bromeliads for winter

Hot enough for you? It’s over 100 degrees in Los Angeles today, so hot that even the devil has left town.
(That’s the best “It’s so hot” line I’ve heard all summer, spoken by a gentleman from El Paso, Texas.)
And our winters just keeping getting warmer, too, so I’m thinking it’s probably best to face that reality with…more bromeliads. You don’t see the connection? Hear me out.
In temperate Southern California, unless your garden sits in a frost pocket, bromeliads don’t need to be hustled indoors for winter like they do in colder climates.
I’ve never been one to get really excited about pumpkins and gourd displays for fall, but I could easily adopt a tradition of filling the garden with bromeliads for winter.
Their juicy, saturated colors and starburst rosettes would be a huge boost in the shorter (but most likely still warm) days of winter.
If we’re strolling the garden in shirtsleeves and flip-flops in December, then let’s have something sexy to look at. And bromeliads are indisputably sexy.
They’re also incredibly easy to care for, needing about as much water and attention as succulents. Like agaves, they die after flowering but always leave some pups to carry on.

Here’s some glamour shots from local plant shows and sales over the years with IDs if I have them:

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Alcanterea ‘Volcano Mist’

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Aechmea nudicaulis in the center

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Aechmea ‘Loies Pride’

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Okay, so they make dramatic specimens for containers, but what about massed in the frost-free landscape?

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I’m so glad you asked.
This is what Lotusland, an estate garden in Montecito, California, does with bromeliads in an admittedly fantastical and over-the-top landscape:

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Rained Out

Unlike a sporting event or outdoor concert or meal, a Southern California garden that’s rained out in early October is cause for rejoicing.

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And to really intensify the blissed-out experience of the first seasonal rains, just the day before you must have tucked in some new plants.

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Along with the Salvia farinacea ‘Texas Violet’, two Agave parryi var. truncata have also left their long-time homes in containers to manage independently in this very hot, dry strip, which they will handle beautifully. An enormous, woody ‘Waverly’ salvia needed pruning off the bricks, where it had bulged at least 3 feet outward from the garden, and then after pruning looked so misshapen it was removed entirely. (There was a small incident, a minor trip-and-fall over the plants spilling onto the brick patio outside the office, with some mild bruising. Accusations flew, and to keep the peace the only solution was a bout with the pruning shears.) Though there’s plenty of other winter salvias to bloom, I was worried about my hummingbird friends so used to having a nip from salvia flowers in this part of the garden. Amazing how their interests and mine coincide so nicely! These two salvia should keep them happy until cut to the base later in winter, that is if these Texas natives like the conditions. Read San Marcos Growers’ description of this salvia here. Some eyebrow grass (wouldn’t ‘Andy Rooney’ be a better cultivar name than ‘Blonde Ambition’?), Bouteloua gracilis, are getting a tryout here too. Drumstick alliums, A. sphaerocephalum, were interplanted among the grasses and salvia. (Tulips and alliums arrived in the mail yesterday. Exquisite timing. The tulips and other alliums requiring a chill went into the fridge until after Thanksgiving.)

I’ve noticed once agaves edge a planting with newly disturbed soil, the cats stay out.

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It’s all part of the creeping agave syndrome the back garden has been experiencing. Slowly, imperceptibly the garden is readying itself for less and less irrigation. Last year the first agave, a large Agave bovicornuta, was slipped from its pot and planted in the ground.

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And some Agave ‘Blue Flame’ were planted in the back last year too.
Although the front garden has been full of agaves for years, the agave creep in the back garden is a new phenomenon.

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But such concerns as possible diminished precipitation in the future fly out the blurry window on a rainy day, which are also the rare occasions I’m actually glad for a small garden. The back pressed against the surrounding walls only allows for tight shots, but today the shelter of the eaves is a welcome spot for keeping the camera dry. The house or garage or boundary walls are always just 3 or 4 feet away. (Hence, the disputes over plants spilling onto walkways.) The burgundy grass is the pennisetum hybrid ‘Princess Caroline,’ which looks to be a strong grower. A gallon was split into two clumps mid-summer. All the old anigozanthos bloom stalks were cut away, this sole new bloom in bright yellow pushed horizontal by the rain.

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The watering can has been handed over once again to more capable hands than mine.

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Now that the baton has been passed, the dahlias will be so pleased and may just make it to November.

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