The view from Little’s farm is stunning. It’s the type of uninterrupted ocean vista that’s normally reserved for gentleman farmers, but here it belongs to thousands of plumeria trees. I’m in Little’s pickup truck, and our first stop is a Singapore. He pulls his truck up close, reaches out the window and plucks a blossom. It should be white with a small speck of yellow in its middle, but instead nearly the entire flower is bright yellow. The tree is a rare cross between a Singapore and a Celadine; Little and Angus found it in a Waialua front yard, and Little named the tree after the homeowner’s mother, Mele Pa Bowman.
We pull over and walk to the middle of a field where we find the JL Pink Pansy. It’s an elegant beauty, and it’s quickly evident why Little knew he had created something special: We pass by a Bridal Bouquet plumeria (Plumeria pudica), a favorite of landscapers which presents its willowy flowers in tight clusters.
We move into another corner of the field, and Little shows me a tree with lavender-colored flowers that have narrow, slightly squared-off petals. When I bend down to take a sniff, I’m stunned to smell grape Kool-Aid. Next, it’s a dark, almost-black blossom with wide elliptical petals; it smells like cinnamon. We visit one amazing tree after another until we find Little’s latest work of art, the Doric, an orange beauty named for his wife which took him eight years to develop. I admire its delicate lines and fine veins of flamelike color. This one, I think, could smell like a wet dog, and it would still be a star.
“How much do some of your more desirable cuttings go for?” I ask.
Little pauses. “Are you ready for this?” he asks. “My son just sold a cutting, something called Eclipse, for $500.”
My God, I think, money does grow on trees.
We walk to a little work area on the edge of one of the fields and sit in plastic lawn chairs under a small monkeypod tree. A gentle breeze blows through the grove and cools us, but instead of plumeria perfume, it brings with it the stench of a dead pig rotting in an adjacent field. Nevertheless, as Little stretches out and eyes his grove, he looks like a very happy man.
He tells me that something is happening in Hawai‘i: People want plumerias again. The flower-growing operation on the farm has increased significantly in the last several years, and he predicts that instead of the ubiquitous orchid lei from Thailand, we’ll soon start to see plumerias at the airport and throughout the city again.
“It’s strange how these things happen. The craze started on the Mainland, but it has circled back here,” says Little. “Isn’t it about time? I think people are getting tired of those orchids leis. The first thing people do is smell them, and there’s no fragrance. There’s nothing to them at all. But the plumeria, that’s Hawai‘i!”
On my drive back from Hale‘iwa, I take the freeway and rush home. I pull into my driveway, park the car and walk to my plumeria trees. I reach up and pick a flower and take a sniff.
It has a delicate, lemony fragrance that fades quickly. I sniff again, and it smells like birthdays, graduations, baby lu‘au, elementary school pageants, lazy summer days, the airport, backyard barbecues, yardwork, hello, good-bye and welcome home. In other words, it smells like plumeria. HH