Gardening With What You Have

Bromeliads Anyone? Tempting, Easy To Grow Tropicals

Christine Froehlich 03/26/2018 Comments

I was going to write about pruning this month, but that topic is on hold because there's a big mound of snow in front of the hedge I wanted to work on. Yeah, we all know spring is coming - but it's not happening right now.


hedge in snow


Instead, my husband and I took a trip to Florida to visit his daughter Gabe. She just moved there and was trying to establish a garden. When she asked for my help, I couldn't resist. Due to sandy soil and dry shade, many of her attempts had been disappointing - mostly because the plants she had chosen weren't happy in her site. 


I'm not an expert on zone 9 plants, but bromeliads popped into my mind. Having seen them growing in greenhouses, I knew they'd thrive in dry shade and hot humid conditions. I needed more information on how to grow them and what varieties were available, so I searched around for local plant sources and any public gardens we could visit to get some ideas. 


I hit the jackpot when I found  Nature Coast Botanical Gardens. It was only a half hour away, so we hopped in the car to check it out. Yikes, talk about eye candy! It houses one of Florida's largest collections of Bromeliaceae - there are 51 genera and 3475 known species in this family folks.  Also included are 22 themed gardens; a butterfly garden, fantasy garden, secret garden, wildflowers, rose beds, vegetables, herbs, native plant collection and a whole lot more you can see on their website. This four and a half acre gem is operated by the Spring Hill Garden Club - each member takes responsibility for the care of one garden. This lady was working in one of them and we bombarded her with a million questions. 




Its mission is to educate the public about Florida species, both native and exotic. As a northern gardener, I found it both educational and inspiring. Having only seen most of the plants they were growing potted up in greenhouse environments,it was exciting to see how they were used in a landscape. 


The meandering paths lead us into a shaded paradise blanketed with bromeliads of varying sizes, shapes and colors. I promptly fell in love with all of them. 



 These flashy plants cover ground quickly, kind of the southern version of a hosta.  Bromeliads produce  flower forms that are variegated, chartreuse and magenta. Sword-shaped or cupped leaves grow around a central cup that catches water. If you've ever grown them inside you know that you just fill the cup when you water them. Bromeliads like a rich, well-drained soil. I'm not sure how they amended the beds here, but I noticed that they left all organic matter from the trees on top of the beds.



These epiphytic plants cling to trees as perches to reach the sun and gather moisture. Oh God, for a zone 9 garden, I wish I could layer plants like this. 







At the end of our visit we headed over to the entrance to buy plants for Gabes garden, but there was no way I was leaving Florida without buying some for myself. By the way, it's hard to buy a few - it's kind of like eating potato chips. There are so many colors and shapes to choose from. 




 I suppose I'll have to be content with planting mine inside, but these little gems will definitely jazz up my tired collection of houseplants. I packed several into my suitcase and brought them back to my wintry world. 





I was advised to grow them in spagnum moss because it provides moisture for the roots and promotes good drainage. 




I potted them in moss as prescribed. Trying to recreate the Florida look, I had a little fun nestling them into the base of a Night-blooming cereus and jasmine vine. Maybe I'll move them outside and plant them in containers this summer. I'm already thinking about how I can get that layered effect going. The appeal of Florida is starting to grow on me, but it's probably a good thing I don't live there - this could get to be a serious addiction!






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