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When you think tropical, think bromeliads

Loie’s Pride bromeliad is the perfect thriller plant for these large containers.
Loie’s Pride bromeliad is the perfect thriller plant for these large containers. TNS

One of my favorite garden quotes comes courtesy of Thomas Jefferson, who said, “But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Though I am not quite ready to take ownership of the old part, I have been feeling that I, too, am but a young gardener. This is largely thanks to Jamie Burghardt, our Horticultural coordinator here at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, and his knowledge and affinity, if you will, for bromeliads.

Though I have been a horticulturist for 35 years and have grown and done TV shows on both neoregelia and vriesea bromeliads, Burghardt has opened my eyes to cold, hardy species and the most glorious tropical selections that cannot only take the sun but sensationalize a container or landscape bed. These have caused quite a stir in this seasoned horticulturist.

Right now, our Mediterranean Garden, which he designed, is displaying an incredible array of texture, color and fragrance. It is amazing what was accomplished between two historic buildings erected in 1929. This garden is always a favorite with hummingbirds, and the glorious golden spikey blooms of Cherry Coke — a Dyckia bromeliad variety with burgundy foliage — is capturing the attention of all visitors whether winged or not.

Another Dyckia in the Mediterranean Garden is Silver Nickel. This 2010 Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape “Garden Select Winner” has been known to take 16 degrees without damage. This silver-leafed bromeliad is eye-catching with its foliage, but top it with fiery orange flowers and it becomes dazzling. You might be wondering how drought tolerant these plants are. I can tell you our irrigation regimen comes only from the clouds.

Burghardt took everyone’s breath away last year by incorporating giant-sized orange bromeliads, Aechmea blanchetiana, into the circle in front of the Andrews Visitor and Education Center. Almost every visitor inquired about this picturesque species.

This year, we are using them again, but with SunPatiens and Gold Mound duranta in beds directly in front of the Visitor Center. But you would be awestruck with the Imperial bromeliad, Alcantarea imperialis. A couple of hundred years ago, our colonies used a pineapple, which is a bromeliad, as a welcoming sign of hospitality. These Imperial bromeliads act in much the same manner.

Then, as you prepare to enter the garden, you will notice more glazed pottery with Aechmea Loie’s Pride as the obvious thriller plant with Pazzazz Orange portulaca. Burghardt watches to keep the cup or tank filled with water on the Aechmea and Alcantarea selections we have at the Visitor Center. He further recommended that gardeners should avoid letting them go bone dry and avoid putting fertilizer in the cup or tank.