Vera Blakeman is back and this time she has an entourage of siblings. You don’t know Vera? Well its time you made her acquaintance, for Vera is a particularly attractive Bougainvillea, however she doesn’t climb, she doesn’t have thorns and, when grown well, she is one of the showiest of plants for the garden.
In recent years Bougainvilleas have made a bit of a comeback. Along with monsteras, hibiscus, pineapples and palms these plants are being featured more and more in fashion, textiles, and of course in the garden. Its great to see more Bougainvillea cultivars in the nurseries once again. They include old favourites that had long disappeared, along with new releases that we have not yet seen on our shores. ‘Vera Blakeman’ is back, but this time with a range of cultivars that have similar growth habits, but differently coloured bracts or foliage of varied colour.
I first came across a stunning specimen of ‘Vera Blakeman’ in a garden in Roma in southern Queensland and was quite taken aback. ‘Vera Blakeman’ produces strong, stout, upright, near thornless growth, which is quite unlike any other Bougainvillea, and when in flower, reminds me more of a showy crepe myrtle. No wall or climbing frame needed, for this is a shrub or small tree, covered in spectacular colour for most of the year. The large flower bracts are produced on the new growth, and can extend along the length of the stem. ‘Vera Blakeman’ and cultivars also have distinctive leaves,. They are shiny and folded inwards. Once you know them you can spot a small plant instantly just by its leaves.
Developed by nurseryman Peter Greensmith in South Africa, ‘Vera Blakeman’ is now grown around the world. Plants can be left to form a tall billowy shrub or small tree, or trimmed back annually to form a tighter rounded shrub. They can also be trained as a standard or ‘cloud pruned’ to produce stunning irregular heads.
‘Vera Blakeman’ looks sensational in pots, and this is how plants are used for summer bedding in Europe and the USA, particularly in urban plantings. These flowering potted specimens can be moved around the garden to produce stunning displays, wherever floral colour is required.
‘Vera Blakeman’ is currently available from garden centres and hardware stores and sold as ‘Vera Deep Purple’.
“Treasure” is a also popular. It is offered under this marketing name but is also being sold as ‘Vera Lyn’.
Bougainvilleas are famous for occasionally sporting branches with bracts of a different colour. This is even more frequent when plants are mass-produced by tissue culture. ‘Vera Blakeman’ has spawned her share different clones over the years. Some of these new cultivars have been recently been released in Australia. They were developed by Rijnplant Nursery in the Netherlands and have the classic growth, but extend the floral colour range which now includes white, pastel shades and variegated leaves. These plants include:
‘Vera Pink’ – if you want a shrub with light pink bracts, then this is the plant for you. I can imagine this plant would look great when mass planted alongside ‘Vera White’. ‘Vera Pink’ is a sport from ‘Vera Light Purple’, discovered in 2000. A similar or identical plant has been widely grown in Malaysia for many years.
‘Vera Light Purple’ – has pinky purple bracts and was patented in 1993.
“Vera Variegated” – is for fans of variegated leaves, here is a plant with cream margins. It is a sport from “Vera Deep Purple”.
Yet another sport of “Vera Blakeman”, “Treasure” has bracts that are orange in colour fading to a pinky apricot and then to magenta. This is not a new clone and has been grown in Australia since the ‘70s. Produced only by a limited number of wholesale nurseries, you will have to hunt for this plant, but it is worth the effort.
Bougainvilleas are unusual for they are one of only a few plants that will grow in a diverse range of climates. While they are often thought of as tropical plants, you will see them in protected courtyards or against north facing walls in northern coastal Tasmania, and Melbourne or Adelaide. They thrive in coastal New South Wales and Queensland also in outback areas where frost is not too severe, the ground is not too alkaline and water not too salty. Head north and you will find them in Cairns and the wet tropic areas as well a thriving in equatorial Darwin. If it is just too cold where you live, you can also grow them in pots and bring them in under cover as temperatures drop. Of course there are always specific cultivars that perform at their best in a specific area.
Many bougainvilleas do not flower well in the wet tropics as they lack the seasonal variation and dry period. The ‘Vera Blakeman’ cultivars do flower well under these tropical conditions and you will see them in full floral colour in Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo and Far Northern Queensland.
You may not have room for a vigorous climbing plant, but remember there are many shrubby, and even a few groundcover bougainvilleas. If you are after spectacular potted colour, ‘Vera Blakeman’ and its cultivars could be the ideal plants. The best thing about these plants is that there is no need to go hunting, as the ‘Vera’ cultivars are now available in garden centres and hardware stores across the country.