For the Contemporary Garden
Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh
Years ago, I bought two little plants in four-inch pots at a rummage sale. The seller said, “Leave them in the pots. They like to be crowded.” It didn’t occur to me to ask any more questions. Twenty years later, I decided that I needed to move the plants that had now grown to fill a 4- x 6-foot area. To my great surprise, I was able to move the entire mass of plants (and the two 4-inch plastic pots) to a new location like moving a piece of carpet. The plants had not rooted into anything. Thus began my love affair with Bilbergia nutans and bromeliads in general.
Although my collection multiplied many times since then, my knowledge of bromeliads did not. (Luckily, they are very hard to kill.) Now, however, I have found an almost perfect book for the novice or interested expert. Bromeliads for the Contemporary Garden, by Andrew Steens, answers all my questions.
Bromeliads are a varied group including, among others, Tillandsias and Annas (pineapples). Some of the more striking kinds are for sale at most local grocery stores as well as garden centers.
They grow in full sun, full shade or anything in between, depending on the type. Some are terrestrial and some are epiphytes. Many have astonishing coloration. Some have flowers so small they are easily overlooked. Others are glorious spikes that can last for months.
This book covers all types and is beautifully organized. Steens starts with a discussion of the definition and history of bromeliads. He then shows how they can be used in landscaping. The largest section of the book follows–an alphabetical listing of the 28 genera of Bromeliads, including 315 species described individually. Finally, he covers cultivation and propagation.
He saves the bad news for the end with a six-page section on pests and diseases (only six pages because these are pretty tough plants.) In this section, he answers an important question, in light of the current concern with West Nile virus. Tank-type bromeliads have few or no roots that function to absorb water. They absorb water in “tanks” formed by the leaves. Some people refuse to grow these bromeliads because they think that mosquitoes will breed in them. Steens explains why he thinks this is not a problem.
Steens gardens and writes in New Zealand. All measurements are metric, but he thoughtfully includes conversion charts for inches, feet, and Fahrenheit. Several other nice touches are a chart listing bromeliads by cold hardiness, one that defines light requirements by leaf type, and a listing of Bromeliad Society websites.
The only negative criticism I have is that the index covers plant names only, which limits its usefulness. This is a small problem with an otherwise excellent book.
Bromeliads for the Contemporary Garden is hardbound, 198 pages with 290 color photos and four tables.