Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

At the nursery

A belated Happy New Years to all of my favorite plant friends. Here we are in 2015, a year full of promise and good things to come. This winter has been unseasonably pleasant, our little city on the southern point of Vancouver Island has nary seen a drop of snow all season. I’ve been in a t-shirt since early February, what a beautiful time to be alive.

What have I been doing you ask and why haven’t I been updating my plant musings? Let’s just say between family, the greenhouse and a large succulent collection. Most moments are quickly used up.

Life is a pleasure and a delight; I’m thoroughly enjoying fatherhood. My son shows interest in his first spring conscious as a walking and talking sponge for sensation. He runs about the garden, running his hand through the leaves and different textures. He squeals and squeaks with fresh observations. Stumbles and trolls throughout my backyard jungle. I now have a co-pilot in my exploration of local gardens.

Here as we enter spring, the temperatures rise and the days lengthen. Life is emerging all around, my garden slowly begins to wake up and unravel. As the plants awaken I’m also uplifted by the bright days of spring. It’s an inspiring time of year and one can’t help but get lost in the garden as the sun sets yet another day. Much tidying, propagating and organizing. If my garden was Broadway it’d be saying. Showtime!

So having been on a creative hiatus for a bit it’s hard to nail down just what I want to say here. Perhaps just to say hello and I’m alive and well. For the moment I will start off with a mishmash of photos from my latest botanical endeavors. Yes, Here we go. Let’s start off at my life at the greenhouses.

January Greenhouse
Since the start of 2015 we’ve has some awesome weeks of sunshine. Above a morning snapshot of greenhouses at sunrise.

Hellebore 'Camelot'
Hellebore ‘Camelot’ flowering in unison.

Primula polyanthus
From late December right through to February it was Primula polyanthus from morning until night.

Sunshine Greenhouses
It’s a funny thing working outside everyday. Cold and bitter, hot and humid. From January through December we work in all forms of weather and end up changing clothing every 15 minutes as a cloud passes by or the sun shines high.

Fuchsia baskets
To produce plants at an industrial level takes more than just good planning it takes the bronze to get the job done. You like fuchsia baskets? Now do it thousand times. I’ve always prefered this type of exertion to the gym.

Hanging baskets
I love the stretching infinity. Baskets upon baskets, in all directions.

Hanging Cool Wave Pansies
A house full of hanging Cool Wave pansies at their perfect stage of bloom. When the house is shut tight the subtle scent is multiplied and enchanting. I have a poor sense of smell but it’s permiates none the less. It smell fresh & aromatic. Incredible.

Spring baskets
My associate watering some spring baskets in.

Sprawling Greenhouses
At this time of year we start to make use of every last inch of space. Successions of spring bedding crops are planted and laid out. Marigolds, lobelia, snap dragons, petunias and so much more. Each day brings us closer to true spring.We will work from dawn until dusk to move large volumes of plants across the island and beyond. Maybe some of these will be planted outside your window one day.

Sunset at the greenhouse
Sunset @ greenhouse
With all the grandeur and excitement of life it often feels like there isn’t enough hours in a day. A time traveler in a modest sense, time flies when you’re having fun.

Daffodils
narcissus
The harbinger of spring, Daffodil ‘Tete a Tete’ in full bloom.

Primula deticulata

Primula denticulata
Primula denticulata

Arabis 'Spring Charm'
Arabis ‘Spring Charm’.

Armeria juniperifolia
Armeria juniperifolia.

pulsatilla vulgaris
Pulsatilla vulgaris.

Our back greenhouse
I’ve been sorting our plant laboratory for the last few months trying to make sense of what to do with all these crazy plants. An army of aeoniums for an upcoming project lay on the right side, a table of on oddities on the left. I’m in the midst of downsizing some of my personal collection. For those who live locally and are looking for some true botanical gems, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

aeonium atropurpureum flowers
aeonium atropurpureum flowers
Speaking of aeoniums. This Aeonium atropurpureum has begun to flower.

Echiums
An small gathering of echiums. I wonder what gardens these will find their way into.

Mangave
A beautiful mangave specimen.

aeonium tabuliforme
Aeonium tabuliforme
A few flats of Aeonium tabuliforme I grew from seed last year. They’re just starting to look right and show off their fibonacci sprial.

dicksonia fibrosa
Dicksonia fibrosa with spanish moss.

garrya elliptica
Walking through Finnarty Gardens at the UVIC Campus we came across this amazing Garrya elliptica tree in bloom.

garrya elliptica
garrya elliptica

Daffodils
Cherry blossoms, daffodils and young life.

Government House Gardens
We’ve been frequenting the great gardens of Victoria. If you haven’t made it to Government House yet this season, it’s time to pour a warm drink and take off for a jaunt.

Hellebores
Ethereal hellebores.

Primula 'Wanda Hybrid'
Primula Wanda Hybrid.

backyard jungle
Back at home things are coming up nicely.

anemone nemorosa
Anemone nemorosa is awesome.

fritillaria
Fritillaria.

Dodecatheon
Dodecatheon and Salix boydii.

Primula miniature
Miniature primula.

corydalis George Baker
My latest acquisition from Fraser Thimble Gardens Corydalis ‘George Baker’. A fleeting ephemeral moment of spring.

Dinosaurs
Dinosuars run amok.

Frosted cyclamen
Frosted cyclamen

Garden nymph
A garden nymph getting into my sedum pot.

Sunset
Beautiful Vancouver Island. I love you.

Until next time plant people. Wishing you great success with your springtime and garden. Ciao

Well the season’s begun with a shot and bang, 2 weeks of sunshine in mid March will wet gardener’s appetites. We’ve been clearing out greenhouses almost as quickly as we can fill them; our spring annuals seem way ahead of schedule. It’s amazing what a mild spring will do for the garden industry; there’s an excitement in the air. Is it safe for us to go outside again? The chestnut tree in front of my house has swollen buds and will be in leaf within a week methinks.

Greenhouse

Racks of annuals

Greenhouse lettuce crop

Geraniums

Like it or not I’ve been a bit zombified as of late, this whole plant thing has been taking it’s toll. I set out to push this to the next level and looking around I might have accomplished that. Between working more than full-time at the nursery, maintaining a large home collection and trying to start up a side greenhouse project; it’s official my life is ruled by plants. It’s exhausting and it’s not even summer yet. In an attempt to maintain fresh inspiration for documenting I’ve now got so much growing that I barely have time to report. If I have any energy left at all the greenhouse project eats it up, then I get home at 8:00pm, eat, bathe and do it again. It’s pure insanity really, a hobby that borders on addiction that has completely devoured my life. What to do now. . .  Breathe, meditate and do again of course. That’s springtime for you. Some people run marathons, I collect plants.

Wilma's Gold Rosemary

Armeria juniperifolia

Violas

Seriously though I always feel overwhelmed at this time of year. Tis the burden of the nurseryman I suppose. When the salmon are in the bay, you get on that boat and get fishing. I never understood it better until this year but spring is the season to do it all. While you can propagate at anytime of year, there is no better time then now. Plants are actively waking up, releasing turbo charged growth chemicals and want to live today more than any other time of year. Seeds sowed in spring have a whole season to grow up whereas mid summer sown only gets a quick autumn of growth. It’s a good time to divide and it’s a good time to reposition. First and foremost it’s a good time to observe, to enjoy and to pay attention.

IMG_7544
Some of the nicest Lewisia we’ve grown to date, second season. 

Greenhouse treasures
A peak into the back greenhouse.

Spring is such an incredible time of year, the growth in the back is almost unbelievable. For the first time in 2 weeks it rained almost all day. Upon coming home the garden was a different place all together. What would seem like week’s worth of growth seems to have occurred over an afternoon of precipitation. Everything is so lush, so pristine.

Sonchus canariensis
Can’t find a supplier for Sonchus canariensis? Ok, let’s grow some from seed… 10 months later . . . Now what to do with 35 three foot tall Sonchus…

sonchus canariensis
A lovely plant none the less.

Soak it in while you can, plants are a quick reminder to “stop and smell the roses”. What looks great today, will be gone or different tomorrow. Some flowers appear as if in a blink, just a short appearance to grace your eyelids. If you’re not there, too bad for you, there is no PVR for the garden I’m afraid. As I sit outside and listen to the gentle tap of raindrops I take a deep breathe in and try to truly take in the moment. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years but have forgotten this meditation over a quick generation skip. Put down your iphone once in a while and go for a walk in a garden. Crouch and get at eye level with some plants and take a closer look. Get your hands dirty and give them a feel. Crush a few leaves and investigate there exciting new aromas. Lastly appreciate the miraculousness of life and see the perfection that exists within all things. Mother nature is the finest artist. God I sound like a hippy somedays. .  .

Wish me luck ! More photos to follow!

prostanthera rotundifolia
prostanthera rotundifolia

azara lanceolata
azara lanceolata

agapetes serpens
agapetes serpens

agapetes serpens
agapetes serpens

asarum splendens
asarum splendens

podophyllum spotty dotty
Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’

wasabia japonica
wasabia japonica flowers
wasabia japonica

mukdenia rossii
mukdenia rossii
mukdenia rossii

geranium maderense
geranium maderense

epiphyllum
More varieties of epiphyllum than any one man should have. . . 

Crop of echiums
Field of echiums
I think this will be the year I’ll get an echium to flower.

After potting up my new palm trees yesterday I found myself in a fury of greenhouse rearranging. This winter we were in such a hurry to get the greenhouse done that when we actually did move in, everything was haphazardly placed this way and that. Yesterday I made the time to organize things properly, it was nice to clear out the junk and keep things tidy. Plants are certainly a demanding hobby, overwintered tropicals need a quick inspection once in a while. Dead leaves, minor rot, and impractical placement all need to be considered. Bugs are more likely than not, and a quick spray of trounce is good even as a precaution. If you’re even a bit OCD about cleaning, this practice will most likely be pleasant and it’s a good meditation for a Sunday afternoon. As the hours went on, nature forgot I was even there, and a murder of crows landed nearby. The valley still supports an amazing amount of wildlife, their songs could be heard carried in the wind. I love silence, it gives me space to think, it’s my favorite kind of music.  A dying tread in a humming world of technology, moments spent in the garden have made me much more aware of this fact.

In a blink of an eye a couple hours had passed. I’m often amazed by the work that can be achieved in only a couple hours. From disaster to masterpiece the place had certainly taken on a new look. I grouped the succulents and dormant dry pots in one area, actively growing tropicals in another, and utilitarian nurserystock adjacent. I love organizing and consolidating, and oddly this is what I do for a living. The greenhouses must have brainwashed me…


Abutilon ‘Souvenir de Bonn’ flowering in January.

Just as I was considering leaving, the lighting seemed just right and out came my camera and tripod. This was the first real photo-shoot I’ve had at our new greenhouse, and I was mesmerized by all of the points of interest. A flowering Senacio cristobalensis, an unusually early Iris reticulata, and a tropical Buddleia macrostachya in bud and bloom. A big smile rested on my face as I stood there in the pre twilight of the hour before nightfall. Tis the best time of day to photograph plants and flowers, and very well anything and everything at all.  The shadows are forgiving, the lighting honest and true. What a dream it is to have a heated greenhouse in the winter. I hadn’t realized what a gift it really was, this will surely help me get further with my plant studies.

Up close and personal with a Senacio cristobalensis


You’ve gotta love the whimsical leaves of the Senecio cristobalensis. Straight out of a Dr. Suess book, this border-line hardy perennial will add a touch of magic to your garden with little effort on your part.


An emerging node, it’s leaves are even cuter when they first appear. These amazing purple tinted fuzzy trees grow up to 8-10 feet in one season. I’ve read that if they’re properly mulched they’ll grow back in spring after frost. Of course all rumor aside I couldn’t dare sacrifice this one to the elements, as I wanted to see it’s winter flowers.


Right on schedule this plant put out multiple plumes of these strange senacio flowers. While Senacio’s come in pretty much every shape and size, they’re flowers are all remarkably similar. Old granddad Senacio from a million years before must be proud.


As expected the flowers are identical to other senacios I’ve witnessed bloom. The only difference being the color in which they’re tinted. Senecio cristobalensis is the most remarkable shade of vibrant yellow. The flowers coated with enough pollen for an army of bees. Too bad none seem to be buzzing about this early in the season.


A slightly fuzzy close up. A boring flower from affar, interesting upon a closer look.

Off topic, topic specific plant science breakdown!?


A plant that looks nothing like Senacio cristobalensis but is most definetly a relative, Senecio articulatus in bloom mid summer 2011.


Significantly different from either of them, Senecio rowleyanus otherwise known as string of pearls is also a strange distant relative. How about that for wierd plant science!?

Back to the topic at hand!


Buddleia macrostachya began flowering this week. I’ve watched the blooms form since I first recieved it mid November. The horticultural mastermind Lynda from Happy Valley Lavender Farm gifted it to me when we first built our greenhouse. The tag says Royal Roads 2007, it seems this one has been around for a while now. A quick look online has very little information about it, but sources say it’s from China. The hardiness is subject to opinion and it seems to enjoy the shelter of the greenhouse. Any info someone might have on it would be much appreciated, an exotic addition to collection none the less.


Eccremocarpus scaber seedlings amongst plectranthus cuttings.


A lineup of agaves, echeverias and aloes.


I have no idea how these bulbs found their way into my agave pot. Tis the simple pleasure of working at a nursery, sometimes the compost you take home has extra goodies in it. My garden at home has anemone blanda all over the place for this very reason. While I tend to get tired of these iris reticulatas, it’s always a tell tale sign that spring is just around the corner.


My Agave geminiflora is certainly enjoying it’s winter home in the greenhouse. It hasn’t stopped growing since I got it, I love it aquatic appearance.


There seems to be no shortage of brugmansia’s this year. A friend and I have been growing quite a collection. Inquire if you’d be interested in trying one this summer, we have lovely 5 ft tall year and a half specimens.


Flowering mid summer Puya mirabilis’s seed pods are still developing. I intend on trying to grow a small army of these from seed, and after nearly six months I still wait patiently for them to mature.

Here we come to the end of my greenhouse tour. Think warm thoughts, spring is only a couple months away. Counting the days, minutes, and seconds! :) For those that made it this far through the post, an extra gift to you today. Check out this site, it seems like an interesting enough idea. Free Plants by Mail

As some of you may already know a couple friend’s and I have been working on a greenhouse at the nursery. We recently got a push to get things finished quickly as space is running low in the main house and the spot where my tropicals were living needs to be freed up by Monday. We put a good effort in Saturday morning and I was really blown away by how much we accomplished. The main structure is now whole, and we even got it skinned. Now all that remains is the finishing touches, a second layer of plastic and the doors in the front. By next weekend we should hopefully have it ready for the plants, of which have now been transferred to racks and have been moved to another non permanent location.


It doesn’t look much right now but soon it will be filled with many tropical oddities. 

I can’t tell you enough how much I love greenhouses, what a treat it is to walk around a lush growing area at this time of year. Dianthus, cyclamen and primulas are almost ready for the first hit of spring. Next thing you know I’ll be pulling racks of Danova mix primulas, dead heading, dead heading and more dead heading. Thus is the life of a nurseryman. Having worked with this company for almost 5 years now I must say we’ve really pulled it together. While things were certainly fine when I first  arrived, as the years go on one notices the recipe for success is much more fine tuned. Our fearless leaders do a great job and I’m pretty proud to be apart of it all. Everything’s looking so nice lately.

A quick December Greenhouse walk around:


Earlier this year I was reading about different techniques for taking cuttings of Dahlia imperialis. One person suggested cutting off a 1ft cutting with a growth node and to lay it down on it side. 1-2 months later it looks like the cutting is a success, new growth has started and I’m pretty sure this will be a viable cutting. Meanwhile the other cutting in which I cut the top growing tip and plopped it in the soil, is also growing quite happily. The conclusion? Dahlia imperialis cuttings are extremely easy to get going, and next year I’ll do a lot more.


Sadly my Echium pininana isn’t looking any healthier even though it lives in the warmest house on the property. Still trying have faith that it will bounce back come spring. “It’s just a little wilty, it’s still good, it’s still good!”


Succulents and tropical foliage. It was nice to spend some time with the plants today.


Sometime’s I wonder why I do this to myself. Then I quickly snap out of it, I love them!


Hamming it up with my refugee tropicals.


We’ve been blessed with gorgeous sunshine for almost two weeks now. If December was like this every year I wouldn’t be so eager to escape to the tropics.


Some people fight for the corner office, I think my view is better.


Greenhouse 1 of 6, primulas. *Shutters*


So many Dianthus super troopers. Looks like a healthy crop!


Probably one of my most favorite crops we grow at the greenhouse, florist cyclamen (cyclamen persicum cultivars)

Thanks for joining me on my tour.


Filmed on an iphone, makes for a squished video.

Well well, oh to be laid off in the winter.

After two weeks of being off work much of my mental tension has been relieved and I’m almost human again. Chores and tasks that have been on hold for the last 10 months are finally starting to get done and I’ve almost caught up on a years worth of sleep deprivation. While November is probably my most hated month of the year,  the short days and sleeping garden allow me to pretend to be a real person again. My garden chores are at an all time low and as night falls somewhere around 4:00pm I can actually have a life beyond plants.

Of course this doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about plants, on the contrary. In the late evenings spent on the computer I’ve been browsing plant mail-order companies, and swiping visa cards, not even the cold sting of winter will stop my insatiable appetite for strange and unusual plants. It’s a curse and a blessing all the same, I feel very fortunate to have found something I enjoy this much. I digress.


November’s crisp clear air makes for a good sunset

Today I went to the nursery to work on the greenhouse a couple of friends and I are building. So far it’s 32×16 lean to, next to the hottest house on the property. This should make over wintering plants much easier in the coming years, and perhaps allow me to expand my propagation madness even further.  While at the nursery I also got a chance to tend to my tropical collection of which was looking a bit worse for wear. A lot of the plants are still actively growing regardless of their barely over freezing winter home, like any garden there was still work to be done. In the two weeks I’ve been gone, some of the plants had completely dried out and sagged with disapproval. Some of the others had some cold damage and had to be cleaned up to leave less opportunity for rot and/or fungus. A gardener’s job is never done.

While visiting I couldn’t help but to wonder how my good old friend, Tree Echium was doing.  I must admit it’s a bit disheartening to see my once large, impressive echium, slunk down in protest against the less then tropical conditions. Sometime around the first frosts, a chill must have got into the greenhouse and my echium deflated in a hurry. While it certainly doesn’t look very happy, it’s growing tip seems healthy enough, I have a feeling it’s going to pull through. In the warm months of October it was still thriving and I watered it as regularly as I had ever done. In hindsight I think I should have let up and let it dry out a bit, when the first chills swept in I think it didn’t appreciate the wet feet. I guess I got carried away with how beautiful it was this autumn. I guess only time will tell.


Placed in the hottest house on the property, my echium looks upset with the coming of winter.


While touring the greenhouses I came across a reserved order with this sign attached. Beware, don’t touch the pansies.


A baby snake we found hiding amongst some black cloth.

More posts to come,  btw thank you to all who responded so well to my plant a tree concept, a followup post is soon to follow.

Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
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