I recently visited a lovely garden in Sydney where I learned a fabulous trick. Jan Wightman's garden is a very stylish composition of many lovely plants in bloom now that flourish so well in Sydney - Camellia, Salvia, Pentas, Fuchsia cultivars and species, Plectranthus, Gaura and Dahlia, to name just a few - all arranged with an artist's eye for colour, form and texture. It is also home to some stunning foliage plants that provide long-lasting colour in the garden, including an impressive collection of ornate bromeliads, almost all of which are grown in pots.
I have never grown bromeliads in pots before so I was intrigued with this approach. The main benefit is that the pots can be moved around to different places to create an instant effect when they are in bloom or when their leaves are at their most colourful. It also makes dividing or tidying them much easier than trying to tackle a huge clump. A number of bromeliads also seem to look better when they are on their own rather than in a big clump, where they may lose the striking shape that each individual plant has.
Jan has long been a collector of bromeliads and I saw ones I never imagined could exist. The main types she grows are the Neoregelia bromeliads, such as Neoregelia carolinae, which have stunning coloured centres at the time when the tiny flowers in the middle of the 'vase' of the plants bloom. This colouration can last for an extended period, and the plants can be moved around to more prominent positions at this time, or placed next to companions of a similar or contrasting hue. Bromeliads can provide such useful structure and form in a garden, and judiciously placed, can pull a planting group together in an effective way. Another great aspect of most bromeliads is that they grow very well in semi-shaded parts of the garden, where many other plants languish. Growing them in pots means they can be placed in areas where the ground is horribly root-infested or simply impossible to dig.
Groups of potted bromeliads of varying colours, sizes and patterns provided a visual feast in various semi-shaded areas of this garden. I enjoyed seeing the burgundy-centred, green-and-white striped Neoreglia 'Mulberry' (pictured left) growing amongst a smaller stripy bromeliad and one with deep burgundy leaves - as well as other groupings, such as that shown at the start of the blog.
Bromeliads in pots give many opportunities for creating colour echoes in the garden. I admired a striking Neoregelia concentrica with a dark violet centre and similarly coloured leaf markings (shown earlier in the blog), placed beside the metallic violet leaves of the Acanthaceae plant Strobilanthes dyeriana. In another arrangement, a Nidularium innocentii (pictured above), with large spreading leaves and a gorgeous pink-red centre that looks like a sculptured rose, which apparently lasts many months, was paired with a Fuchsia hybrid with sepals of the same hue. The Nidularium was elsewhere mass-planted (all in individual pots) under some tall Camellia shrubs in a shaded spot in the garden, providing a simple but brilliant groundcover.
I also became acquainted with stoloniferous bromeliads in the garden, which apparently form a good clump, even when grown in a single pot. I particularly admired Neoregelia 'Bossa Nova', with crisp green-and-white striped leaves. These types can also form a spectacular display if allowed to wander over the branches of a tree.
The plants are potted up usually individually into pots, using a good-quality orchid mix and a pinch of well-rotted cow manure - after which they are never fertilised again! They will get their nutrients from debris which falls into their central 'vases'. The size of the pot depends on the ultimate extent of the root system, which takes a bit of experience to get to know, but on the whole, the pots don't need to be very large. The best time to pot up the 'pups' (as the new offsets of bromeliads are called) is when they are about two-thirds the size of the 'mother' plant. The 'mother' plant is generally discarded at this point. The potted bromeliads can be tucked into the mulch of a garden bed (which helps keep larger specimens stable) or just placed amongst other plants. The pot can also be placed inside a larger decorative pot. In general, bromeliads don't do well with a full sun position (especially in summer) as their leaves will burn. Morning sun or bright indirect light seem to be the best options, especially for the Neoregelia types. It seems that some of the ones with the most spectacular colours have the spikiest leaves, so wearing gardening gloves is advisable when potting up bromeliads!
I was very fortunate to leave the garden with some fabulous specimens. I was soon to learn the joy of being able to pop them into some bare spots in my own garden to produce an instant improvement!
18 Oct 20
Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
11 Oct 20
Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
04 Oct 20
October is iris time in Sydney gardens: the best are the tall bearded irises and Louisiana irises.
One crowded hour
27 Sep 20
Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.
20 Sep 20
We may not be able to grow massed displays of tulips in our climate, but try some of these South African corms instead.