Aechmea gamosepala

Aechmea gamosepala (right) with Ruellia macrantha

This winter-blooming bromeliad (ht 50cm) comes from Brazil. Its blooms are thick bristles of purplish-pink bracts tipped with iridescent blue bead-like flowers: the whole effect is of a bunch of surreal-looking matchsticks. After flowering, the spike turns dark pink for a long period. Like many members of the bromeliad family it will grow in hopeless, shady corners and even in places where there is hardly any soil. It can form an attractive, low-maintenance groundcover as it multiplies well: my large patch started with a single plant passed over the fence from a neighbour. I think the clumps probably benefit from being split up every so often. Being epiphytic, it can also be grown in the fork of a tree. It will tolerate mild frosts.

The pink bracts are an exact match for the winter-blooming shrub Ruellia macrantha (pictured above left), so these can be paired for an attractive garden picture. Its blue flower tips are an exact colour match for Salvia rubiginosa, which is in bloom at the same time. Aechmea gamosepala 'Lucky Stripe' has creamy-yellow striped leaves. When the flowers are just opening, the flower spikes of Aechmea gamosepala can be picked for vases.

Flowers in May, June, July, August, September.