Getty Gardens, Bougainvillea


More than 25 years ago a friend in Boston brought me a present she had carried all the way back from a visit to El Paso, where she had grown up. It was a peach-colored Bougainvillea plant, and it made the trip in the back of her little Ford Maverick. I was absolutely delighted with her generosity and her thoughtfullness.

At the time the plant could hardly have seemed more exotic to me, or in the interior of the simple 1760's house in Providence which became its home. The Bougainvillea was primarily something I had read about in novels set in Mediterranean climes, and the simple parlor on Transit Street contained nothing but 18th-century New England stuff, pretty modest but intensely curated. I found myself justifying its presence with the fiction that it had come to my quarters in the cabin of some sea captain returning from Brazil,* but the plant quickly took on a character of its own, and brought life to a beautiful room. Its branches and its flowers also showed intensely and stubbornly romantic through most of their existence, somehow haunting my memory of that very classical house.

The Bougainvillea survived for years, regularly pushing out at least a few brave blossoms in front of its curtainless window, but it never looked very happy in spite of the happiness it gave to my friends and to me. It didn't make the move to New York, but our relationship has made every sighting of its relatives, anywhere in the world, a sweet joy.

* Hmm. I just found out that the flower was discovered (for Europeans), in 1768.

[The image was captured last Wednesday afternoon, near the Central Garden of the Getty]

The Bougainvillea in my (new) front garden has just started to blossom, an encouraging sign of approaching Spring here in the southern hemisphere. I'll try to remember to send a photo when we have real blooms.

There are dwarf Bougainvilleae these days, frost resistant and suitable for growing in tubs. If that's not enough to have you scurrying to the nearest nursery, the dwarves don't have thorns either.

Hey James!

The bougainvillea is a very popular plant in the Palestinian city of Jericho. My family is lucky to have it in our house garden there, in three colors, purple, rose, and honey yellow. It's called "majnouneh", which means "the crazy" (feminine adj). It really is so, as you hinted in saying it had a life of its own.


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Published on August 9, 2004 9:32 PM.

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