Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In Praise of Plumeria

Summer heat has finally arrived. After an unusually cool, wet spring and June and July, we are now back to the 100-plus degree days that are the norm for August in Texas.
The garden is holding up very well, and no wonder. It has been soaked for weeks on end with long slow rains – a luxury it has not enjoyed before.
And while I whine and moan about the heavy clay soil here, it does retain moisture for a long time. While that’s been great for the majority of my plants, it also meant I lost three drought-tolerant salvias, both my forsythia, and part of a big spirea. They simply couldn’t handle so much water.
I now know all the places my garden doesn’t drain well – something that really wasn’t that important before all this rain.
But some plants are just as happy as clams. The plumeria, for example. You may know it as frangipani. It is the plant that supplies flowers for leis in Hawaii. In Hawaii they can be huge trees producing so many flowers that there are signs along sidewalks warning, “Walks Slippery When Flowers Fall.”
Mine aren’t that tall.
Mine were given to me by Steve Taylor, a friend of ours who was dying of lung cancer. Four of them arrived looking like four fat bumpy sticks about two feet long. Steve sent word that he was sure I could grow them. No other instructions were included.
After some online research, I put these ugly sticks into four pots filled with potting soil and watered them. To my astonishment, in a week or so, leaves began to appear. Then one of them produced a different looking “leaf.” It was flat and bumpy and, in fact, looked a bit like Bart Simpson’s head.
After watching it a bit, I realized it was a bud. This ugly little stick was about to bloom!
You’d have thought I’d given birth I was so excited.
Sure enough, in a few weeks, it produced stalk after stalk of lovely white flowers, each of which contained enough perfume to fill a room. I called Steve to tell him. He said that he knew at least two of the other plants would produce pink blooms.
But not one of the others bloomed. I learned that one needs to feed these ugly little sticks with a plant food high in phosphate. So this year, I started them out right. And sure enough, they are blooming like crazy, and sure enough, two of them are producing pink blooms. I can’t tell Steve, though. He died before they bloomed. But I think about him every time I walk past these plants and smell the perfume they are sending out on the evening air. Steve knew what I had to learn -- all they needed was a little attention and the right food.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Nothing is going to bloom without a little love and the right food. Steve knew that too, and provided both in abundance for his friends.
It’s too bad more of us don’t remember that more often with people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Katie....you are so right...the fragrance of a plumeria can fill a room! And also one "bush" can perfume a whole yard...we enjoyed that in our home in Hawaii...and it is high on the list of things I miss, and also remember fondly, from our years of living there. Sadly, orchid leis(with little or no aroma) have replaced plumeria leis as the 'common' neck garland. Growing plumeria in Hawaii does not require extra care..they just naturally do well there. But they are a reminder to me of the simple yet regal beauty of the world God created for us to enjoy. (PS I remember seeing your plumeria plants when St Pauls Wed Eucharist group visited...and marveled that you could grow them in Ft Worth! With my less-than-green thumb, I haven't even tried...Thanks for sharing your story!