HOW I GROW BROMELIADS IN ENGLAND

By: Peter Temple

From the Bromeliad Conference held in Adelaide, Australia in 1987

Peter Temple would have been our guest speaker but because of illness was unable to attend. Instead he prepared a paper for which we are very grateful. Peter Temple is at present living on the South Coast of England close to where Spike Milligan spent some of his Army days during WW II. The Book "Bromeliads, For Home Garden and Greenhouse" by Werner Rauh was co-translated to English and edited by Peter Temple. He is a bit of a mystery man in the Bromeliad World although he was President, for some years, of the now defunct Great Britain Bromeliad Society. He has had contact with the Bromeliad greats as the following presentation will reveal. Marj. Bamford our local President will present Peter Temple's story. She apologises for not cultivating a pommy accent.

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, and fellow Bromelians - a name which I have coined for all of us who grow bromeliads.

I would have been proud to be here with you all in South Australia tonight to voice my appreciation of your welcome and to tell you how happy I am to be among you, but now it has to be through my written words and colour slides (sorry, we don't have the slides). In my place my talk to you will be presented for me by your member Marj. Bamford who has kindly agreed to 'stand in' for me.

My talk is based on Derek Butcher's suggestion of how I grow my bromeliads in England - so here it is.

I am a Londoner and only during the last seven years have my sister Pauline and I moved down to the south of England.

My bromeliad collection started in a strange way. My sister had been visiting Italy shortly after the end of the War and, knowing of my love of nature, flowers and gardening, brought back with her a strange pair of plants the like of which I had never seen. These plants were not in flower but their leaves were intriguing, each formed into a rosette, each leaf had prickled margins and was lined with pencil thin and wider stripes on a pale green base.

I cannot remember how I traced their name but the result was that this pair were the first bromeliads I had ever seen and from then on my enthusiasm has known no bounds. By the way, those plants turned out to be Nidularium innocentii var. lineatum, and you can see their offspring in my first slide. It is not a large clump for forty years of age as are many of my other bromels, for some send out only one pup after flowering. Very much like it is shown in my next slide of Neoregelia carolinae var. striata.

Our climate is different from yours but perhaps not so different from some parts of your country. Even near the South Coast where I now live, the weather can produce hurricane winds, lashing rain, drizzle and snow drifts, the odd tornado, whirlwind and waterspout. My small pond has been frozen 9" thick solid ice more than once and my next slide shows the greenhouse during this January's very long and deep snow storms. In contrast we can have sudden calm, warmth, blue skies and tropical like humidity even in springtime as shown in this slide. You can appreciate therefore that control to balance heat with humidity in the greenhouse is quite important.

Each morning and evening I record the minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity both inside and out, and over the years have decided that in their artificial homes, bromels can bear great fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Remember that in their native habitats they have to suffer worse! much worse!

I now use an electric fan heater designed for greenhouse heating and thermostatically controllable. It is only about 9 inch cube and 3 kilowatt. It blows over a water-filled shallow tray set in flush with the greenhouse floor and made to look natural. The water evaporates and distributes moistened air. During very cold weather which we can have in January and February and also in case of power failure I have paraffin (kerosene) heaters standing by.

I use rainwater exclusively and the full capacity is 250 gallons.

The testing time for our bromeliads in the UK is late autumn and winter which now seems to start in December and carries on with variations until the end of March My greenhouse temperatures during the winter period range around the 45F(7.2C) to 50F(10C) mark but it can go down to 31F(0C) and in summer it can be anything up to 101F(38.3C). Relative humidity is around 80% in summer varying down to 50% or so during winter.

To some of us, wishes and imagination do come true and I count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunities to experience in reality those wonderful if not always comfortable occasions when I have been hunting and collecting my favourite greenhouse plants, the bromeliads.

In my bromel hunting, I have been greatly favoured in having as my hosts, my dear departed friend, the late Mulford Foster and his wife, Racine with whom I collected in the Florida Everglades and the Keys, and was their guest, with Professor Matuda in Mexico, with Dr G R Proctor in Jamaica - he is now back in England, with Lee Moore in Peru and Alex Hawkes in Brazil and other Central and South American States, - and with many other dear people in most countries and islands in the Americas, the West Indies and the Caribbean.

I must admit that I took time off - played truant for many months at a time from my office - but apparently, so far, the buildings I designed are still standing or bombed and lost - for by profession I am an Architect. During these periods my brother kept the humidity and watering going and the bromels did not suffer. That was when we lived in London, but since moving down south, I do not allow anyone to assist me at any time.

My home is one and a quarter miles from the English Channel, and is about 180 feet above sea level. This part of England - Sussex, is somewhat warmer than London, and when we came to this village of East Dean I had my bromel collection transferred to a new greenhouse which I had built by a large commercial company. This was because they were the only company who provided high enough sides, 6 feet. The house is 30' long and 12' wide, single glazed top to bottom with gabled ends each having a sliding door.

Because of my practical experience, I considered that bromels, whether Tillandsias or Hechtias or Dyckias and the like, could do well enough in a subdued light, so to provide some heat conservation and insulation, I lined the walls inside up to 4' high with one inch thick expanded polystyrene sheeting, leaving an air space between the sheeting and glazing, I capped this with insulation. This has proved very successful and I am now considering extending the insulation full height because the reflection from the white polystyrene is excellent and I will get more insulation. Here is another slide of the greenhouse which clearly shows the insulation.

Trees, shrubs, climbing roses, tall dahlias provide additional shading during summertime which lessens when the leaves drop beginning November time, and it also softens the hard lines of the greenhouse.

Although I can show you a wealth of individual species and crosses - some very rare - I thought it best to present to you, in keeping with the subject of 'how I grow my bromeliads', - some slides of various areas in my greenhouse, so here goes.

I cannot bear to see a collection of bromels sitting aimlessly on benching, for in nature they grow at varying levels, on trees up high or low down, on rocks, up in the mists, on the sea shore and so on, so I have always tried to create a natural feeling and look for my collection. Thus I grow my bromels on tree branches, in groups bunched together at various levels, or in any place in the greenhouse where the effect approaches a natural way of life for the plants. For me it is an exhilaration of being in the habitats with them. I hope that the slides are giving you an impression of the appearance inside my greenhouse.

You may well query - how can I grow xerophytic and saxicolous plants together with other bromeliads which love humidity and shade? Well - I do and I must tell you very successfully as well!

I have a nice collection of Dyckias, Hechtias, Deuterocohnias, Puyas and various other dry desert like inhabiting bromels - Dyckia marnier-lapostollei, Hechtia tillandsioides, Dyckia fosteriana, Hechtia argentea, Hechtia texensis and many others. The slides being shown now may give you some idea of the area and of say 30 to 35 years growth. When making the bed in which to plant them I used any old gritty material - limy at that and collected some largish flints from the Sussex Downs which are of chalky flinty soil averaging a foot deep overlying solid chalk - the cliffs of England are within walking distance from my house.

This collection is planted naturally in the mixture and thrive and flower so happily that they are now overcrowded. To ease the situation temporarily I have had to take out a large Aeonium arboreum and a very large Pereskia aculeata both originally collected. Just to go back for a moment, I have inside the greenhouse a collected plant of Phyllanthus speciosus, an evergreen providing shade and flowering uncannily. You should grow it - it's so very individual and charming.

During the summer only I water the plants overall in quantity with a mild feed. At all other times and at widely spaced intervals I water over the flints in the desert areas and not the plants. Rotting can take place so easily through poorly positioned watering particularly at the wrong times.

Now I come to the other xerophytes, the Tillandsias. My memory goes back many years to the time when I saw for the first time bromeliads growing naturally. This was in Orlando, central Florida in the USA. The air was very warm, moist and scented. The freshness of my new surroundings, the brilliance of the light, the rich growth of vegetation and the gentleness of Southern living gave me a feeling such as I had never experienced before in all my journeyings to lovely places.

Everywhere were wide avenues of massive old oak trees with outstretched branches far larger than any I had seen in England. These avenues under which motor traffic teemed, formed giant green and grey cathedral naves as the trees reached out to touch and entwine one with the other. To complete this truly reverent scene, great grey swathes and drapes of Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides hung everywhere under these canopies of arborescent beauty, swaying and swirling in the gentle breezes from the air movement caused by the traffic below, the moss glinting silver stars as it was caught in the sunlight.

These continuous twenty and thirty feet long strands of plants were as old as the giant oaks themselves.

There is a romantic legend associated with Spanish Moss. A red Indian Princess fell in love with a white man. The elders of the tribe would not accept this and he was chased from the village and killed. The Princess, distraught and demented roamed far and wide searching for him and, as she ran her hair caught in the tree branches and are there to this day.

In my greenhouse my Tillandsias include several swathes of spanish moss, the Floridian one and also one from Brazil which is much more curly and intense - a lovely version. Stuck and placed onto tree branches and twigs they are in the greenhouse made to look part of a natural area. Growing and multiplying slowly are other Tillandsias - bulbosa, butzii, flabellata, ionantha, baileyi and quite a lot of others. Oh yes - there is also decomposita - simply laid on a couple of twigs and growing by twirling its leaves around branches and twigs as it progresses.

In nature, air plants, tillandias, are slow growing - for an old plant of great age will measure only four inches thick; - for example - Tillandsia recurvata, the ball moss will have seventy to a hundred growths at this age.

All my tillandsias grow under no different conditions from those of the other bromeliads in the one greenhouse and mixed with them. They are sprayed occasionally but not methodically, and are situated in identical semi-shaded places as experienced by all the other bromels.

As to watering, I have no set programme over the many years during which I have been collecting and growing bromeliads. Don't know about your approach to this subject, but with me I have an affinity with my plants, and I can feel their influence when they want a drink or a damping. So it is only by their vibrations reaching out to me that I feel that we are in sympathy with each other. Indeed, they show me how pleased they are when they greet me after watering or spraying. Although, as I have said, I keep the humidity quite high at all times, I balance this with watering or spraying. Also, I spray or water at any time even in winter.

The outside weather conditions in our very varying climate, do reach inside the greenhouse, so you can appreciate why I have no set programme of watering. Indeed, at times my bromels have been left to their own devices for a couple of weeks or so at a time, without being told-off by them on my return.

Where not mounted on branches, many of my Aechmeas, Billbergias, Neoregelias, Nidulariums and many other genera, have been in their pots for many years - some in their original pots for forty years . Some I have repotted, but it is quite normal for overgrowing to extend well beyond their confines and take root on tree branches or just extend.

For a potting mix I use my own compost made up of a variety of materials, but soil I do not use because in East Dean it is limy and I do not buy any other than peat and sand. Two types of peat are available in the UK - peat moss and bog peat. I use the latter mixed with rotted leaf-mould and coarse washed sand. Proportions vary because it is the feel in my hand which guides me.

The crumbly quick-draining potting compost which remains moist is the result. In my time I have tried many different composts including pure tree fern fibre as used by the Americans, but it doesn't work with me in England.

Where I use trays to support groups of bromeliads these are filled with a three inch layer of spent mushroom compost. The bromeliads in their pots like to sit in it, receiving their moisture from below and also to be surrounded by the extra humidity.

Ventilation during winter time is afforded only by my opening a door to enter and leave, otherwise the house is closed all the time. Air movement is supplied by the electric fan which is part of the heating unit.
Spring, summer and early autumn, all the ventilators are open day and night, and the door is left open during daytime. Protection from birds is affected by polypropylene 3/4" green netting which is draped over the openings.

As far as pests are concerned, we have the usual number of slugs, snails and woodlice. They can be a nuisance. Control is carried out by a powder, puffed around. The powder contains chlordane or Gamma ABC. Any woodlouse walking over it is killed. For slugs and snails there are only metaldehyde pellets but in the humid atmosphere these soon fur over to become inoperative.

Moth balls can be effective when scattered around. Mice have made me see red. After a group of Billbergia zebrina had made a perfect flower show under its canopy of pink bracts the string of large grey-furred ovaries ripened. I watched them day after day and then decided that the time was ripe for a picture. I entered the greenhouse with my camera at the ready but - no ovaries - every one gone! Not a thing remained. Since then mouse bait is used - no re-occurrence!

Growing in company with my bromels, I have many different sub-tropical and tropical ferns which I have collected or grown from spores, and these make a lovely natural combination. For many years now, I have been a member of the British Fern Society. The fact the spores germinate freely and spontaneously in the bromel compost adds much charm to the natural effect I try to create.

I also have a large collection of Rhipsalis which is now many years old and therefore at some size and length. They also companion my bromeliads and ferns.

On the very rare occasions when I have wanted to use a control on the bromels the only safe one is a liquid called Malathion -perhaps you have it there - but although it is quite safe on bromeliads - newly collected plants carrying scale - oval and fly speck - it is death to ferns. So far I have not come across an insecticide which is safe for use on ferns.

So that about sums up my talk to you about how I grow my bromeliads in England.

I hope that you have heard and seen something which has interested you, and, believe me, although I am not here with you in person, I am with you in spirit and rapport.


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