THE GARDEN OF 1000 BROMELIADS
Thousands of jewel-like bromeliads radiate colour in a glowing suburban oasis
Pas Southon had been a member of the Bromeliad Society of New Zealand for 10 years before anyone discovered the extent of her own bromeliad collection in her resort-like garden in Howick, Auckland. They knew she was an enthusiast, of course – she always attended the society’s monthly meetings and garden visits. But it wasn’t until members made their first visit to the Southon garden last year that they realised just how much of an enthusiast she was. “They were a bit shocked, I think,” says Pas. “It was quite funny. I was like, ‘Wait till you see my garden – I’ve got quite a few.’”
That is a bit of an understatement. Pots and pots of bromeliads of every conceivable variety surround all sides of the couple’s townhouse. Hanging planters overflowing with purple-flowered tillandsia are affixed to the trunks of towering palm trees. >
‘Bromeliads are long-lasting, whereas annuals look good for a really short time and by winter they’re gone’
Pas says she’s lost count of how many bromeliads she’s amassed in the past decade. Hundreds, perhaps? She shakes her head and laughs: “Maybe thousands?” So many, in fact, that she’s had to start selling them: “They’re basically overflowing and I have to have an outlet to get them out.”
Pas likes bromeliads “because they’ve got a really nice shape and colour, all year round. They don’t die straight away. They’re long-lasting, whereas annuals look good for a really short time and by winter they’re gone,” she says. “They’re a permanent feature and they look pretty in your garden.”
Her collection began a decade ago, when she and Jim bought their townhouse in East Auckland. They thought the large, flat section – which, back then, was mostly lawn – would be perfect for a pool for their children Stephanie, now 19, and James, 16.
Putting in the pool was the first major change the couple made to the landscape and it set the tropical tone for the rest of the garden. They also removed several Norfolk pines and Mexican cedars and replaced them with palms, which arrived on trolleys and had to be “manhandled” into place, says Jim. “They all survived, that’s the amazing thing. We thought some of them might die. They’re huge now.”
These days, vivid bougainvillea drapes across fence-tops and lush cycads and staghorn ferns flourish beneath the swaying palms. The sound of water trickling into a goldfish-filled pond (“Nineteen fish,” notes Jim) drowns out the street noise beyond. “It’s like stepping into an oasis,” says Pas. “People come in here and they don’t realise that there’s a highway across that fence.”
Then there are those bromeliads, in ruby reds and delicate pinks, rare varietals she’s sourced from other collectors around the country. Each and every one is in its own pot, cleverly disguised by the use of extensive buxus hedging and topiary. Keeping them in pots makes them much easier to manage. “People are always amazed that they’re not dug into the ground,” says Jim. >
The pots mean Pas can easily move them around. “As soon as a plant is looking a bit tired, I take it out and put a better-looking plant in there.” She even has a retirement home of sorts for older bromeliads, tucked in behind the pond in one corner of the garden, “where I can put them and look after them.”
The couple admit they’ve toyed with the idea of moving to a bigger property in order to house Pas’ ever-expanding collection but decided against it. “We’d have to start from scratch all over again and it took us 10 years to get to this stage,” says Pas.
“We’ve enjoyed the journey,” says Jim. But now, the couple have moved on to a new stage, opening their garden to visitors for the first time last year and “it was just mind boggling what people were saying,” says Jim. “Some landscapers came around and said ‘Who designed the garden?’ Well, we did.”
Pas agrees. “A lot of our friends were inspired by what they saw here and have started their own collections. I know about five ladies who, if you go to their gardens, you can see a lot of bromeliads. I thought that was the biggest compliment – seeing that they’re doing what you’re doing because they liked what they saw in your garden.”
THIS PAGE Visitors to Pas and Jim Southon’s garden in Howick, Auckland are greeted by towering bangalow and queen palms, which shade brightly hued bromeliads, petunias and impatiens as well as balls of Buxus sempervirens and pittosporum. OPPOSITE (from...
THIS PAGE Jim says the outdoor sofa in the poolside gazebo is great for lazing: “You can have a sleep in the daytime here”; succulents decorate the top of the pool fence in the foreground. OPPOSITE (clockwise from top left) Ball-shaped conifers...
THIS PAGE (from top) The goldfish pond is almost completely camouflaged by burgundy bromeliads and a lush fruit salad plant ( Monstera deliciosa), which “has just taken off”, says Jim. Pas’ collection of rare bromeliads, bought at auctions or from...