Tag Archive | easy to grow

Australian Frangipani has flowers like cream and honey


The Frangipani is the only flower I know that is named for a perfume, rather than the other way round. It was a famous perfume in its day, invented in the 16th century by the Italian Marquis Muzio Frangipane. According to legend, the tree’s seductive perfume led to its discovery for horticulture by the French monk Plumier. Apparently he’d planned to travel the world and grow rich (an unlikely ambition in someone who became a Franciscan monk at the age of 16, in a monastery famous for its austerity but still) and was told by a fortune teller to “search for a tree that grows near churches and graveyards; its blossoms are the colour of the new moon; its fragrance will overpower your soul; if you uproot it, the leaves and flowers continue to grow. When you find it you shall be rich.*

Well, he found it, when collecting plants in the Caribbean region during the 17th century and though he didn’t name it after himself, others did – Plumeria. How it came by the common name of ‘Frangipani’ nobody seems to know.

The funny thing is, the description of the blossoms of this plant, as given in the legend, resemble the Australian native frangipani, Hymenosperum flavum, far more than they do the plumeria types commonly known as ‘frangipanis’ today.

For one thing, the Australian frangipani has flowers that resemble the ‘golden coins’ described in the legend, which plumerias do not. Hymenosperum flowers start off as a creamy white, deepening to old gold as they age. Thus a tree in full flower looks as if it’s had a great bowl of cream and honey poured over it. For another thing, the flowers of Hymenosperum, like those in the legend, have a much stronger perfume than those of plumeria species.

This is a very good small garden tree for many climates because though it originates in the subtropical rainforest it does very well in dry Mediterranean and warm temperate areas too. In fact, it generally does better, in purely ornamental terms. This is because in the rainforest it tends to grow tall and thin and straggly with very large internodes and sparse branches. Take it out of the rainforest and put it in full sun and it is more compact, bushy and floriferous. It flowers in spring, usually for about a month.

Hymenosperum flavum makes an excellent street tree, requiring little care after establishment.


Where: Sun or shade but flowers better in full sun. Grows faster in good soil but will survive in just about any reasonably well-drained ground.

Buy: Available from most nurseries in Australia but overseas buyers might need to shop around a bit.

Water: Give plenty of water during the establishment period for faster growth. At least twice a week after planting out. After the first year, leave it to nature and only water during long, dry periods (more than two months without rain).

Fertilising: Feed with an all-purpose tree and shrub fertiliser in early summer and again in late autumn. Fowl pellets or blood-and-bone will do fine for general growth but a formulation containing phosphorus will encourage better flowering.

Pruning: This is the secret of growing a really handsome Native (or Australian) Frangipani. Tip prune right from the start after planting and keep doing this on a regular basis to the young tree to promote density and a good shape. The tree may not flower for five years or more – once it does, a good prune of the top growth after flowers have finished will encourage compact growth and prolific flowering the following year.

*(from Hidden Stories in Plants), by Anne Pellowski,
Hymenospeerum3 - Copy

Abutilons – Chinese lanterns for year round colour


Chinese Lanterns (Abutilon hybrids) are one of my five top plants for a warm climate garden.

They ask so little and give so much; the dainty lantern-like flowers come in so many delightful colours; they provide colour in the garden for most of the year.

Though among the absolute easiest flowering shrubs to grow, they do need a bit of strategic pruning to give of their best – read on!

Chinese Lanterns have absolutely nothing to do with China because most of them come from South America. The majority have bell-shaped flowers that hang down, though there is at least one pinky-mauve type that holds its open face straight out to the sun. Colours range from yellow to various peach and salmon shades to red and yellow to mauve/pink. Leaves are usually soft and downy with three distinct lobes. They grow to 10 feet (3 metres) and the long branches tend to arch over if not controlled by pruning.


Subtropical to warm temperate (USDA 9-11). Will grow in tropical climates if given good drainage. Tolerant of mild frost but not prolonged, hard frosts or snow. In colder climates can be grown in tubs outdoors and brought inside in winter.


Sunny or part-shade. A good plant for filling a difficult corner provided there is good light or direct sun for at least half the day. Protect from strong wind that can break the long branches or uproot the entire plant.


Loamy soil that’s slightly on the sandy side is best but abutilons are tolerant of most soils if given adequate drainage.


Needs to be well watered during establishment; after that water only in prolonged dry periods as this plant is quite drought tolerant. Don’t plant in low-lying boggy areas because abutilon roots can’t stand prolonged wet conditions. If given reasonably good drainage they can take short periods of extreme wet and dry weather better than most shrubs.


Feed newly-planted abutilons with a liquid fertiliser after 4-6 weeks to encourage growth. Then feed with any balanced shrub fertiliser for the first year. After that, if you have good soil, no further feeding should be necessary. In soils where nutrition is low, add a dressing of blood and bone or compost in early spring.


Young plants will benefit from mulching with any organic material but don’t apply in winter so that sun can warm the surrounding soil.


Abutilons rarely suffer from pests and diseases. They MAY occasionally be subject to chewing by caterpillars or infestation by mites, or even fungal diseases, but these are rare. If problems occur, deal with them in the usual way (get advice from your local garden centre or read one of my gardening books); in my experience the plants usually recover from any sort of attack without help from me.


These are excellent shrubs as either background or specimen shrubs because the variety of available colours makes them ideal for co-ordination with other plants. Grown as standards (see below) they make dramatic and easy-care accent features.


This is the key to having handsome plants that will flower prolifically most of the year. Tip prune young plants to promote bushiness and discourage “legginess”. Mature plants should be cut back by at least one third (to the nearest joint) at the end of winter or whenever flowering has ceased or slowed down considerably. This is if you want a tall bush, which most of us do. HOWEVER, abutilons look stunning when grown as standards; just encourage the strongest stem on young plants but cutting out all the other stems, supporting the main stem until it is thick and strong enough to stand alone. Or, you can keep two or three stems and twine them, as with wisteria. I’m not clever or patient enough to do that but I’ve seen others do it with wondrous results. Abutilons grown as standards are great talking points in the garden; they look just so elegant with the bright flowers hanging off them like porcelain ornaments!

Also, you can turn the leggy habit of abutilons to good account by espaliering them to a support and creating an arbour or walkway, or tying the top branches of taller varieties overhead to train them into an arch (pleaching).

Abutilons need large pots to accommodate their size and fairly large root systems. Use a quality potting mix that drains well, water regularly, feed monthly with a balanced fertiliser that promotes flowering and re-pot once a year. They can be grown as multi-stemmed shrubs but look even better in the pot if trained as single-stemmed standards. Tip prune regularly and cut back by one third once a year to maintain size and shape.