Bougainvillea dots a desert slope

Brighten a stretch of low-water landscape

Sharon Cohoon

Subtropical bougainvillea makes a surprisingly good companion to agave, cactus, desert spoon, and other Southwest plants on the slope pictured here. According to landscape designer Ray Martin, "Bougainvillea blooms best when it's a bit stressed. So it's actually most attractive in a low-water, well-drained situation like this."

For this project in Big Horn Golf Club in Palm Desert, California, Martin used two varieties: 'La Jolla' (bright red flowers) on the upper slope, and 'Oo-La-La' (magenta) on the more densely planted lower slope.

Because 'Oo-La-La' has a lot of competition here from surrounding plants and hasn't spread much, it hasn't needed any pruning.

'La Jolla' needs more maintenance. "Any shoot that grows straight up is cut off immediately so the plant doesn't get shrubby," Martin says.

Bougainvillea is widely grown in Arizona's intermediate and low deserts ( Sunset climate zones 12 and 13). Other varieties that make good groundcovers are 'Brilliant Variegated' (red flowers and variegated silver or gray-green leaves), 'Purple Queen', 'Raspberry Ice' (deep pink flowers and green leaves with creamy yellow edges), and 'Rosenka' (gold flowers fade to pink).

DESIGN: Ray Martin, Ray Martin Design & Associates, La Quinta, CA (760/771-2071)

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