The ideal bougainvillea for the desert

SHARON COHOON,  –  June 20, 2005

In certain parts of the country, red is verboten if you want a gentle, dainty garden ― the color is way too vivid. But if you live in the desert, red is often the perfect hue, says landscape architect Puck Erickson. “It doesn’t fade away under the hot summer sun or the harsh light reflected off hardscape,” she says.

‘Barbara Karst’, the bougainvillea climbing a poolside wall in Connie and Craig Weatherup’s Scottsdale garden, is unabashedly red, but that’s not its only virtue. In Erickson’s experience, it’s also the longest-blooming bougainvillea for the Southwest. “It doesn’t lose freshness in the summer or defoliate as quickly in the winter.” When winter cold does nip the tender vines, ‘Barbara Karst’ is one of the varieties most likely to snap back from frost damage.

The Weatherups’ bougainvillea grows in a particularly advantageous spot. The south-facing wall supporting the vine absorbs warmth in winter, while canyon breezes and humidity provided by the pool temper the heat in summer.

Bougainvillea can handle the Southwest’s alkaline soil and is surprisingly drought-tolerant once established, needing water every 10 days or so during summer.

DESIGN: Puck Erickson, Arcadia Studio, Phoenix 602/955-0301