a bromeliad centerpiece, and the man who planted my first shrubs 20+ years ago

I WENT SHOPPING SATURDAY at a giant annual plant fair nearby, making a beeline to the bromeliad department, a.k.a. the booth of Dave Burdick’s Daffodils and More.  I know, bromeliads are not related to daffodils—but like many keen gardeners, Dave has more than one obsession. And I have a special affection for Dave, who delivered my first few too-big-to-handle shrubs here 20-plus years ago and planted them: two spicebush, or Lindera benzoin, and the start of a glade or devil’s walking stick, Aralia spinosa.  But I digress: Today’s topic is bromeliads.

I credit Dave (more on him below) with starting me on this fascination of these showy New World pineapple relatives, besides those two native shrub species.  As the sign (left) by his booth says: Bromeliads: Are American as Apple Pie.

Other than fancy-leaf begonias and clivia, my most reliable and beloved group of houseplants are my bromeliads—and like the others most do seasonal duty in the filtered light of the semi-shaded garden spring to fall, and have been with me for years. I wanted some for a sunnier spot, though, than mine in the genus Vriesea (like the one below) prefer, so I adopted some irresistible little Neoregelia to put together into a bowl or centerpiece (top photo).  Neoregelia like bright light and even adapt to sun, I have read, and are relatively low growers—perfect for the container-grouping use I had in mind. Their flowers don’t extend way up on a stalk, either, but sit right in the center cup.

Most bromeliads are epiphytic, not terrestrial, so they don’t need big pots of soil as much as a sturdy footing—and actually like to be underpotted, generally. Confession: Some of mine have been in their original pots for more than five years. I didn’t even unpot my new acquisitions, but layered some bark mulch into a terra cotta bowl-shaped pot and sort of nestled each of their plastic pots in there, too. Easy. The key is to keep their cups, or tanks, water-filled. I shower them regularly with the hose-end wand, and occasionally wet the medium in the pots, too (which is the only place to put a dilute liquid fertilizer if you use it—not in the cups).

Standing water is especially undesirable with the Vriesea, which seem a little more prone to rot off if not respected in this manner, so no saucers beneath your bromeliad pots, please.  In the offseason, besides having their cups refilled regularly, everyone gets treated to the occasional shower in the bathtub, perhaps once every couple of weeks. Not much to ask for such extravagant color year-round, year after year.

A Little Bromeliad Gallery

I GATHERED a few shots at the show the other day from Dave’s booth, and some from here at home. Click on the first thumbnail to start the show, then toggle between slides using your keyboard arrows or those beside the captions.

More on Bromeliads

Get Dave’s Daffodil and More Catalog

LIKE I SAID, Dave Burdick’s business is called Daffodils and More, and the 2012 catalog is just out. It is a Narcissus listing for the collector—bulbs can be a few dollars apiece or much more, but oh, the possibilities, and then there is the “more” part: an incredible listing of Colchicum, or autumn crocus (I count 18 varieties!), a new obsession with Anemone nemerosa…and Dave’s list just goes on. I highly recommend trying something from this passionate collector of special things, who can be reached at dcbdaffodil [at] Verizon [dot] net or at P.O. Box 495, Dalton, MA 01227. He was featured in an article in “Berkshire Life” not long ago, which you can read here. Be sure to ask when you can see him at a show or elsewhere with his bromeliads–but be forewarned, it can be habit-forming.

  1. Karen P. says:

    Trade Secrets? I went for the first time this year, in anticipation of my move to Columbia County this summer! It was a lesson in self-restraint, that’s for sure.

  2. Judy from Kansas says:

    Fond memories of 30 years worth of bromeliads filling my backyard in Hawai’i. So much more impressive, and easier to grow than orchids, although those were loved too. Manage to keep a few going here on the prairie including some Spanish moss hanging from the showerhead. They all do fine in the summer on the east facing front porch; the hot dry Kansas summers are too much for them out in the yard.

  3. Jane in CT says:

    When I met Dave at last year’s Trade Secrets and told him of my nearly 40-year-old Bilbergia Nutans, I think he felt relieved the sculptural Quesnelia marmorata I fell in love with would have a chance to survive. This year I confirmed it had, and bought my first Vriesea in the size of your new bowl buddies. Rich burgundy stripes in its cup and up the throat turn to dark green stripes on the limey green background as it grows out, similar to the flush of the hybrid you show above. Bromeliads are a visual treat even without their blooms.

  4. Laura W says:

    I too had the pleasure of chatting with Dave last weekend, though I had no idea who he was! Just lots of great plants, great info and a wonderful gentleman to talk with. Without a doubt one of the highlights of my day!

  5. Daisy Marshall says:

    Margaret, finally a plant I have and love and care for! I love my bromeliads and fully trust they won’t harm my cat since he doesn’t go near them. I’ll never feel like an impostor again following your blog.Halleluyia!

  6. What fascinating plants! I know little about bromeliads, but I have a feeling that will change soon. I had mistakenly thought they were tropical plants. They certainly lend a lush, exotic aspect to the garden and home.

  7. Burndett Andres says:

    Thanks again, Margaret. I do SO LOVE your blog. I’ve had a bromeliad for ten years that I received as a gift when I moved from NJ to Maine. It just keeps on growing although I neglect it shamelessly. Lives in the shade on the front porch all summer and by a west facing window in our cool second story during the winter. I rarely remember to water it at all, but even when I do I rarely think to put any water in the cups. Luckily, it seems to thrive on neglect. The perfect plant for me!

  8. Jayne says:

    Bromeliads, shrubs….Digression is common for gardeners this time of year! Almost impossible to stay focused on the task at hand when every single plant is calling our name!!

  9. Jayne says:

    P.S. Great slide show! I am laughing because I did not heed a warning such as Dave’s, while traveling this Spring in South Carolina! My finger bled all the way from Beaufort to Hilton Head! Needless to say, that plant didnt come home with me, but others did!

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