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Sad to say, for the time being my bougainvillea adventures have come to an end. Every spring, the nurseries are overflowing with these lovely Central American beauties. They are the essence of Mexico… where they grow like mad and hang over awnings and buildings with their bright splash of color.

Up close, bougainvilleas are kind of homely. The “flowers” are actually bracts, which are like thin papery leaves hanging on spiny crooked branches. They don’t have the regal canes of roses. But from far away, they are a carnival of gorgeous color.

My first try at them started with a topiary that died last summer from what I think was underwatering. My second try was a smaller hanging plant that died from what again I think was underwatering. Despite the fact that last summer was a drought but this summer a seeming monsoon, it seems like they need more water than I thought. Perhaps someday I’ll be enticed again by the drapery of the nursery plants in spring. But for now, I’m too obsessed with my insanely gorgeous passionflower vine, which needs no help at all to invade my garden with color.

Notes on Bougainvillea: My first plant, the topiary, was the variety “Raspberry Ice” although looking at others’ photos of this, this variety has variegated leaves and mine did not. Perhaps mine was mislabeled. The most popular variety seen around here is “Barbara Karst”.

There are gorgeous displays of Bougainvillea in several places around town, one gargantuan climbing plant in front of our favorite pizza joint on The Drag. I have often wondered how these survive the winter here, and I suspect that Bougainvilleas outdoors are kept alive by being near very warm buildings and hot stone. In parts of California and in Mexico, Bougainvilleas cover entire allees and arbors, creating a ridiculously beautiful celebration of color. For now, I will enjoy them where they do well and maybe some day will have room for another.

about the botanical art: from a CD of illustrations by Paul de Longpre, 46 chromolithographic images from Revue Horticole, Journal D’Horticulture Pratique, Paris 1888-1892