"Instant gratification"

I discover the use of bromeliads in pots.
Sunday, 12 April 2015     

Bromeliads growing in the garden of Jan Wightman in Sydney

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!

 Reader Comments

1/20  Faye - 2210 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

Thanks for the interesting article on Bromeliads, I have always grown them in pots. Now thinking of attaching some to the trunk of a tree. I have some on trees. I use an old stocking - making a pouch of orchid mix and a bit of compost to put the roots in the tying the plant on with the rest of the stocking. The stocking eventually rots away and by that time the bromeliad has attached itself to the tree. Tree fern trunks are often used. Deirdre

2/20  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

I"ve grown bromeliads, mainly Neoreglia types, for years. I have confined them to pots as they tend to make huge clumps, which can be difficult to separate when planted in he garden. I have not really thought of combining the pots with other plants in the garden, but what a great idea. I shall emulate it. Thank you for the blog and for Jan for sharing her garden. It is such a good idea to use the pots for the ones that make huge clumps. And individual plants seem to look better too. Deirdre

3/20  Enid - 4011 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 13 April 2015

Thank you for your article. We do hang out for Autumn in Qld. The salvias, sasanquas and bromeliads are starting to give us much pleasure. We have a weekender at Maleny, Qld and cannot lavish a great deal of care and attention on the garden, but it is still very rewarding. I think your climate must be perfect for these plants, Enid. Deirdre.

4/20  Trudi - 4223 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

Good morning; I do not frequently comment, but want to say how much I appreciate your knowledge. I grow similar plants in a subtropical climate and I am sometimes lost for names, your iGarden is my helpline. I participate in Facebook in a Garden site called "Home and Garden Enthusiasts. I was wondering I you would allow to use your website as reference sometimes? People from all wakes of life enjoy their gardens but are sometimes lost for the names of certain plants. That"s fine, Trudi. Deirdre

5/20  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

Lovely displays in Jan"s garden and a nice article on growing them. I went from pot to ground (well in between large rocks and now it would be difficult to divide them - they look good till one dies or something flops over them cutting out light & water and they loose their looks. Being moveable makes good sense. Yes, it does seem such a good idea for various reasons. Deirdre

6/20  Ron - 2065 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

I have many bromeliads but the problem I have with them is mosquitos. Does anyone have a trick for stopping them breeding in the bromeliad centre? A good question, Ron. See replies from Lynette and Jan below. Deirdre

7/20  Pat - 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 13 April 2015

Good morning, and thank you for all the help you give.BUT...I live in Goulburn, and most of your hints etc. are aimed for Sydney. Could you please help us poor people who live in the colder regions....cold winds and heavy frosts in the winter months. I know how frustrating that is ... alas my gardening experience is limited to Sydney pretty much. I have a little bit of experience with the garden of my grandmother near Crookwell but I am only there a few days a year and I cannot really say I am any sort of expert on cold-climate gardening! However, I recently heard of a book called The Canberra Gardener which could be helpful for you -- you can buy it from the National Library bookshop here. Also you might like to look at the delightful garden that Jan has put on our garden ramble section: she is in the Yass area: here. I have written a few blogs about my grandmother"s garden: here and here. Sorry I cannot be of much help. Deirdre

8/20  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

Having visited Tropical Breeze and Bermimpi as a result of Andrew"s myopengarden blog I have discovered the value of Broms out in the open garden in singles for beautiful effect. Never been a love of them but now enthuised and off to the Novetel at Parra next weekend to learn more. That is great, Maureen! Deirdre

9/20  Sue - 3106 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 13 April 2015

I love broms and use them in many difficult positions both in the garden and pots. They seem to flower when other plants are waning and add a tropical feel to a southern garden. I agree - they are so good for those difficult spots in the garden. Deirdre

10/20  Lynette - 2114 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

Fascinating article again Deidre. I have been acquiring broms for a couple of years, most of them attached to dead tree fern trunks but a few are in half baskets on the fence. I went to a Brom Soc meeting in January & came home with so many that I can"t go back! Garden is full! I recommend it to those interested: great talk, friendly people, lots of door prizes. I have some in full sun for part of the day & some in virtually full shade in the fernery. All are making pups. Broms are hard to kill! You sound a great enthusiast, Lynette! Deirdre

11/20  Lynette - 2114 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

Ron - I wash my broms out at least once a week with a good water from the hose. I"ve been told that this is the trick to stopping mosies & I must say I haven"t noticed more since I took to broms. Such a good tip, Lynette. Thanks. Deirdre

12/20  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 13 April 2015

Thanks for sharing this lovely garden of Broms. I, too have always kept them in pots so I can move them to show them off when they bloom. But Jeff planted a couple in the ground, green and white stripped with light pink tips (not the one called finger nails). Interestingly enough, they are in the morning full sun till midday and am very surprised that they keep looking so fresh and healthy. It seems that morning sun is OK for them and for some of the coloured ones, brings out the colour more. The afternoon sun, especially in summer, is however likely to burn the leaves. Deirdre

13/20  Jan - 2130 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 April 2015

I get mosquitoes in my garden but am not convinced bromeliads are the culprits. Anywhere water sits will attract mozzies (gutters, plant pot saucers). Water tipped from my broms had very few mozzies. Like Lynette, I hose them clean about every 3 days in summer, and also twist out old neo flowers if they are rotting. Here is a link to an article, written by an Australian, which sheds some light on the seemingly misunderstood bromeliad/mozzie connection: mosquito article. Thanks, Jan. The hosing is a great tip. Deirdre

14/20  Lynne - 2479 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Inspiring! I am off to get some. Great! Hope you enjoy your bromeliads. Deirdre

15/20  Trudi - 4223 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Thank you Deidre; many garden enthusiasts will happily browse your webpages. Always great information. Thanks, Trudi! Deirdre

16/20  Ron - 2065 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Thank you Lynette and Jan, I will try hosing and twisting off the old flowers. Some of the vases on the larger plants are around 5cms and the wrigglers can be observed so I will be able to do a before and after comparison. Thank you again. Hope these tips will work. I will be trying them too! Deirdre

17/20  Beth - 2257 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 15 April 2015

My friend got me interested in bromeliads because we have similar problems in our Central Coast gardens - sandy soils and steep blocks. Of course, I arrived home with pups from each of her varieties. I believe that the spiky ones will tolerate more sun. Apart from the vibrant colours there is always something you can offer a visitor. They certainly are good for those tricky spots. It is lovely to get a new one from a friend. Deirdre

18/20  Lynette - 2114 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Beth, I was told that the more red in the brom the more sun they"ll take.Certainly red ones fade in the shade. However I have a red & a green, both in full sun & they are both thriving and no burnt leaves.Both are making pups.They are on dead branches & have actually attached themselves to the branches.I have put a pup from each onto a tree fern branch in my fernery.The red one has faded to a greeny red, but they are both growing bigger, just slowly.Try them in different spots, see what happens! It certainly seems to be trial and error to see how they go with different light levels. Some of mine formerly in shade but now in full sun because a diseased tree was removed got very burnt but these were plain green-leaved ones. The more colourful ones have coped better. Deirdre

19/20  Richard - 2112 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 16 April 2015

I have a deep burgundy brom in a ceramic pot which at the height of summer was in afternoon sun, & the burnt patches reverted to green. Lesson learnt. The other lesson I have learnt is not to put my best broms in reach of my new dog, as she has shredded a few - & when I replaced one poor specimen on the deck with an Agave attenuata, she shredded that also (not to mention snapping camellias off at the base, digging roses up etc!!!) Alcanterias happily take full sun, & grow to spectacular size. I do think that afternoon summer sun is pretty hard on some bromeliads. Some dogs do seem to go for bromeliads, I have heard! Deirdre

20/20  Beth - 2257 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Friday, 17 April 2015

Thanks, Lynette and Richard. I will certainly keep that in mind and try the reds in more morning sun. I have tried to keep them mostly in shade except for the prickly leafed ones.

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