Some of you may have seen my recent trip around Japan for 3 weeks, where I indulged in and learnt so many new plants. One must-see on my visit list was the Insta-famous @plumeriaclub, an account I’d been following for many months. Owner Shirakawa-san had initially piqued by interest with his BLUE Plumeria (Frangipani)
So, on a September day in Tokyo, I set off for Chiba, which is on the other side of Tokyo Bay. Shirakawa-san had given me very good, very detailed instructions to catch the bus. Nevertheless, I left myself plenty of time. Time to scoff a green tea bun and brain-freezing macha latte, and time to find the bus. I needed that time though. Tokyo Station is complex, and there are many different companies offering their shiny transporting options. Walking back and forth to the numerous bus stations and getting lost in a shopping centre meant my shirt needed the a/c cooling off period the correct bus finally gave me. Always build in ‘wandering around lost’ time when in Tokyo.
Anyway, back to plants! I met Shirakawa-san at the bus terminal at the other end, following a rather enjoyable ride along the Tokyo Bay route the bus took. Shirakawa-san and his wife shuttled me to their plumeria location not far away, and then- I was in heaven!
Now, most people in Japan call Plumeria by that, their latin name. But, people in other countries may know it by the Frangipani name. Quite a few varieties of Plumeria are raised in Hawaii, and indeed it was here that these colourful plants originally seduced the plantsman Shirakawa-san. He was on his honeymoon when it happened too!
Since his Plumeria hobby began, Shirakawa-san has collected over 300 different varieties, experimenting with breeding some himself, developed a device for successful grafting, and found a way to preserve the flowers!
They weren’t popular at all in Japan at first, and it was hard to find any Japanese information on them. The only people that grew them were surfers, who’d initially seen them when hitting the waves in exotic climes! That was until the national television channel NHK featured them in their gardening show, and now there is an ever-growing circle of enthusiasts!
Breeding a Plumeria is a 7 year process. Shirakawa-san raises 1,000 exciting seedlings each year. Most Plumeria species are actually white, with only Plumeria rubra having any colour in the petal! Some breeders have also picked up on the blue tones (by mixing together the red and purple genes), so I’ll be keeping an eye on those developments for sure! Right now, some of the blue and grey toned varieties can cost $400 each!
Likewise, ‘Tempest’ is particularly divine! Alas, there are only 10 plants of this variety in the world!
Plumeria can be slow to flower from seed, although that can be accelerated by grafting. Shirakawa-san has developed a special slotted piece of wood which helps club members to get the angles of the graft just right. What an innovator he is!
Plumeria can be difficult to enjoy in cooler European climates, as they need heat and good light levels in order to flower well. Most European development in Plumeria happens in Italy, where the climate suits them a little more. However, all is not lost, some breeders are raising shorter varieties, which could flower sooner in a cool climate.
Shirakawa-san and his workshop are extremely welcoming, and it’s become a bit of a destination all year round, as he keeps the heat on for his plants. The Hawaiian atmosphere is strong in this part of Tokyo all year round! The Plumeria Club Shirakawa-san began now has 2,000 happy members, sends out 4 newsletters a year, and has a Plumeria Party (with beer on tap!) each month! To find out more about it, click here.
Shirakawa-san was also busy preserving (and colouring) Plumeria flowers in his workshop. He told me a little about his methods, and I’ve decided I want to have a play myself. So, I’ve literally just ordered 16oz of glycerin and a bag of silica gel on amazon, and will use Shirakawa-san’s guidance in preserving some of my own! I will report back on how that project goes!
If you’d like to find out more about Shirakawa-san and his rainbow flowers, I suggest you go follow him on Instagram!