Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Second Oldest Plant: Orange Bougainvillea

When my husband and I met I lived in a college rental home, with one large room to call my own. No yard. No garden. I had a small norfolk pine on the kitchen table, and I carried it all the way to California with me when we moved in 2001 for my graduate studies; the main plant suffered shock from trasnport, but I saved a small baby that had developed in the pot. Later, when Theo went onto active duty with the Army, I carried the same plant, although much larger, with us to our new home in Wisconsin. From day one I referred to this pine as "Tree," and each spring I put blue lobelia underneath him, and set him out on the north side of our home for a summer of fresh air. Baby tree is more than 2 feet tall now, and thriving in my office window. I bought the lobelia this week. Tree is my oldest plant.

In 2001, when Theo and I found our first apartment in Belmont Shores, Long Beach, California, we had a breezy southwest facing balcony just outside our bedroom window. I promptly filled the balcony with a bougainvillea, jasmine, japanese pine and plumeria, among some annuals. I remember buying the bougainvillea at a local garden center; I had grown up underneath my grandmother's huge fucshia bougainvillea, and I had seen light orange, purple, and red varieties, but I had never seen a dark orange one. I fell in love, and the plant rewarded me with beautiful papery flowers for years.

In 2003 when we moved to Wisconsin I had little knowledge of cold-climate gardening, and I did not imagine I could keep a bougainvillea alive in the house. To me, a child of Southern California, bougainvillea grew in the ground: 20 feet tall and somtimes just as wide. They were not for containers. I left the plant in the care of my mother and grandmother. A short while after we bought our first home in southern Wisconsin I found our local garden center sold bougainvillea as potted plants. The nursery staff informed me bougainvillea made fine houseplants in sunny windows. I began to long for my dark orange bougainvillea. I hunted for one like it here Wisconsin, although I was so bummed to find mature specimens of this tropical plant sold for upwards of $60; worse yet, not a single dark orange one was in sight.

I begged my mom to bring my bougainvillea on the plane with her. It was too big, and too spiky, and probably not allowed anyway.

When we went back to visit California for the first time in 2007 my bougainvillea was blooming for me in my grandmother's backyard. I took a picture of her, and gave her a good pruning. I was devastated we had no room for my blessed plant on the car ride home; I felt like I was leaving a family member behind. I did sneak a small cutting from my original plumeria plant (long story with that one, too). Last fall, 2008, when we visited California I made the bougainvillea my top priority. I insisted there was room for it in the car, and when it came time to leave I packed it first, behind the passenger seat, wrapped in a fleece blanket so my kids did not cut their legs on the thorns. I fillled the bottom of the pot with agave from my aunt, clivia from my grandma, and more... next time, I'm bring my Japanese Pine home.

I say, this bougainvillea is so happy to be back with her mommy. March 18th I took these pictures of her blooming in our bedroom window. One month later she is still going strong, too. In about 3 weeks I'll bring her outside and prop her up against our fence. I'll pretend she's a permanent fixture in the garden, and savor each of her delicate blooms. Enjoy!

Happy Gardening!


cindee said...

What a great story! I hope you get to also bring home your Japanese Pine one day too! I am sure the bougainvillea is very happy to be with you again(-:

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