The Bougainvilleas teach me a lesson

Hello again!

The joy of a bloom, the frustration of no blooms despite all efforts and the feeling of pride associated with seeing a struggling plant stand up on its own are familiar to those who have dipped their toes in gardening.

On that note, I’m going to write about my struggle with my bougainvilleas. I love bougainvilleas and they are an important backdrop for several childhood memories. Bougainvillea, if given the right environment, flowers profusely and grows almost like a weed. It can be trained to behave as a creeper, to cover arches and walls and railings and fences, since it has tender shoots when young and can be easily bent to give support to climb a structure. It’s a popular choice because it’s low maintenance and is available in many colours. In India we can see them in pink, red, orange, yellow and white. There are other colours such as blue and purple as well, but I don’t think they are found in India.

I had two bougainvillea plants as a part of the first set with which I started my tiny balcony garden. Dreaming of my balcony railings covered in fiery blooms, I asked my maali (gardener) to bring as many different colours as possible. One of the two is white (I have to take his word for it, not a single flower yet) and the other is pink. The pink one came with a bunch of flowers and that was the only hint of colour I ever saw on these plants.

Please click on the pictures to enlarge them.

The Pink bloom up close
The Pink bloom up close

In this post, I want to draw your attention to some important points related to bougainvilleas and also a crucial lesson I learnt with respect to gardening and nature.

They like to be dry

My dad had bougainvilleas and I vaguely recalled his mentioning to me to omit watering them when I watered all our plants after school. “They bloom when they sense drought and comfortable watering prompts them to grow more greenery”, he had said. So I marched ahead on the advice, and watered them only when they seemed to be on the verge of withering. While this theory was correct everywhere I read, my plants bore no flowers.

The two plants - Pink on the left and White on the right
The two plants – Pink on the left and White on the right
Notice the dry soil and drooping leaves
Notice the dry soil and drooping leaves

I called Dad to ask why my plants weren’t obliging me when like a good girl I was starving them; and I got lesson number two.

They need direct sun

All flowering plants need about 6 hours of sun to produce flowers, Dad said. So be it, the bougainvillea and all other flowering plants moved to the front balcony to soak up the sun. It’s been a month, and still no flowers.

I guess it’s the monsoons. The sun hasn’t come out of the cloud cover since weeks, and it rains about twice every day. Hardly fulfilling the full sun and no water conditions, eh?

A subsequent discussion with mom enlightened me on lesson number three and the most important of all.


They only bloom when they are a little old. Fresh, newly transplanted ones won’t bloom. They need to age in the same location for a while, so that their roots become compacted.

I was speechless. This means, there is nothing I can do to make my plants bloom. The plants are only a few months old so not really “aged”, are they?

Not old enough to bloom?
Not old enough to bloom?

There is nothing to it, except patience; and that is the MOST IMPORTANT virtue of a gardener. Patience.

Nature takes its own sweet time. You can provide a path of least resistance, then sit back and let Mother Nature do her job. Patience is rewarding and time is the one variable you cannot control.

It’s not very easy when you dream about the railings in front of your house covered in hot pink and white and yellow blooms. But that vision is driving me to ensure that I take care of the plants from my end and let them bloom when they want to. And well, at least my periwinkles are giving me a good return on my investment.

So what do you think of my struggle and learning? I’d love to hear your stories too so I can learn – after all I am an “Amateur Gardener” 🙂


4 thoughts on “The Bougainvilleas teach me a lesson

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