Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bougainvillea Battles

The wild tangle of color sold me on the San Pancho property before the real estate agent had parked the car. Masses of magenta, fuchsia, tangerine sprawled across the stucco entry walls, spilled over them, arched back in sweet coquette. Bougainvillea, paper-thin bracts of saturated color, teased me inside the gate to first view the gardens and three-room structure that would become my winter home.

Bougainvillea thrives half a world away from vegetation endemic to where I live in the States: fir, cedar, and rhododendron landscape the Pacific Northwest. Bougainvillea represents another, more exciting world for me. The tropics. Sloe-eyed, exotic. Crayola-colored sunshine stretching beyond summer to hug the winter months. I was mad for the exuberant shrub.

My first season here I nurtured my bougainvillea: daily inspected for plagas (garden pests), coaxed an errant branch, fertilized and watered when I deemed fit. They responded with affection: the plants thickened to a bower that necessitated ducking; bougainvillea inside the gates climbed walls, twined up posts, nested atop the dried palmera-frond palapas.

My husband, tall, reduced to stooping beneath the bower to reach the house, suggested we trim the bougainvillea back.

"The thorns are cutting me to ribbons," he said. "They attack me every time I come through the gate."


"They are overgrown and probably doing damage to the other plants, not to mention the roof of the palapa. And…," his coup de grace, "they are very messy. We must constantly sweep the sidewalk."

I acquiesced to reducing the depth of the bower but stood my ground on bougainvillea inside the garden walls.

Such was our compromise come April and time to pack up and head north for the summer. With trepidation I talked to Anselmo, the man we hired to care for our garden.

"Take extra care with my bougainvillea," I said. "Watch for critters, fertilize with triple 17, don’t water too much…"

"I hate bougainvillea," he said, his English to the point. "Thorns worse than scorpion sting."

"Be more careful then. This is my favorite plant."

"I take care of everything," he said, with a wide sweep of his arm. "When you come back you won’t recognize this place."

Anselmo was true to his word. During the summer he ripped out every offending plant. We returned in the fall to find a stark entry and landscape inside the gate devoid of color. My riotous bougainvillea laid to rest.

When confronted with the misdemeanor, Anselmo beamed.
"I took care of it for you," he said. "No more ugly thorns. No more to sweep." His smile pulsed with pride of accomplishment.

I have tried to replicate the first whirl of color that beckoned me to buy this house four years ago. Starts of bougainvillea poke out of pots and peer up the walls. Summer gardeners post-Anselmo tend them at my request. But each fall I return to a heap of dung-colored bracts on the ground and thorny stems devoid of life. This year I may give up and plant rhododendrons.

1 comment:

erica enders said...

Oh! Curses to that language barrier once again! You are a true warrior and your foliage will thrive! Those plants will return and shred the haters! I agree with you about their beauty and inspiration. But like my cat, the beauty is only for looking, if you try to touch it you will get scratched. I loved your entry and am rooting for your side.