Bromeliads 

Ann Hamilton-King

As a horticulturist and landscaper, different types of plants have always fascinated me. Sometimes I’m able to walk in my garden and speak to my plants. This is very peaceful and therapeutic for me because plants do not throw any punches, speak behind my back and neither do they raise their voices and yell back. As a result I find inner peace and strength whenever I’m talking and tending to my plants.

Growing up at our farm in Norton I learnt so much about the plants native to Zimbabwe and at the time I was more enchanted to learn about the Bromeliads which until today still are and remain one of my favourite plants. 

My mother Elsie Grobler Hoffman loved this plant and had a collection of Bromeliads on our farm. She was passionate about her garden and she taught me so many aspects of gardening that I cherish until today. Thanks to my darling Mommy! The Bromeliad is so dear to me and it reminds me of my dear Mother and conjures up memories of my childhood. As a result I have strived to pass on the knowledge of tending and caring for these plants to other generations. Here in the Brooke I have been showing Ernest how to maintain and care for the Bromeliad because this is something close to my heart and since he has a great interest for plants he will see that they are regularly fed, pruned, fertilised and cared for.

Many Bromeliads are able to store water and nutrients in a structure formed by their tightly-overlapping leaf bases. Even after you water them in gardens, you see that they can keep the water for longer periods. The leaf base is made into a funnel that holds the water so that the plant doesn’t get too much or too little water. The Bromeliad flourishes best if it can control water from the funnel that it stores the water in and uses it as it needs and by that you see that the Bromeliad is a very delicate plant and this is also why you don’t see it all over the places because it needs attention.

Here in the Brooke, it’s a blessing that I have been able to put many cultivars of Bromeliads together by securing them onto a tree, or log. In addition to that I have also managed to add orchids in order to add more beauty. With some improvisation I used pantyhose, used stockings or nylon strings by cutting into strips to tie around the branch of the tree to secure the Bromeliad. The pantyhose is elastic and it stretches and as the plant grows it gives and stretches to accommodate both the Bromeliad and the orchid to have their roots grow and clings onto the tree and grow. It is also  important to put them in the fork of the tree if you are to easily secure the plant. If you grow many of them in this way you will soon be able to give them as gifts to your friends or sell them and create a little business for yourself. (If you are going to sell them you will need a licence obviously and you can easily  obtain such through the National Botanical Gardens). 

Bromeliads are drought resistant and they are unselfish because they don’t need a lot of chemicals although you need to add a bit of fertiliser in the form of single super phosphate and compound D mixed together in water. To be careful, pour onto the base that is holding them together and onto the tree itself because that helps to conserve the moisture. We are very blessed in Zimbabwe, especially in the Nyanga area. The Bromeliad flourishes very well in that part of our country because Nyanga is a moist area and also because it is hilly the plant easily gets protection from the wind and the sun. The good news is that if you give it what it needs it will grow babies or little Bromeliads from the mother’s base which can then be harvested and grown in conditions of shade they like. It should be emphasised that they thrive on conditions of early morning mottled sun and afternoon shade and that they cannot handle the full heat of mid-day sun.

Elsewhere outside of Zimbabwe and in general terms Bromeliads are able to live in a vast array of environmental conditions due to their many adaptations.  Scales or hairs found on their leaf bases, allow them to capture water in cloud forests and help to reflect sunlight in desert environments.  They are also excellent indoor plants and this is one of the reasons why they are expensive because they need particular care and gentle conditions.

Their Foliage takes different shapes, from needle-thin to broad and flat, symmetrical to irregular, spiky to soft. The foliage, which usually grows in a rosette, is widely patterned and coloured. Leaf colours range from maroon, through shades of green, to gold. Varieties may have leaves with red, yellow, white and cream variations. Others may be spotted with purple, red, or cream, while others have different colours on the tops and have a fragrance resembling that of clove spice although it should be noted that other varieties have no fragrance at all.

I highly recommend anyone who is interested to know about plants and flowers to join us at our garden clubs in Harare. It’s amazing how much we learn from each other, we drink tea, have a bite, have fun, compare notes and share ideas. We also swap plants, buy from each other and visit each other’s gardens because amongst us we have more than a 100 years of resourceful gardening experience and knowledge. Most recently our garden clubs will be sending three people to Japan to attend a conference of horticulturists to learn and showcase at the ikebana exhibitions. (Ikebana is a Japanese art and way of flower arrangement in a minimalistic way). We are blessed that we have more than 5 garden clubs in Harare and I have been involved with so many of them and find it to be a very wonderful experience. So this is an open invitation to anyone interested in flowers to feel free to contact me through Harare Magazine and I can invite them to one of our monthly garden club meetings with pleasure. 

I would like to acknowledge Denzel Alpha Photography for the pictures in this article and Ernest for putting it all together. I would value your comments and interest in this article. 

About the Author: 

Ann Hamilton King began her journey into the world of horticulture through the influence of her mother Elsie Grobler Hoffman. Later in life, being open minded to opportunities that come with volunteering; Ann volunteered to work at Kew Gardens in England and had the opportunity to see and learn how gardens are maintained. Amazed by how tiny seeds could grow into such beautiful flowers and plants, she combined the knowledge from Kew gardens and the desire imparted to her by her mother and decided to embark on a lifelong adventure exploring the world of horticulture. Over the years she has studied and photographed Zimbabwean plants in diverse habitats. Her experience is reflected in her articles in Harare Magazine and many personal blogs like www.12fleetwood.co.zw

Ann Hamilton-King
Author: Ann Hamilton-King

Ann Hamilton King began her journey into the world of horticulture through the influence of her mother Elsie Grobler Hoffman. Later in life, being open minded to opportunities that come with volunteering; Ann volunteered to work at Kew Gardens in England and had the opportunity to see and learn how gardens are maintained. Amazed by how tiny seeds could grow into such beautiful flowers and plants, she combined the knowledge from Kew gardens and the desire imparted to her by her mother and decided to embark on a lifelong adventure exploring the world of horticulture. Over the years she has studied and photographed Zimbabwean plants in diverse habitats. Her experience is reflected in her articles in Harare Magazine and many personal blogs like www.12fleetwood.co.zw

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