Parch and Swell

essay and photographs by
MARY ELLEN GAMBUTTI | Gardener + Writer


A FOUNTAIN TRICKLES and splashes among my plants that strive, yet thrive. While they bake, I sit in the cool indoors. My hot, dry garden is planted in crocks and pots. Cacti of North and South America, succulents from subtropical Africa, and epiphytic bromeliads all adapt, each in their own way, to the drought of my southwest Florida atrium.¬†Succulent stems and roots hold their life’s liquid. Out in the trees, or in here, wired to a broken limb, tillandsias and bromeliads collect ambient moisture through specialized leaves. Some hold water in a cistern-like tank, where a tiny frog could sip. Shaped to siphon, gather, absorb or drain, these odd plants inspire and fascinate me with their form and function. When all but desiccated, they sit content, but reward with growth and bloom when watered and turgid. My oven-like garden is open to screened sky, so is doused from time to time. Succulents must be relieved of prolonged rain, and allowed to drain under shelter, while bromeliads happily soak. My atrium is a diverse ecology; an eclectic niche garden connected by analogous needs to both parch and swell. And here I’ll attempt a truth: that we all thirst and quest, and no matter our origins, we try our best.