Photo - Robin Powell
We chat to the expert on everything frangipani. Pass me the lei!
You’ve been collecting and growing frangipani for 25 years. What was the catalyst for this fascination?
I have always just loved them. They epitomise paradise and are a sacred flower all around the world. Really I’ve just appreciated them for the same reasons
all the ancient cultures have.
Are frangipani called frangipani elsewhere in the world?
Generally English-speaking countries other than the Americas tend to call them frangipanis. In the Americas they call them plumeria. Plumeria is the botanical
name, after the French botanist Charles Plumier. Frangipani actually comes from the Italian name for them, frangipanier.
Photo - Stephen Prowse
How many different ones are now in your collection?
We have well over a thousand. We’ve been told we have the best frangipani collection in the world, and that we have the best cultivars in the world.
Do any give a particular thrill at the moment?
I’m really excited by the semi-dwarf, compact-growing varieties being bred now. That type of frangipani is a real favourite at the moment. It has so applications
to so many different gardens.
Actually there are two types of frangipani that I particularly love – they are both frangipani types which haven’t been available until very recently.
That very dwarf type and the evergreen with coloured flowers. They are super super rare, but we have lots of them.
Photo - Stephen Prowse
Do you still go hunting for new frangipani in the wild?
When I started collecting, I was just collecting the most outstanding varieties I came across in far north Queensland. After that I started searching further
afield, and I had the opportunity to work on some Aboriginal mission communities in the top end. These were quite remote. When I was up there I saw
some fantastic frangipani which I hadn’t seen anywhere else. It turned out they had been brought in by Samoan missionaries early last century. They
were massive plants, growing wild in the dry bush, in the old abandoned mission. Everything was gone but the mangoes and frangipani survived.
Now though, because I have been in the business for such a long time I have developed good friendships with two of the world’s top breeders, and they release
their best hybrids to me and to no one else in the world. We have our own breeding programs as well.
What’s the holy grail for a frangipani breeder?
A perfect blood-red evergreen! And I’m very very close!
We hear on the grape vine you've named a frangipani after our very own Linda Ross?
Oh yes its a lovely evergreen white frangipani, we thought she deserved it after that fabulous book she wrote with John Stower and Lorna Rose, Frangipani.
Steven Prowse’s Queensland nursery, Sacred Garden Frangipani, sells frangipani and brugmansia mail-order. Go to www.sacredgardenfrangipani.com.au
Text: Robin Powell