Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sadly, not my balcony ...


Had a couple of days away last week to see my brother who was on holiday in Liguria. We took a boat ride from Santa Margherita to San Fruttuoso and stopped at Portofino on route. There are some fabulous villas there. I could kill for their bougainvillea ...

The whole area was full of it. Liguria is the area on the north-east coast of Italy, and as you can see from the photos, the coast borders immediately on the mountains - the southernmost part of the Alps. They're very low here - the locals refer to them as hills rather than mountains - and heavily wooded, particularly with chestnut trees. On the coast, the mild Mediterranean climate means that the vegetation is fantastic, with a mix of endemic mediterranean plants, and imported North African and tropical varieties, which flourish. I'd have taken far more photos, particularly of one gorgeous purple flowered vine, which was everywhere - but the batteries in the camera ran out.

Bougainvillea (bougainvillea spectabilis is the most commonly seen) is itself one example of an imported tropical plant, as it comes originally from South America. It was discovered by a botanist, Philibert Commerson, who named it after the captain of the ship he was travelling on - Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Bougainvillea are part of the Nyctaginaceae family, and therefore cousins of mirabilis jalapa, which I've posted about before. The brilliant purple colour comes from the bracts, not from the flowers. They can be grown in pots, but need a lot of sun and dry conditions, and constant warmth - one reason why I've never tried it on the balcony here is because I doubt I could get it through our winters, which are much colder than in Liguria. In colder climates it needs heated greenhouse or conservatory conditions - at least 5°C in winter. One UK grower, David's Exotic Plants, lists varieties which are described as "tough", but unfortunately they don't give details of what they mean by this. How tough is tough? The one on my neighbour's balcony is not doing too well, incidentally. The bracts have lost colour, whereas they should stay vibrant for months. They may have overwatered it, or maybe the red spider mite have hit. Or perhaps they're not feeding it enough - a fertiliser that's high in phosphorus and potassium helps to maintain the colour.

Back to the boat trip. San Fruttuoso is an old monastery nestled at the foot of the mountain ...

Although you can't see it from this picture, just the other side of the landing stage was a load of prickly pear, all in bloom ...

Prickly pear is native to North and South America. I can't work out if this one is opuntia littoralis or opuntia ficus indica - they both look the same to me and both have been imported to and are now common in southern Europe. In Italy however, opuntia ficus indica seems to be most common, and in Sicily and a few other southern regions, is cultivated for it's edible fruit -Fichi d'india, or Indian figs. They're easily available in the shops, though I have to say I've never tried them - perhaps I will now. But the sculptor Bernini must have liked them - he sculpted them into his Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona in Rome.

5 comments:

talj said...

What fabulous properties! I would love to live there! :o)

Molly said...

Liguria is my favorite part of Italy. I was lucky to spend a week last year hiking in the Cinque Terre. Can't wait to go back.

Sue Swift said...

I have to admit I'm not a great fan of Liguria, but the Cinque Terre are definitely on my "must do" list. In fact, after 30 years here, they really ought to be on my "have done" list by now ...

Kanak Hagjer said...

Beautiful pictures. I grow bougainvilleas but I wasn't aware about the background you'd posted.Will be visiting again, there's really a lot to learn from your blog.

Selina said...

I have that same purple bougainvillea growing on the northeast corner of my house. It's in bloom now and the colorful bracts are spilling over a corner of the roof.

To give you an idea how tough this plant is: I'm in a part of Florida with winter temps in the mid twenties F. The vine suffers only minor leaf damage. It's about 12 years old and has never even died to the ground.

Related Posts with Thumbnails