Tag Archives: gardening in the southwestern U.S.

Writing Sometimes Means Getting Up Off the Chair

Spring in Arizona is glorious. We never did have winter this year, but I can tell it’s spring because there is a nest of baby quail behind the house. All but two of them hatched yesterday. A large and messy nest weighs down a flimsy Palo Verde branch overhanging the wash. I watched the bird fly back and forth to the nest, but the bird was so small and my vision so limited that I couldn’t make out the type of bird.

We also have lots of blossoming shrubs and trees and vines. Bougainvilleas are one of the more distinctive blossoms.

Living in the southwestern United States, I expect to see Bougainvilleas as backdrop to certain settings, especially around the walls of Spanish and Italian style stucco houses.

Bougainvilleas are apparently native to South America, but they have made their way to Arizona and California–and to the Philippines and southern European countries.

They are well-known for their distinctive reddish (but not red) color. The shade differs a bit, according to the sunlight and the soil. They come in both vine and bush varieties.

My husband and I decided we wanted to buy a few new bougainvillea vines, and the company delivered them to us. The place we wanted to put them is not only across the driveway from our other bougainvilleas, but on the same wall as our neighbor’s plants.

So it was important to match the color. Not a problem, I figured. To my knowledge, all Bougainvillea plants were the same color. (I always envision how gorgeous they are against white stucco near the beach in San Diego).

The plants that were dropped off at my house, though, were an orangey shade. They completely clashed.

The company exchanged them. For a hot pink color. I couldn’t figure out how it could be so hard to select the right color when all the Bougainvillea between the Pacific Ocean and New Mexico were the same color.

I checked the internet. Apparently there are over 80 different Bougainvillea plants

So I got off my writer roots (that’s the body part you use to plant yourself on the chair at the computer) and hauled myself to the nursery–armed with a twig from ours, a twig from my neighbor’s, and a twig from the hot pink so-not-right plants.

The man who helped me at first showed me to a section of Bougainvillea. I matched my “swatches” the best I could, but nothing seemed quite right. I said, “I want the color of San Diego Bougainvillea.” He just gaped at me.

I felt as if I were in that scene from Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream HouseI was Myrna Loy describing paint color to her gape-mouthed painters:

I want it to be a soft green, not as blue-green as a robin’s egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow, but don’t let whoever does it go to the other extreme and get it too blue. It should just be a sort of grayish-yellow-green. Now, the dining room. I’d like yellow. Not just yellow; a very gay yellow. Something bright and sunshine-y. I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you’ll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can’t go wrong!

When Myrna Loy is done with the full description, the painters say:

Mr. PeDelford: You got that, Charlie?

Charlie: Red, green, blue, yellow, white.

Mr. PeDelford: Check.

That was how much my flower man cared about the color I needed. I hemmed and hawed and sent him on another errand.

In a few minutes, Ryan (an everyday hero) stopped by to help me. He brought me to another section of the nursery. All the Bougainvillea, vines and bushes, were the right color. And they were 1/3 the price of the other colors. Go figure.

What I learned is that when you want the correct San Diego color Bougainvillea you want to buy “Barbara Karst Bougainvillea.” That’s all you need to know. Those will be the perfect ones.

My new vine matches my neighbor's boughs.

My new vine matches my neighbor’s boughs.

Now I want to know how one goes about getting one’s name on such a well-known flower. And who is/was Barbara Karst?

Do you have a gardening tip to share?

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Filed under Arizona, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing