Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bougainvillea Killer

This wildflower grows alongside one of my favorite mountain trails. I'd like to grow things like this in my yard, along quiet (if short) pathways.

The holiday and Karin Bugge's recent Patch article (Why You Should Plant a Native Garden) inspired me to work in the garden yesterday. I want to create a native plant garden but I've decided not to buy any new plants until I figure out how not to kill the ones I've already got. It gets frustrating--these two thumbs I have, which are the color of pale flesh. The closest they ever get to green is garden envy.

But learning involves making mistakes. Or you could call it failing or, in my case, killing. This all takes a lot of time. It's okay, I'm not going anywhere.

About ten days ago I moved a small, weedy bush to the rear of the yard and transplanted a bougainvillea in its place. The weedy bush was a volunteer--it was kind of ugly and spiny--and despite the nice hole I dug for it and the compost I planted with it, it died. Ungrateful little bush.

I didn't care. What I cared about was the bougainvillea. I moved it from a place where it was getting too much water to the spot vacated by the bush, where it would get good sun and the dry soil it likes. I had read on the web about how to transplant a bougainvillea. I knew it might drop all its leaves.

It did. It died.

Today I dug up the weedy bush and put it in the yard waste bin. I smoothed over the hole with a shovel. A volunteer pumpkin or squash or something is growing there. I watered it. I decided it was best not to transplant it.

Then I went to dig up the bougainvillea. I didn't want to. I felt bad about killing that plant. I don't know why; I can get another bougainvillea. But it seemed like another failure, maybe because it didn't volunteer--because I yanked it from its perfectly nice pot and planted it first in too much shade, then moved it to another place with too much water, then moved it to a third place, stressing the poor thing to death.

I make fun of my garden failures, but honestly I want to be done with them. It's a story I tell about myself: "I'm not good with plants." I don't want it to be true anymore. I'm tired of the emptiness, the lack of life, in our back yard.

I leaned down to pull the dead bougainvillea from the ground. Close up, I saw tiny green buds on its branches.

My bougainvillea is not a failure. I am not a bougainvillea killer. I am one step closer to telling a different story about my garden.

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Susan Campisi found a pair of gorgeous dogs on Saturday. They're at the Pasadena Humane Society, for now. Are they yours? Would you like them to be? Click the link, please, their time may be limited.

35 comments:

Jimmy said...

Yeah, I know how it feels. My mother is pretty unlucky with plants. Always tends to them, but they eventually perish. I wish you luck with raising this wild child!

___
International call

Bellis said...

Hurray, your transplant worked!! That means your fingers are a tad greener shade of white than mine, because everything I've ever transplanted has curled up and died. I have only recently realized that "proper" gardeners often try their plants out in several places before finding the right spot, and also often uproot and replace when a plant doesn't fit. Of course, the grand old ladies who created the great gardens of England had money and servants to do this for them.

I thought that the wildflower in the top photo was bryony, of the Cucurbita (cucumber) family, but I can't find it on Google UK. Does anyone know its name? It has a really big fat rootstock, and produces mini-loofahs. I wonder why no-one grows it in their gardens?

dive said...

Yay you, Petrea! Bougainvilleas are pretty hard to kill. I even had one growing happily in a sheltered spot behind my last house and I'm up at the same latitude as the bottom of Hudson's Bay.

Katie said...

I don't know nuthin bout birthin no bougainvilleas, but I do like your wildflower photo.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Jimmy. Maybe your mother's story will change, too, as she learns.

This is good news, Bellis. I have some trees in pots and I'm trying them in different places before I plant them.

I don't think this is bryony, as the pictures I find all seem to have a tiny green stripe on the white petal of the flower. When I zoom on my photo I find a star-shaped flower with no white stripe. I need a wildflower book.

Yay me, Dive! I definitely wanted this one live, so I'm glad you're right.

Thanks, Katie. It is kind of midwifey, but I'd best not take the reference too far because I've lost so many!

altadenahiker said...

I was feeling so sad, but then you saved the best for last.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank you for sympathizing, Hiker. Your article was inspiring.

John Sandel said...

" … qu'est-ce que c'est?"

Margaret said...

I am also really unlucky in the garden. I had these raised beds put in in the winter, and nothing gets tall. Even my corn seedlings just sit there, and ants are taking over my artichoke plant. Why? Why?

Speedway said...

Oh, Petrea, I'm so glad the little bougainvillea is responding to your care (and caring). I've regularly killed just about every plant I've tried, so I can empathize.

I like palm trees but live where they're not meant to be. In 2005, I harvested some seeds from a tree in Houston, brought them back to Indy. I followed on-line instructions for preparing them that amounted to incubation. They actually sprouted! I had so many little trees I didn't know what to do with them. Thought I'd killed one that my guy bought for me. It's leaves yellowed and died. A few years ago I was on the verge of throwing it away when I saw new growth coming from its center. Happy Me!

It happened again this winter. Almost threw it in the trash. New growth! Happy me! I figure if they can survive being tipped over by hurricanes they can put up with me. If not exactly "tough love" it's probably "off-hand" love.

I now have some tomato plants in one of those Topsy-Turvy things. They seem happy. So far. I'm just hoping that if my thumbs turn green it's not from mold.

Petrea Burchard said...

Margaret: John might say, "pourquoi?" Je ne sais pas.

Speedway, maybe your trees have a dormant period? That might explain the cycle that looks like death and rebirth.

It's a red letter day! Bellis gave me wildflower seeds some time ago. I planted them in front of the house. Despite mistaken tramplings and bumblings, today I have three tiny blossoms!

Diana said...

Don't kick yourself too hard; bougainvillea is extremely fussy about having its roots disturbed, which is hard to avoid when you have to tip the plant out of its plastic pot in order to plant it. Back in the days when plants came in tin cans, you just used shears to cut down the sides of the can in a couple of places and planted the entire can. The can rusted away pretty quickly once in the ground and the plant's roots weren't disturbed. Anyway, I'm glad yours is going to make it. BTW, the Arboretum gives good gardening classes for not much money.

Diana said...

P.S. You might call the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley (also a fine source for native plants) and see if they can identify your pretty wildflower.

Trish said...

Petrea---success! I laughed heartily at your frustration because I love putting my hands in the dirt and seeing results. Sometimes, I'm more successful than others, the ungrateful little *&^%$s sometimes die on us! ;-)

You might try something easier than the boogervilles (as one friend calls them). CA poppies tend to sprout without provocation and come back year after year beautifully. Dig a little to give the seeds a foothold, then let them go. First year might be light, but when they come out, WOW! Several folks around us have them as their front yard spring decorations. Mow 'em down when they are done for blooming or leave the greenery to wither and spread.

Wildflowers are easy as pie. Like the poppies, give 'em a foothold, and let them run. Just make sure they're safe for Boz.

Another fun one is morning glories. Once they get going, omg, you might lose Boz in there! I used to try to grow some of this on a trellis. It over ran the trellis and took over an entire ~8ft by 15ft bed too. Would have taken over the neighbor's yard, had he not stood there at the driveway with trimmers every morning, nipping off every bit of beautiful stuff on "his" side of the fence (tho he didn't mind letting his trees drop on our yard...I digress).

And, while longer to get going, ice plant tends to hang on nicely, once established. Again, little boogers can want water at first, but once a ground cover, tend to do nicely (several places up in Linda Vista used to have them for ground cover, as did in the Altos). Ask at the nursery.

@Katie...lol!

@Margaret...would guess they need deeper soil to root into. Many plants need good soft soil to branch out into (think of the trees popping up sidewalks---they go where it is easiest to grow, rather than dig into the CA clay we call "dirt"). In winter, either dig deep and turn the soil, or raise the beds more and add more soft soil.

wv: aught...I aught to get moving, I've done my work here (and yet, aught of my work at home!)

Jane Strong said...

The wildflower is wild cucumber, Marah macrocarpus. Yes, it is a member of the Cucurbitaceae, the cucumber family.

It has two kinds of flowers. The small star-shaped flowers at the tip of the vine are the male flowers. In this picture along the bottom margin, you can see one small fruit formed from the female flower. I call these "porcupine eggs".

Karen said...

Some plants are very, very traumatized by transplanting. Others hardly seem to care! They just put out new roots and there's new growth on them within days.

One of the best things about gardening is seeing those little green shoots come up long after you thought the plant had withered and died. You usually come to realize that it actually just went dormant (on top) while it was regrouping and rerooting down below.

Don't be afraid to try - that's how you learn with anything, whether it's cooking, gardening or whatever. Mistakes are what teach us what not to do next time. I've been gardening my whole life and it's only in the past few years that I've finally started to feel like I have mastered it, a little.

J.J. in L.A. said...

I don't just have a black thumb, I have a black arm. lol!

Sorry about your bougainvillea!

magiceye said...

yessss.... if one looks close enough one finds success!!

Petrea Burchard said...

You're all very encouraging and interesting and funny today! I'm enjoying the comments. Learning from them, too.

Thank you, Jane, for the words "Marah macrocarpus," and for proving Bellis right (or darned close to it). I looked it up. Apparently it's poisonous, so I guess I don't want it in my yard. Boz will eat just about anything once.

Greg Sweet said...

That's Marah fabaceus:

Calflora page here »

Ms M said...

Yay for the tiny buds! I do okay with flowers in flower pots, but not so well with other green things in the yard.

Petrea Burchard said...

Greg, I've missed you! It's good to have you back. I hope you've been hiding out in the holler and enjoying yourself.

Ms. M, my potted plants need repotting. I don't know what to do but try.

USelaine said...

That's fantastic you found buds! Like Diana, I've read how the Bougains' roots are very sensitive. And you have managed to dig it up twice without killing it! Methinks your thumbs are greener than meets the eye...

Petrea Burchard said...

This is what I'm hoping, Elaine. One turnaround like this might just change my entire belief system. I checked on the Bougie this morning and it's got a bit more green. I believe I chose the right spot this time.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Wild Cucumber. I have it smothering my Oleanders on the edge of my property. I've heard it argued both ways as to whether their natives or not. I pull them out when I find them on the trails. Having been a regular in the Arroyo since 73, these plants are relative newcomers, so I suspect their origins.

Best to transplant bougs in the dormant season (pre-spring, post frost). Glad to hear yours survived. What color?

Petrea Burchard said...

I have another one to transplant, PA, and I am definitely going to wait. They're both that bright purple. What I really want is dark purple, not as easy to find at the plant stores.

Greg Sweet said...

PA: They absolutely are natives (see my link), but that doesn't mean we can't touch them. Pulling them away from the trails is quite helpful; for a few days anyway.

Populations ebb and flow, just like most of the chaparral, so it's not surprising that to you they seem new in the Arroyo.

Greg Sweet said...

Transplant the Bougies whenever you like, but cooler is better. The first thing to remember is that they do not like the root crown disturbed! Dig out as much root as you can and move it very carefully - you may need a helper to hold the top steady, in line with the trajectory in which it was growing before moving it, and to make sure it stays there while you tamp the new soil and stake it, if necessary. Also, you will need to prune it hard before moving. This will make it easier to move without disturbing the crown, and, more importantly, the smaller root system you have after digging it up can only support so much growth above ground.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Greg. I'll wait for cooler weather and follow your instructions. Cool!

Susan Campisi said...

I tell that same story: "I'm not good with plants." Sadly it is so true for me. I inherited some nice plants in my yard and I hired a gardener to keep them alive but I still think I'm slowly killing some of them. And my indoor potted plants, received as house-warming gifts, are dying a slow death. I hope over time I too can change this story.

(Thank you again for posting about the stray dogs.)

Petrea Burchard said...

You're welcome about the dogs (click on Susan's blog for more info).

I think there are no short cuts. My learning curve has been slow on this because I didn't want to take the time; I was doing other things. Some plants are more forgiving than others, but for the most part, we have to do the learning and take the time if we want them to thrive. Damn.

Dina said...

Aww what a happy ending.

Kim said...

Yay for the bougainvillea! I hope to see what color it is when you do follow up shots some day when it is all leafed out. Yay for you, too!
-Kim

Petrea Burchard said...

It's growing so well I tell myself I can see its little green leaves all the way from the dining room window. If I put on my glasses and squint.

Anonymous said...

Please do not pull the native Wild Cucumber out from along the trails!!!
If you are certain a plant is invasive, such as wild mustards or grasses, then please do us all a favor and pull them out, but please leave the natives!