After a particularly fierce northwester, the bougainvillea’s upper branches were stripped of their leaves and for many weeks have simply been long whips swaying in the wind. Recovery has been slow, and although tiny buds appeared along their lengths, it took just a day or two of warm sunshine to encourage them to burst forth into the attractive young leaves that will soon create a thick covering for the small garden birds to shelter in. The sparrows and white-eyes love to perch on these stems, enjoying a bit of a swing as they move with the wind, and the current lack of leaves makes for eye-catching pictures, rather Japanese in character.
A bougainvillea enjoys a good beating and thrives after a few branches have been snapped off in a gale, or even by the gardener’s own hand through a good pruning. The jury is out as to whether they prefer to be watered regularly, irregularly or not at all, and having observed my three specimens over the years, I would say the ‘not at all’ emerges as a winner. The most ignored bougainvillea has grown two storeys high and covers half the roof with a brilliant crimson cloak of bracts in summer – none of which is ever seen except by climbing a ladder! When the wind blows, the garden is filled with crimson confetti from the roof, which gave us the first hint of this phenomenon. I should mention that it took around 35 years for this mass flowering to occur. I once had a neighbour who used to beat her bougainvillea with a stick (mimicking natural drubbing from wind, I imagine), and it was a mass of brilliance to rival any iconic Greek photo.
I have as yet been unable to attack my three plants, violence being abhorrent to me in all forms, and so I rely on nature to do its thing, but perhaps I will venture a little gentle tapping and see how it goes. Should there be no luck, I aim to allow the very leafy bougainvilleas to become root bound in their pots until such time as they crack and shatter. Hopefully I will be left with the most magnificent ‘sculptures’ in the shape of a ball of roots such as seen in a nursery many years ago – something I have longed to hang on my balcony ever since!