Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia


I don’t always do what I’m told. Instinct plays a large part in my gardening endeavours, which means there are gaping holes in my understanding. Who would have known that the frangipani tree in the backyard, which stands at least thirty feet tall and has a canopy almost as wide, was a succulent? Not me, certainly.

Three weeks ago we lopped a branch from the frangipani tree that was interfering with the washing line (I’d have ditched the washing line but some battles aren’t worth fighting, not if I want to avoid being the only one doing the washing). It was as easy as sawing through a pat of butter. The cut oozed sap, dropping milky splashes onto the patio, and the same thing happened when I sliced through the arms to make them fit into the recycling bin. Then I wondered if the arms might grow, especially if I dipped them in hormone rooting powder. It worked for the climbing hydrangea, why not the frangipani?

I filled several tubs with moist potting mix and poked the chunky stems deep into the mix. They still had all their leaves and flowers, which made them look pleasingly like instant mini frangipani trees. I watered the tubs deeply and stood them in bright sunshine. Job done.

Several days later I asked a polite young man at the garden centre what he thought my chances were of successfully propagating the frangipani.

‘Best to do it winter,’ he said. ‘The end of summer isn’t ideal. I suppose you took the leaves off?’ (No, I didn’t.)

‘What about the flowers, should I have taken them off as well?’ I asked.

‘It had flowers?’ (Yes. That’s why I asked.)

‘You should take them off, definitely.’

‘Oh well,’ I said brightly. ‘I’ll just have to keep the cuttings watered, give them plenty of sunshine and hope for the best.’

‘Frangipani,’ he said, patiently, ‘is a succulent.’ I waited. ‘You should store the stems in a dry spot in the shade for at least a week then plant them in dry compost, keep them away from bright sunlight and don’t water them for another three weeks.’ (Really?)

I went home, dug up the stems, chopped another few inches off the soggy ends and left them on a table to dry. Under cover. In the shade.

That was two weeks ago. The stems have languished on the table ever since, hardening as the leaves wilt and the flowers drop, while I’ve been busy with my niece and her boyfriend, who were visiting from England. They’d never seen a frangipani tree before. The waxy flowers that dropped onto the breakfast table every morning fascinated them. ‘They barely look real,’ said Charlotte.

I drove them back to the airport today, not knowing when I would see them again, and the rain reflected my melancholy mood. It wasn’t the typical Sydney rain that can drench you in seconds, it was more of an English drizzle, the type that invites you to step into the garden and finish the jobs you’ve left undone.


Wandering through an empty house reinforced my sense of loss so I took the hardened stems, potted them into dry compost suitable for succulents and placed the pots in the shade. I did exactly what the nice young man in the garden centre told me to do.

Frangipani is a slow growing succulent. It could take years before those stems are properly established, possibly as long as it might take for Charlotte and Steve to return to Sydney.

I garden in the hope that they will come back one day and see those frangipani trees flourish.

8 comments on “Renewal

  1. laroseedespetiteschoses
    March 27, 2014

    I had a Frangipani grown in a pot for a few years from a cutting a neighbour gave me but had no idea it’s a succulent. Well, it’s no longer 😦 to say I am no gardener!


  2. Wendy Moore
    March 28, 2014

    Frangipanis are so evocative for me. I adore them! Summer holidays at Norah Head, walks in small villages near Birtamod, picking up random flowers in a Sydney summer and popping them in my bun. I love them. The smell instantly takes me several places! Fingers crossed for your cuttings Deb and how I look forward to seeing this evolving garden!


  3. debhuntinbrokenhill
    March 28, 2014

    You’re welcome any time Wendy, look forward to sitting under the tree with you one day!


  4. Charlotte
    April 29, 2014

    I’ve only just seen this! I read your blog on the email notifications rather than the website and I can’t believe I missed this one. I love it and really love the frangipani. I hope they grow. I’m eating an aunty deb breakfast as I write this (granola, fruit, yoghurt) and missing you. It was horrible to have to leave you, thank you so much for a wonderful holiday in Sydney xx


    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      April 30, 2014

      Hello lovely, I will nurture the frangipani for you and they will be here to welcome you next time you come back. Missing you both but so glad you had a good holiday xxx


  5. Ross
    February 3, 2017

    Do yourself a favour Deb and go back to Broken Hill.If not there, then some other country town. Sydney…yuk! You cannot possibly be truly happy in Sydney. I am going back to Broken Hill for a few days soon.I cannot wait. Ross.


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      February 3, 2017

      Couldn’t agree more! Heading back there in mid March for four weeks, SO looking forward to it. Enjoy your visit Ross


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This entry was posted on March 27, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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