I first fell in love with bougainvillea when my now-husband and I were in Cartagena, Colombia in April 2011 for our dearest friends’ wedding. In fact, it was one of the first things I noticed when I stepped out of the taxi, second only to the weight of the humidity and heat that was so foreign to our coastal California selves at the time. It was literally everywhere, cascading down verandas and climbing up walls.
I couldn’t turn a corner without its vibrant, playful colors catching my eye.
It crept even out of the most unassuming windows and cracks.
Of course I had seen bougainvillea in California, but not like this. Not winding its way up sherbert colored walls with women carrying full, lush fruit baskets on their heads while walking down the street like it was really no big deal.
Sadly, the week before our trip, we had just cut back an entire bougainvillea bush in our front yard because it was unruly, thorny and seemed to lack structure in comparison to our succulents and neat, simple landscaping. We had succumbed to the all too pervasive mindset that bougainvillea is like a weed that can’t be controlled. After all, in California, it grows in dark alleys and along freeways. I guess you could say it’s kind of no big deal (making it the perfect topic for this post, of course).
So where am I going with this? Bla, bla, bla…we went to Colombia and I became obsessed with bougainvillea. I realized it is not a weed and accordingly, mourned the loss of our bush for a few weeks after our trip.
But with my newly trained eye, I quickly noticed that bougainvillea was absolutely everywhere in our neighborhood and was in fact, often being trimmed back by the gardeners. In other words, would anyone really care if I snipped a few sprigs of it and popped them in bud vases for my dinner parties? Um, absolutely not.
So at our own wedding in Cabo, Mexico two and a half years later, I didn’t even bother dealing with a florist who likely wouldn’t get or appreciate my non-wedding vision. Instead, I enlisted the help of all my boozy friends and family and began collecting tequila bottles of all sizes and shapes. I soaked them in water and scrubbed the labels off. It was a little awkward explaining to the customs agent why I had 40 empty tequila bottles entering Mexico, but I’m pretty sure I was the least of their worries. The morning of my wedding day, I took two pairs of scissors, a large Frieda tote, and one of my very best girlfriends and we raided some massively overgrown bougainvillea bushes that lined the outskirts of the resort where I was staying.
In less than an hour, we had my flower arrangements completed and it literally did not cost me a dime, though I remain forever indebted to this bestie for helping me pull it all off.
I realize not everyone lives in a tropical environment with access to bougainvillea, but for those of you who do, I encourage you to take advantage next time you’re entertaining and don’t want to make a big fuss over flowers. They look so bright and cheerful scattered across the table in bud vases. And even if you don’t have bougainvillea, I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that you at least have access to tequila. Those empty, clean bottles make great vases for outdoor dining (especially if you’re serving margaritas and Mexican food). Any bright flower will do: Gerber daisies, roses, azaleas. Have fun with it and whatever you do, don’t make it a big deal.