Santa Fe nursery uses beach shells, driftwood to grow plants
A walk along the beach for Joanne Woolsey means more than just looking for shells and driftwood. Woolsey is looking to give those beach castoffs a new life by creating homes for healthy bromeliads and succulents that need nothing more than air and a bit of water to survive.
Joanne and her husband, Jimmy, run Jimbo’s Nursery in Santa Fe and create hundreds of little unique shell containers with a variety of plants, all selected to grow well in the Texas Gulf Coast environment.
Their nursery, which spans about 2.5 acres in Santa Fe, specializes in bromeliads. Although there are about 2,700 varieties of bromeliads, Jimbo’s carries about 20 different types with a special emphasis on tillandsia, neoregelia, billbergia and aechmeas. These plants need very little care but grow and duplicate if left on their own.
“All they need is something to cling to,” Jimmy Woolsey said. “Anything the roots can attach themselves to will allow the plant to thrive.”
When the Woolseys pick up driftwood on the beach, they take it to the nursery, wash it off and then let it sit for about a year, allowing the salts to leach out of the wood. Once the wood — cedar, cypress or other items which have washed ashore — dries, the Woolseys select a small plant from their nursery, attach it to a crevice in the wood and give it a splash of water. Then they leave it alone and let nature take its course.
The small plant will grow a bit, perhaps bloom and then grow a little more. Bromeliads are rather versatile and can be successfully grown under a variety of conditions. They can be terrestrial and grow in the ground. They can be saxicolous, in which they grow on rocks, or epiphytic, where they grow on other plants and trees. Epiphytic bromeliads absorb nutrients and moisture from the air around them, so they’re sometimes called air plants.
Air plants can do especially well encased in sea shells. Flat scalloped shells or cockles can be perfect homes for air plants, especially in humid areas like Galveston. Joanne Woolsey attaches the plant at the base to the shell where it can grow. Curly whelks and moon shells can be used for small plants and can then be hung in a window or from a tree branch where they will get enough water and sunlight to grow.
Joanne Woolsey, a retired seventh-grade science teacher, said the gardens in a shell grow year-round and produce blooms and flowers as well as spawn “baby” plants, which can be separated and given their own shell once their roots have developed.
A lot of homeowners select these bromeliads for bathroom window decorations because it’s usually humid after a shower, and the plants thrive in that environment, she said.
“These are very fun and coastal looking,” she said. “Just pick the right variety for the sunlight and they will live for years.”