Tag Archives: Gardens

Caring for Bromeliads

It has become a tradition at the Exotic Garden that the first plants to be moved to their winter quarters are the Bromeliads on the evening of the last garden open day. This is not to say that they are particularly delicate or tender as in fact they are remarkably durable plants. You can never be sure when the weather will take a turn for the worse and as there are so many tender plants here we have to be prepared. If you only have a few tender plants, keep a close eye on the forecast and if it remains mild leave them be. Its always sad to have to dismantle the garden in its prime but there are too many cherished plants to take any chances. The hundred strong collection of Bromeliads take centre stage adorning the steps to the front door of the house to be admired at every pass. When the time comes for winter preparations to begin this seems as good a place as any to begin.

A selection of the Bromeliads displayed on the steps to the house. Deep purple leaves of Neoregelia sp., pink star shaped inflorescence of a Nidularium sp., spotted maroon and cream Bilbergia cultivar, bright red Neoregelia tricolour, bronze, narrow leaved Cryrtbergia rubra and the gold and green striped Bilbergia ‘Melon’.

Bromeliads are a diverse group of plants originating from tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas. The most common and ornamental Bromeliads are the rosette forming species capable of holding a reservoir of water in the vase formed by the tightly overlapping leaf bases. In their natural habitat they would be found growing as epiphytes high in the canopy of equatorial tropical forests. Here the roots serve primarily as anchorage, known as hold fast roots, and all the nutrients required by the plant are absorbed from plant and animal detritus which fall into the vase. It doesn’t rain continuously in the rain forests and their lofty location puts them in the searing equatorial sun. As a consequence they are remarkably drought tolerant and its important to bare this in mind when overwintering them in cool temperate gardens.

The deep purple almost black fluted vases of Bilgergia ‘Darth Vader’. These cylindrical species are from much more arid habitats, their shape serving to conserve water. Known as geophytes, unlike their arboreal cousins the can be found clinging to rocks and forming large terrestrial mounds.
Neoregelia ‘Tossed Salad’, one of the larger tank forming Bromeliads. These bruits form treetop reservoirs in the forests canopy harbouring arboreal crabs and tree frogs. Over time the can grow so large that the bring crashing down entire bows.

From May to October the collection of vase or tank forming Bromeliads are displayed outside in full sun. There are many cultivated varieties with striking colour variations and patterns which are intensified by placing in direct sunlight. The collection here are grown in terracotta pots in 100% bark chippings and throughout the summer months they’re watered regularly. Free drainage is important as the rosettes, although filled with water, can easily rot from the base if kept soggy. As low maintenance plants go they rank pretty high though when it comes to winter they certainly aren’t frost hardy. They will however tolerate much lower temperatures than their equatorial origins would suggest. The killer combination when overwintering most tender exotics is the combination of cold and wet together. As each plant is moved to the poly tunnel for the winter its vase is emptied out, any detritus is removed and any brown lower leaves and spent rosettes are cut off. They are placed on the bright side of the poly tunnel and left dry all winter, it couldn’t be easier. The tunnel here is heated to around 7C minimum, however on the coldest nights the temperature has dipped close to zero without incident. During the lengthening days of spring while there’s still a risk of frost but the strengthening sun is heating up the tunnel by day pay close attention to signs of drought stress. The leaves will begin to curl up along their length, loose their glossiness and begin to go brown at the tips. Little by little start refilling their vases until all risk of frost has passed and they can be returned to the garden.

Aechmea blanchetiana. This is one of the most stunning Bromeliads to grow and an perfect example of the importance of sunlight in developing the pigments in the leaves and thus their full character. A. blanchetiana, as below, has stunning gold to dark orange foliage. This specimen grown from a pup this spring has spent the summer in the filtered light of the poly tunnel shaded by other plants.
Noosa Head 121
Aechmea blanchetiana. The more sunlight this plant receives the richer the colour. In tropical locations the foliage becomes almost red. This is an adaptation to prevent damage from solar radiation, akin to getting a tan. Over winter when light is at a premium there is no reason for the plant to invest in the pigmentation and so they revert to green.

The rosettes of Bromeliads are monocarpic, meaning they only flower once and then die. Often the spent rosettes persist for some time but eventually senesce as nutrients and vigour are diverted to new pups that form at their bases. The fading rosettes can be cut out taking care not to damage the newly emerging pups. Alternatively the new pups can be removed once they are one third the the size of the parent rosette. A sharp knife should should be used to get as close to the stem as possible. Plant these firmly in bark chippings, keep their vases full and place them somewhere bright and warm to establish.

The largest of the Bromeliads in the collection, this Aechmea is now at least four feet across. Bedded out in a jangly corner for the summer it will be dug up and re-potted in the autumn. Before lifting it is bound up by duck-tape to protect from the saw-toothed leaf margins and so it will fit through the door to the greenhouse. Despite its size the root system is comparatively insignificant and despite the annual it continues to thrive.

Lyn and Earnie’s Garden

Bold and brash beading plants.
‘Lyn and Ernie’s Garden’ was the second of two open garden I saw a few months back in Pitsworth. It certainly was bright and colourful with huge swathes of annuals and beading, beneath mature palms and trees. A separate pool garden behind the house was a welcome rest for the eyes with a finely manicured lawn, specimen palms and foliage plants as well as a beautiful gazebo. Throughout the garden were some quirky, interesting and some what odd garden ornaments- each to their own. The did make people to the garden smile.
 Some of the sunflowers among the boarders. The one on the left is ‘Teddy Bear’.
 The pool garden- an oasis of green in a very bright and colourful garden.
A spectacular Kalanchoe sheltered from winter frosts beneath a Silky Oak tree.
Some of the, lets say, interesting garden ornaments.

An Aussie Cotage Garden

The ‘Kearey Garden’.
 Back in April I visited two private gardens opened to the public in Pitsworth, S.E. Queensland. Both were small and immaculately maintained suburban gardens and both described as ‘Australian cottage garden’ style, a little bit of anything and everything with the colour wheel chucked out the window. The ‘Kearey Garden’, the first visited displayed many Roses, Day Lilies, Geraniums and Pelargoniums flowering in broad boarders along with many bright brash beading plants like Zinias, Galiardias and Dahlias. Potted succulents lapped up the sun along the north facing walls and a few lurked incongruously among the beading. Moisture loving Begonias and Bromeliads jostle beneath a brilliant Salmon Gum (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) with its perfectly smooth silvery white bark. Exceptionally hot summer days can near 40oC and frosts are not uncommon in the winter months, so the more unusual plants enjoy the protection of a shading pergola along the back and side of the house. The atmosphere is noticeably cooler perfect for the lush foliage plants and the perfect place to sit on a hot day.
The most prominent plant in the garden, a white barked Salmon  Gum (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) under planted with bromeliads provides the garden welcome shade.
A bright pink Zinnia and some potted succulents nestled among the beading plants. The gold/orange Graptoveria and silver/pink Kalanchoe.
Shady side passage sheltering a collection of lush and delicate plants that would soon go crisp out in the sun and a flowering Bromeliad (Achmea fasciata).
An unusual foliage plant.
Flowering rose and mimosa sp.
Resident pooch.

The Lost Garden of Belli Park

The Lost Garden of Belli Park is not so much ‘lost’ but well tucked away, nestled in the rain forest on the wetter eastern side of the dividing ranges an hour north of Brisbane. The verdant green backdrop of the rain forest sets the tone of the plantings throughout the property. This is with out a doubt a tropical garden. The house is surrounded by mature palms planted over the last 18 years, the most prominent of which is a mature Raphia Palm (Raphia vinifera) in full flower. These palms with several mature ornamental trees provide the shelter and shade for the colourful and bold tropical under story. The trunks of some of the larger trees were cloaked with Philodendrons and Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Brugmansia and Tibouchina trees were in full bloom, Cordyline cultivars add splashes of colour, mature clumps of Heliconias and Gingers fill the damp air with scent and the ground beneath all these plants were swathed with Bromeliads and Tradescantias. In the deepest shade the bizarre flowers of the Bat plant Tacca hovered over glossy rain soaked leaves.
The meandering paths lead from the bright busy boarders around the house into the surrounding rainforest that makes up the most of the 55 acre property. Entering the forest the canopy closes in around you and riotous colours are replaced with green. Stags horn and birds nest ferns grow from the crux of bows and Alocasias hold their leaves up to the light. The atmosphere enhanced by the sound of the heavy rain dripping from leaf to leaf and the mist drifting through the trees further adding to the sense of envelopment. Despite the rainfall the previous week had been dry and one of the most prominent features of the garden, a 12 meter high waterfall, was sporting only a coating of moss and algae and no cascading water. Perhaps the day after I visited the rainfall would have made its way into the creaks and the falls would be in their full splendour. From the rainforest paths you emerge onto a grand sweeping lawn sweeping down away from the house to a large lily pond and out to views out over distant hills.
The one thing that struck me most about the garden is how similar it is to the Exotic Garden I worked in back in England, both in terms of plants and style. The one difference being the distinctly different climate. The frost free climate enables a whole wealth of plants to be grown that simply couldn’t be protected back in England. As for those plants that both gardens have in common, in The Lost Garden they do seem to have the edge. The Brugmansia trees aren’t limited to the size of your biggest plant pot and the height of the greenhouse roof. The Cannas and Gingers form massive evergreen clumps only needing the old flowering stems removing every now and then. Bromeliada are free to pup and form thick carpets, even working their way up tree trunks pup by pup rather than being restricted to pots. Here in tropical Queensland the plants have the conditions to reach their prime and the garden looks luxuriant year round. In contrast, back in chilly England, time after time visitors arrive in the garden and their jaws drop in amazement at the unexpected. Defiant of the winter the draw back is the massive extra work load of the spring plant out and the autumn dig-up, not to mention the heating bill. This work load does however afford the opportunity to change the planting plans year on year and enjoy the seasonal variations however dreary the winters may be while the boarders are bare. There seems to be benefits to creating tropical gardens in both locations and at the end of the day I guess it all depends on where you are.
It was great at last to go and explore an Australian garden at last. The garden was open for the Australian Open Gardens Scheme. Here are some more pictures for your delectation.

The Botanical Gardens of the Western Woodlands

There was no apple picking to be done the other day due to the rain so I took a 400km round road trip (not far in Aussie terms) to the inland boarder town of Goondiwindi (pronounced gunned-a-windy) to take a look at the Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands. On first appearance they were sparse, dry and not particularly colourful. Unlike the majority of Australia’s botanic gardens located on the coastal fringes and displaying a wide variety of species and cultivated plants from around the world, Goondiwindi Botanic Garden features only native plants from the local regions of southern outback Queensland and northern outback New South Wales. The plantings in the garden represent 27 defined botanical habitats from ranging from the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range across the dry planes to deserts of the interior. All of the plants from these regions have adapted to endure prolonged periods of drought and on rare occasions may be submerged of weeks or months at a time when deluges from the tropics slowly make their way down the dry inland creek systems flooding their way slowly south to Lake Eyre and some years all the way to the Southern Ocean, as has happened this year. The town of Goondiwindi received very little rain from the skies though the Macintyre river rose to 10.63 meters above normal levels coming within a few inches of the top of the towns levies.
Goondiwindi Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands
The grass in the garden was golden, crisp and fissured with cracks as the soil dries and contracts. The plantings are more like that of an arboretum, as the spacing of the plants is critical for the survival of the collection. This is how they would occur in habitat as there wouldn’t be enough moisture in the ground in dry times to maintain a continuous canopy. The garden was conceived in 1986 and it was envisaged right from the very start that it would be a showcase for native floras. The first plants went in the ground in 1988 and several thousand trees and shrubs have been planted since that time. A large percentage of plants have been lost to drought and replaced. Drought cycles may be ten years or more and young plants don’t make it through these times. Young plants are mulched and are helped with trickle irrigation but the loss of some plants, it seems, is the reality of gardening in this region. The original time scale for the evolution of the garden was planned in decades as apposed to years as many under story shrubs and delicate ephemeral plants will only be able to survive once a mature over story has been established.
The drought in Goondiwindi persists in any regions beyond the towns flood levies.
The main canopy colour is silver to glaucus green although some trees like the Queensland Lacebark Brachychiton discolor with its swollen bottle shaped trunk to act as a reservoir looked distinctly glossy, lush and green among it’s counterparts. Being high summer now there were no trees or shrubs putting on grand floral displays as blousy water hungry petals would get burned to a crisp in no time. On closer inspection there were plenty of species in flower, filling a niche, the majority of which are comprised of  only the bare essentials.
Callostemma purpureum (Garland Lilly) and (Bauhinia) Latin name unknown
Eremorphila neglecta ‘Olive’ and Callistemon ‘Injume Pink’
Acacia salicina (Doolan) and Acacia species
Eremorphila polyclada and Eucalyptus species
The main foliage type is schlerophyll (tough leaved) like those of Eucalyptus species and often their colour is glaucus or silver. Eremorphila glabra ‘Compacta’ has small hairy leaves held close to the stems. Others like Cassia artemesioides (Silver Cassia) have reduced their leaves to needles and Hakea purpurea has done away with leaves all together photosynthesising through the green stems.
Cassia artemesioides (Silver Cassia) and Eremorphila glabra ‘Compacta’
Hakea purpurea and silver foliage, plant unknown
Many of the more showy early flowering trees are now shedding their seeds. The flowering of Brachychiton species are supposed to be spectacular and it is often used as an ornamental in parks and gardens. I’ve yet to see one in full bloom.
Brachychiton discolor (Queensland Lacebark) and Senna circinnata (Spring Pod Cassia)
Pittosporum phylliraeoides (Native Apricot) and black seeds, unknown plant
Another adaptation to cope with the harsh environment is to develop symbiotic relationships like the ants living inside the galls on the Acacia pendula which help defend the tree against browsing and aid pollination. Unfortunately not all the ants live in the trees and I seem to have developed the knack stopping to take photos right on top of their nests.
Acacia pendula (Myall) with ant gall and Brachychiton discolor (Queensland Lacebark) leaf and Shield Bug
Brachychiton rupestris (Bottle Tree) leaves made into spider nests and a row of eggs on a leaf
Here is a bit about Lake Eyre.
There is still a few months of apple picking to be done, then my plan was to travel inland to the Simpson Desert for a week or so then double back and head north to the tropics of northern Queensland. These plans may change and I may now turn south and follow the inland creeks down to Lake Eyre to see the transformation of the floods, the greening of the desert and the accompanying boom in wildlife. Not having a four wheel drive I’m not yet shore how feasible this plan would be, but there is still plenty of time to research and make a decision.

Now and Then

Every garden blogger right now is blogging about the autumn colour, and why wouldn’t they when it looks this good. Above is the drive into Urban Jungle plant nursery where I have worked since the spring. The large bunches of bright white berries on the Cordyline australis, Silver Birch bark (Betula pendula) and autumn leaves illuminated by low evening sun. I noticed through the season that red leaved Acers seem by far the most popular choice. Those with innocuous, plane green leaves sit almost unnoticed. It’s only with the cooling, shortening days that these plane green cultivars, like Acer palmatum ‘Japanese Sunrise’ (bellow) come into their own, putting on a brief but spectacular display. And spectacular it is!
This time of year the nursery seems quite bare. Being a specialist in exotics, only the most robust specimens, clipped, top-dressed and stood in ranks, remain outside for the winter’s onslaught. In the bubble-wrapped greenhouses it couldn’t be more different. When customers say they haven’t got room for another plant they should take a look in any exotic plant enthusiast’s greenhouse in the winter. Bellow is one of the heated greenhouses stuffed to the gunnels, Liz, one of the nurseries owners, fighting her way through the foliage and me inspecting an angles trumpet (Brugmansia ‘Aurea’) oblivious to what’s going on around it and flowering its heart out regardless.
The jewel in the crown of the nursery is the show garden, where we went all out this spring to show just how exuberant exotic plantings can be. The growth and atmosphere surpassed all our expectations. If you were to visit the garden today in mid November you’d be confronted by something that resembles the surface of the moon spliced with the aftermath of a category five hurricane. We obsess over weather forecasts trying to guess when the first frosts will come. A call has to be made and the plants must be cut down in their prime. Today we lifted the last tender plants to Liz’s great relief as I leave in only a few days. Now we can rest assure knowing we beat Jack Frost this year.
The following pictures are a look back throughout the summer capturing the garden at its peak. This is what makes all the digging, potting and hauling worth it.
Top left: Hedychium ‘Tara’
Top right: Ornamental gourd
Middle left: Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’
Middle right: Brugmansia ‘Aurea’ and Canna ‘Wyoming’
Bottom left: Dahlia, Nasturtium leaves and Canna ‘Durban’
Bottom right: Dalia ‘Chimborhiza’

This will do for now.


Although I’m looking forward to taking to the skies and heading off to foreign climbs, I need not wait for the lush foliage, vibrant flowers and intoxicating scents that the tropics evoke. Nor do I have to travel across oceans. For now I’m lucky enough to live in an oasis, an island paradise within a city, an ‘Exotic Garden’.
Ok, so for now the grey skies and chilly breeze are doing their best to thwart the illusion and instead of exotic birds and humming insects, far off sounds are instead of sirens, trains and football crowds. On a warm day while pushing through giant leaves, gazing up through palm fronds, fighting through groves of bamboo, stumbling across a waterfall dripping with ferns and being stopped in your tracks by scents on the breeze you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re 52o N of the equator or a ten minute stroll from Norwich city centre in temperate England.
Sensory overload; though nature can astound, gardeners have the power to take control. In this garden created by ‘Will Giles’ plants from the four corners of the world are combined, big leaves, bright colours, strong scents and many textures juxtaposed. The garden goes beyond recreating the tropics; it is the tropics through the looking glass.
Now, in early autumn, sees the peek of the gardens charm and effect. The floors littered with acorns, curtains of vines (Vitis coignetiae & Parthenocissus quinquefolia) turn gold and scarlet and cob-webs bridge the paths. Oblivious to the coming changes bananas (Musa basjoo) push on upwards with a summers worth of arching leaves,  Brugmansias pump out golden trumpets and elephants ears (Colocasia esculenta) are still growing each leaf a little bigger than the one before. Little do they know!
The reality is short lived; seasonal. These tender plants from their equatorial origins of steady warmth are ill equipped for winter. Cue the gardener; soon will be time to start fixing up the greenhouses, digging up the plants and wrapping those that are just too big to move. The reality is the garden is 52o N. It’s a lot of work for a garden that only exists for half the year. The up side being, apart from the few toughies like the Trachies (Trachycarpus fortunei) and Cabbage palms (Cordyline australis) that laugh in the face of snowflakes and gale force winds, Will is confronted with a blank canvas each spring to create another tropical world on steroids that stops visitors to the garden in their tracks.