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...

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