It’s hard to imaging that as recently as twenty years ago plumerias were quite rare in Orange County. Even ten years ago, just before Curtis, George Crouchet, Bud Guillot and others formed the South Coast Plumeria Society, they were still primarily “pass-along” plants. Plumeria were spread throughout southern California from the hands of one gardener to another; a method I still enjoy greatly.
Today, plumerias are grown successfully in tens of thousands of local gardens. In almost every neighborhood in the county, plumerias can be seen popping up over fences or growing in large containers on a patio. In fact, last week, during home garden inspections of the top entries in the California Friendly® Garden Contest, our judging group discovered plumerias growing in the majority of gardens; from Huntington Beach to Fullerton to San Clemente.
Today, Curtis is certainly not alone in his plumeria passion. The South Coast Plumeria Society (http://home.earthlink.net/~gcrouchet) boasts over 300 active members, plus many others who come to the free meetings but haven’t yet joined. Held in Huntington Beach, the meetings are brimming with excitement, discussions about new varieties, cultural details and enthusiastic members. Just tap the shoulders of any hobbyist attending one of the club gatherings and you will feel the fervor of others as they describe the scented petals or the growing ease.
The popularity of plumerias is understandable. Tropical and exotic, plumerias appear to many beginners as rare tropical jewels. Like any mysterious, exotic thing, they should be rare, difficult to sustain and require specialized attention. But not so; not In Orange County. In fact, plumeria are among the easiest and most rewarding of all our garden plants.
What other plant offers as much; rich scents, months of flowers, roots that won’t buckle sidewalks, no thorns and almost no pests. As if you need more convincing, to make another plant you literally break off a branch, toss it on the ground for a week and then stick it in the soil.
I’m certain that the surge in plumeria popularity is above all owed to their carefree and forgiving qualities. You can neglect them, forget to water them for weeks, even ignore them and they’ll still reward you with beautiful, fragrant flowers.
But don’t ask Curtis Hayes to neglect his beauties. He and other plumeria hobbyists are so devoted to plumerias that they sometimes even adopt other people’s plants. Several years ago Curtis began caring for a nearly thirty foot plant several miles from his house. One of the largest plumerias in the continental United States he is now its surrogate parent.
I’ve known Curtis for about six years now and at his plumeria seminars he still begins with the three things that plumerias need: good drainage, water in the summer and dryness in the winter.
When caring for plumeria, Curtis recommends growing it in cactus mix or a commercial potting soil blended with plenty of pumice to improve the aeration and drainage of the soil. Fertilizing should be regular from spring, when the plant begins to wake up from its winter sleep, until mid fall, before it begins its sleep once again. Full sun or very light shade is best and plumerias should be watered sparingly, if at all, during their winter sleep.
To learn more about plumerias in Orange County be sure to visit Curtis, George, Bud and other members of The South Coast Plumeria Society at The Orange County Fair. They will be on hand throughout the fair, in the garden area, to answer your questions and show off their plants; but mostly just share their excitement for one of Orange County’s new favorite garden plants.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar