Bouganvillea glabra. Picture by Fanghong.
GARDENING AN APPEAL by a reader for information about how to care for her bougainvillea struck real recent and distant memory chords.
Cornwall’s Eden Project has a beautiful display of this showy plant, which is remarkably easy to care for. That was the fresh summer memory of the Mediterranean scene under the huge dome.
The distant recollection is of a fine specimen in the conservatory of the Chine Inn, Shanklin, before it was revamped,
The pub used to be a rambling collection of rooms and bars, and in the conservatory next to the huge grapevine there used to be a fine bougainvillea at a time when they were still quite uncommon in this country.
It was trimmed to spread itself up vertically next to the door of the lounge bar, but it can be allowed to grow large or scramble its way up a trellis. Popularly, they can be dwarfed as a bonsai too — that’s how versatile they are.
They are best grown either in a large container in full sun, so they can be brought indoors when the weather chills, or in the sunniest spot in the conservatory, although my memory of the Chine Inn specimen was it was in flower despite a less than ideal situation.
I say 'in flower’ because the showy colours come not from its blooms, which are unimpressive, but from papery bracts.
Bougainvilleas’ natural habitat is equatorial and there they bloom almost continuously. Here, summer blooming can only be extended in a warm, light conservatory where a temperature above 10C will encourage them to hold on to their leaves.
During the growing season, they really benefit from regular nitrogen feeds, which aids growth and adds to the intensity of colour of the bracts. Allow them to dry out almost to the point of wilting before giving a good soak during the summer. In the winter, water sparingly.
If the leaves show signs of yellowing (chlorosis), sequestered iron or magnesium sulphate can be used.
Bougainvilleas do like restricted roots so do not go overboard when increasing the container size.
They are relatively pest and disease free, the main problems being aphids outside and red spider mite and scale indoors.