Sunday, April 21, 2013

A good year for frangipani

Our problem child has blossomed into a talented teenager this year. Though it has been a part of our garden for several years now, our frangipani tree has never been entirely happy here. But this year everything has changed. It has grown like mad, it's still covered in leaves and those wonderfully fragrant, pretty yellow and white tropical blooms. And most importantly from my gardener's point of view, it's very healthy.

I guess you could say it has been a good year for frangipanis. But these plants love Sydney, and Sydney loves them. They're in gardens everywhere, and the secret to growing them is benign neglect (plus sunshine). Just let them get on with it and they'll be fine, the experts told me. All that advice did was give me gardener's guilt, because mine wasn't healthy and happy. How could I be doing something wrong when I wasn't doing anything?

Still covered in foliage and new flowers still coming on,
it was a fragrant delight to take a few photos of it this morning.

We've grown it from a cutting taken from a workmate, Krissy's,
Sydney garden, in 2007. Krissy's renovations to her house
meant their old frangipani tree had to go. Lots of people
received cuttings, so that one tree is now the parent of many.
This is how it looked when we planted it
out as a big cutting in September 2008.
It had been in our hands for about a year
by this stage, and had grown well.

Since then it has of course grown, but ever so slowly. A few
branches had to be cut off, due to a dieback running up the trunk.
As well as the dieback, in the wet summers of 2010-11 and
2011-12, the leaves were covered in 'rust', a fungal disease.
Spraying it with a product called eco-fungicide, which is
potassium bicarbonate, helped to ease the rust, but the
growth rate was very slow. This year, a hot one, everything
has changed. Pictured above is the bright green, smooth
new growth, which must be at least 30cm on every branch.
Frangipanis are known as slow-growers, but this hot summer
of 2012-13 has made our frangi feel like it's in tropical
Darwin, not middling temperate old Sydney Town.
No-one's complaining, of course. The tree is happy and so are
we. We're halfway through autumn and this deciduous tree is
not going to let go of its leaves any time soon.
The basics of caring for a frangipani, as told to me by several expert gardeners I've been so very lucky to work with, is not to give them extra water, and not to feed them, either. All that was suggested was that I give it some Seasol (for our overseas readers, that's a seaweed-based organic liquid plant tonic) in the first few years, to encourage the roots to grow. And that was it.

I have stuck to the policy of no extra food or water, but when you see a plant suffering with fungal diseases, its foliage covered in the tiny pustules of rust, it's hard to practise benign neglect. That's the thing we so many gardeners like me. We're busy-bodies. We like interfering. We can't help ourselves. And it's all the more chronic when you just love a plant so much, and frangipani is definitely one of the garden plants Pammy and I love the most. So it's very pleasing to see a whole season of continued neglect paying off at last!


dirtgirl said...

Have to agree about a good year for 'frannies' We picked up some cuttings along a walkway that had been tossed over a fence and planted them about 12 months ago. They sat doing nothing, then suddenly took off and this year flowered the most beautiful fruit salad pink colour. Likewise a cutting I brought back from my nieces house in Qld in Oct 2011 flowered recently - a deep burgundy colour. I attended the Frangipani Show in Botanic Gdns in Sydney late last year and purchased 3 more different coloured saplings along with a packet of mixed seed, am really looking forward to seeing what colours we end up with. I also have several assorted cuttings doing well that my daughter took from an old house in Clovelly.
Frangipanis certainly are quite plain and ugly in winter, but the flowers in summer are well worth the wait!

Alex Krasovskis said...

Amazing tree and the fragrance from frangipani's is up there with the best of them. I planted a native frangpani at my place this year. I hope it will survive the frost.

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