I wasn’t in Maui to see gardens (unless you count the coral growing on the lava tubes as a subaquatic garden), but that didn’t stop me swooning at the gorgeous tropical flowers.
Beyond the hibiscus and frangipani in all the colours of a tropical cocktail or a tropical sunset, or both, were other delights: a tree I’d never seen before and instantly fell in love with; and a plant we all know, used in ways I’d never seen before.
This is my new love, Cassia ‘Rainbow Shower’. Imagine if crab-apple blossom didn’t get blown off so easily and was a bit more assertively coloured and arrived at the same time as lacy, luminous lime-green foliage. That’s more or less ‘Rainbow Shower’, whose cascading bunches of blooms are cream and shades of strawberry. It’s an Hawaiian hybrid of the yellow-flowered Cassia fistula (common name is the unappetising ‘Golden Showers’) and the pink-flowered Cassia javanica (yep, the common name is ‘Pink Showers’). It’s botanical name is Cassia x nealiae in honour of Marie Neal, author of the 1965 classic In Gardens of Hawaii. ‘Rainbow Shower’ is used as a street tree in Maui as well as a garden feature. I’d never seen it before, but when I rang Bruce Fraser of Pacific Trees Queensland, and told him I’d just been in Maui, his immediate response was, “You’ve been looking at ‘Rainbow Showers’!” It’s a common call, he says, not just from Maui visitors, but also those who’ve walked the avenues of Cairns, Rockhampton and Mackay. All steamy, sweaty spots, so how will these tropical treasures do in Sydney? Fraser, who is Australia’s only grower, doesn’t know for sure, though he says they do come from Hawaii with a frost-tolerant claim. Fraser has 1.5m trees in stock, ready to send south for flowering from November through March. I’m sorely tempted. Look at the way those flowers cluster!
But perhaps I’m better off finding a place for my other Maui delight – bougainvillea, which definitely likes Sydney conditions. Familiarity may have bred contempt for this sub-tropical riot of colour.While the magenta climber ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ was on show in Maui scrambling around doorways and over pergolas, those brilliant flowers clashing thrillingly with the azure skies, there were less noisy bougainvilleas too. In the manicured gardens of the five-star resorts bougainvillea was clipped into neat buns in the way the Japanese treat azaleas, or shorn into tight metre-high hedges. In less controlled gardens it formed loose piles of colour like discarded costume jewellery. The bougainvilleas that will take on these kinds of roles were Bambinos, many of them developed by Australia’s Queen of the Bougs, Jan Iredell. Bambinos are dwarf bougainvilleas, suited variously to ground-cover, hanging baskets, pots, hedges or trellis. All flower almost all year, respond well to pruning and shaping, and are tolerant of dry weather. And they all look like a holiday in Maui.