Tag Archives: bromeliads

friday garden roundup

After finishing my coffee and reading some of the newspaper this morning I took a quick survey around the yard.


Honey bush (Melianthus major) is a South African species that I’ve had for a couple years now. Although it responds to watering with a lot of spunky growth, it’s also good with minimal additional watering. I have two sprinkler heads in the garden, and this plant gets by on the overspray from one of the heads after it’s made the sages and tangerine tree happy.

The maroon flowers unfurl from the branch tips in spring and dry to these brown spikes. I’ve left them on the plant to help me decide if I like the way they look or not. The bed they’re in in has a lot of mounding plants, so the spikes give some vertical interest.



The leaves are heavily serrated and are the main reason for growing the plant. Here they are, with shadows, and backlit by the morning sun. They look a little fierce, but they’re actually soft, like rubber. They do have a bit of an unpleasant odor if you brush by them. Combine that fact with the plant’s eventual size–six to twelve feet–and you’ll see that it has “dramatic background plant” written all over it.


The melianthus grows next to a bromeliad that truly is nasty and spiny. (I’ve mentioned this plant before…) Pretty though, even when it’s not flowering. And it takes next to no water when grown in mostly shade.


Next to the honey bush and bromeliad, in a planting that spans two or three continents, is a young manzanita, Actostaphylos Dr. Hurd, shown here in a detail highlighting its exfoliating bark. Although one of the faster growing manzanitas–it’s grown eight inches since February–this still isn’t a plant for the impatient. Currently it’s exactly one meter tall, and will hopefully hit its design height of ten feet before I’m back diapers. Eventually it’ll make it to fifteen feet or more.


In the front of the same bed, next to a sprinkler head, are some basil cuttings that I’ve posted on before. Six weeks after planting out, the largest plant is maybe eight by eight inches and is big enough for me to consider taking an occasional snip for the dinner table. In a month I should be ready to make batches of pesto.


The final photo isn’t my garden, but looking across the street, where they’re installing plastic turf. The neighbors are responding to our new water restrictions by mixing synthetic grass with palm trees. The look will be something like the wet Hawaiian paradise they had before.

But I do worry that synthetic grass, even if it looks something like the real thing, does nothing to address people’s fundamental expectations of what a garden should look like in a fiercely dry climate. And in my most uncharitable moments I think that installing plastic grass is like treating heroin addiction with methadone. And to this gardener, installing something as dead as plastic grass lands with a thud as loud as the one created by the infamous 1978 remodel of a Sunset Boulevard mansion by a Saudi sheik that featured planters full of plastic flowers.

But hey, they’re doing what makes sense to them, and they will be reducing their water use.

dressed to weed


Sunny and warm: a perfect morning for cats and gardeners. The cat had her chores, mainly to stare at interesting things in the garden, and I had mine.


Task #1 was to deadhead the arctotis (African daisy) that has been blooming for several months. This is the “before” on one plant…


…and the “after” on another. Arctotis goes on blooming regardless of whether it’s been deadheaded or not. But the plants looked like they were winding down for the year, and I was hoping to extend their season a bit.

The plants are attractive, but I thought the bucket of trimmings was pretty cool, too.



Chore #2 was to weed one of the patches of bromeliads that we’d let loose in the back of a raised bed. bromeliad-spines The plant has rigid spines like teeth on a sharp saw blade, which makes weeding tricky, and forces you to ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this?”

John started on the task and ended up with bloody forearms. Not happy. He went for the pitchfork, thinking we could lift the clumps, weed under them, and then set the clumps back. These are plants with almost no roots, and that would have worked fine.

But I proposed another idea. I have these long cordura motorcycle gauntlets that I use when I ride my scooter when it’s cold out. They protect your hands, but also your forearms. Would those work for the garden, too?


I suited up, first a thick long-sleeved sweatshirt, and then the gauntlets. Okay, it’s not particularly haute couture, and it’s not a look I’d want to inflict on the world. But it worked.

bromeliad-bloom-closeupWhy all this effort? Well, the flowers are pretty stunning right now in an unrestrained, tropical way. And the plants are surprisingly drought-tolerant.

Weeding around them seems to be the main challenge. But now we’ve got an easy solution…

(Addition, May 9, 2012: Thanks to Kathryn who commented with a probably ID. Tracking down her lead led be to the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies’ Bromeliad Species Database, where the best fit seems to be Aechmea distichantha v. glaziovii. You have no idea how much it bothers me to have a plant that I don’t know the name of, so it’s one more down, a few dozen in the garden to go…)