Catching some air

Air-Plant Addict Brenda Bergland discusses her curious little sprouts

I have what some might call a brown thumb. Pretty much every plant I lay my hands on ends up, despite my best intentions, shriveling up and dying. I over-water, under-water, forget to water. So when I received an “air plant” for Christmas last year, I wasn’t too optimistic about its future. In the end, it lived a little longer than it probably should have.

Air plants are funny little things, though. Turns out they absorb water through their leaves—not their roots—and they do not require soil to live. So, you can come up with all manner of ways to display them—inside large seashells; in cute, mini gardens; in that unused coffeepot.

I was reminded of my failed little air plant experiment at the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market last weekend, when I happened upon the Air-Plant Addict booth, run by certified air-plant addict Brenda Bergland.

We got to chatting about her business, which she said started out as a miniature gardening endeavor and slowly evolved into the raising of air plants—not only is it easier to transport them, they’re also a whole lot less messy than traditional greenery and all its associated dirt. Plus, with her mini gardens, the plants would often outgrow their mini environments, she said. Air plants are much more versatile; they grow slowly and can be tucked in pretty much anywhere. (Bergland recommends tea lights, which are generally the perfect size to house an air plant.)

Bergland told me about the greenhouse she maintains on her property, where she keeps the air plants (aka Tillandsias, or Tillys) that she purchases from a wholesaler right here in California. She “raises” them for about six to eight weeks, she says, nurturing them and their “pups”—offsets that grow off the base and can survive on their own, creating their own plant.

Some notes on caring for air plants from Bergland’s website ( They like sunlight; water them using a spray bottle or soaking them at least once a week; and give ’em some air circulation—“They love it.”

Waffle madness While I was chatting with Bergland about air plants, I couldn’t help but notice the booth next door, from which was wafting the overwhelmingly delicious smell of fresh-made waffles. The front of the Hughes English Heritage Preserves booth was stocked with preserves, marmalades and baked goods. But to the rear was the man with the waffle maker. Bergland was actually chowing down on one while we talked and couldn’t stop raving. It’s not your ordinary waffle, she said. By the time we were finished, though, there was a huge line next door and I resigned myself to adding Hughes’ waffles to my list of reasons to go back to the market (as if I really need one more).