should never be cut back to the soil line.
And if you are a passalong gardener, the pruned stems are easily propagated. Here’s how Susan does it: "Cut a piece from the plant, and plant it in another pot. Some say to let the cut piece seal over first then plant, but I just plant directly into the pot about three to four inches deep, and so far all the ones that I planted have lived. I keep them watered and in the sun.”
An interesting World War II legend is associated with plumeria: sailors shipping overseas from Hawaii would toss a lei into the waters as the ship passed Diamond Head. If the lei floated ashore, the sailor would return. If it floated toward the ship, he wouldn't be coming back.
As with most ancient plants, there is a bevy of folklore associated with this tropical plant, first described by Spanish priest Francisco de Mendoza in 1522. According to allthingsfrangipani.com:
• It is the national tree of Laos and the national flower of Palermo in Sicily, Italy, and Nicaragua.
• In India, it is a symbol of immortality because of its ability to produce leaves and flowers even after it has been lifted out of the soil.
• In Hindu culture, the flower means loyalty. Hindu women put a flower in their hair on their wedding day to show their loyalty to their husbands.
Thanks to Susan, there is living proof that plumeria grows and flourishes in Fort Smith. And with a lot of anticipation, come spring, some of her gardening friends will too.
Next week, the topic will be: for foliage drama, look no further than begonias.
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.