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The Beauty of Bromeliads - Tuesday 14th January - with Don Billington

By ticknallgc, Feb 3 2020 10:06AM

Plants, but not as we know them! Don Billington came to Ticknall Garden Club's January meeting and opened our eyes to a group of plants that thrive with little or no root system. Called Bromeliads, they derive their food from the sun and moisture. They are popular houseplants, but in the wilds of places like Costa Rica and Equador they can be seen in profusion clinging to trees and rocks. They are epiphytes, not parasites and only use their host as a perch.

Don's lifelong fascination with this unique family of plants began early in his career in Liverpool, where he worked in the glasshouses at Croxteth Country Park. He was given responsibility for the collection of Bromeliads there. Soon after, and branching out on his own, he entered a display of Bromeliads at the Malvern Show and was amazed to be awarded a gold medal. On his first attempt at Chelsea he also got a gold medal and for the next eight years has continued his success. He now holds three national collections of Bromeliads in his own right. He has become an expert on them and advises the RHS and Kew Gardens and has close links with Holland where these plants are grown on a commercial scale. In fact, he described how one man sitting at a computor is in charge of the growth of several thousands of plants. They move in bulk on a conveyer system and every step is automated to the finest detail.

The Neoregelia group of bromeliads generally grow in a funnel shaped rosette of leaves and water is stored in their 'well'. Some leaves are brightly coloured or variegated but their flowers are insignifiicant. The Billbergia group tend to have more strap-like leaves or a wider funnel shape. Their flowers grow tall from the centre of the plant and can be quite striking. They tolerate cooler conditions so are easier to grow. Aechmea are mainly funnel shaped with an upright flower, some having spines. They make good houseplants. All Bromeliads are best watered sparingly with rainwater where possible.

Another interesting group are Tillandsia. Commonly called air plants, they create a sticky substance enabling them to 'glue' themselves to surfaces. They have tiny scale-like leaves covered in special cells which absorb water. They have a silver-grey appearance in a wide variety of forms which make them popular as indoor plants. They can be used to create striking displays. They are best watered by dunking them upside down in rain or soft water or misted with a fine spray. When Bromeliads flower they die but have usually already developed offsets or 'pups' to make a new plant.

Don Billington has a particular affection for air plants. It has led to considerable expertise in creating interior displays and he has fulfilled commisions for celebrities. He demonstrated how easy it was to make an interior decoration by wiring a variety of plants to either driftwood, a mesh frame or bamboo structure. Reindeer moss, which stays green and does not require watering, is useful for additional effect. It was no surprise that Don has also made a name for himself as a flower arranger.

Don entertained with a typical Liverpudlian sense of humour, while revealing surprising artistic talents and a depth of knowledge about the strange world of Bromeliads.

More information at every-picture.com.

Don Billington with programme secretary, Min Bell and our Chair, Pam Adams
Don Billington with programme secretary, Min Bell and our Chair, Pam Adams
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