The Bougainvillea Charm

Walking or driving around in Northern California, my eyes are always drawn to the beautiful bright bougainvillea. I love the pretty pinks and purples and occasionally lighter orange ones. There is an energy to these plants. I suppose they can never stay still. How they like climbing nearby trees, peeping out of fences and overflowing prettily and spreading color with aplomb? Are they naughty and bright, or just restless and impulsive? Do they plot their next move, or organically leap? I find bougainvillea intertwined around trees, traveling over fences or sitting tidily as a bush much subjected to the gardening shears to be a sheer delight. Do the trees tolerate them, or love them?

Who can say? All I can feel is a great warmth towards the spurt of color. 

Imagine my surprise then when on an impulsive trip down to Santa Barbara, I found myself in the city of bougainvillea. The beautiful Spanish architecture and the great bounds and leaps of color of this beautiful plant were too much for me. I thrilled and trilled at the sheer beauty of this plant marvel.

The drive down there took much longer than anticipated or maybe we had just forgotten the art of travel after over a year of Covid restrictions. Record low-level rainfall combined with the area having a heat wave resulted in dry and brown hillsides. A haze clung to the countryside as the car made its way past the fields and plantations. The roads went on and on, traffic was a sore trial, and often there was nothing but brown. Patches of scorching heat with spots of cool and one sudden area of fog was all there was to remember on the way down.

And then, just like that the brown haze collapsed into a burst of the brightest colors. The bougainvillea , a welcome sight in the Bay Area, was ubiquitous in Santa Barbara. With Spanish architectural buildings, the Pacific Ocean on one side, and plenty of flowers and sunshine, the city stood there sparkling like a jewel in the neckline of the Californian pacific coast that day.

I gasped at the beauty and the elegance of it all. The Bougainvillea seemed to be everywhere and it seemed just right. I whisked the children off on walks every chance I got. One morning, I stood in front of a particularly fetching purple one that wove its way around a large tree.

“Oh these bougainvillea are so beautiful! Really. They are the love of my life! How marvelous Earth looks with these, no?” I asked rhetorically expecting no answer. 

“Oh! So not even Appa is the love of your life huh? What about us? Okay…I see how it is. Good to know, good to know!”

I threw my head back and laughed at his shining eyes. “Well of course he is. And so are you kids. Bougainvillea are the love of my plant life now – how about that?” 

He chuckled at having successfully pulled my leg and we went on – admiring vines growing here, and large wizened tree faces there. 

A few hours later when the bags stood by the door, and we were ready to leave and say good-bye to beautiful Bougainvillea county, the husband’s t-shirts alone lay higgledy-piggledy in an untidy pile and I said, “Really! I just cleaned up here – what is this huh?” And picked up the t-shirts. 

A voice piped up from somewhere and the little sassy pants said, “No wonder bougainvillea is the love of her life pops! You better clean up if you want a chance Appa!”

I laughed though I admit that I love the bougainvillea for its untidy spurts of color. The plant reminds you of the virtue of chaos in a world trying its best to be orderly.

Did you know the pinks, purples etc are not flowers but the bracts that surround the little flowers ensconced in them? I don’t suppose it matters a whit.  A dear friend gifted me a bougainvillea plant and I finally managed to get it planted. Now I just have to hope it will survive for the charm of bougainvillea to continue on.

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