Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Gardening Rants

One day I was buying some tomatoes at the grocery store and I looked at the label and it said ‘Product of Israel’. How can that even make sense. Lettuce is shipped in from California, a cucumber from Spain, who would have thought I was eating a global salad. Being immersed in plants everyday and having not tried my hand at growing vegetables myself, it hit me. Why am I not growing this stuff at home. For the last couple of years I’ve been dabbling but this season is looking to be the best thus far. It will be a long time coming before I can grow all the vegetables I need but it wouldn’t hurt to subsidize the family vegetable appetite with a little home growing.

I’ve got a nice established patch of ever-bearing raspberries, lettuce, kale, snap peas, broccoli, green onions and herbs a plenty. In a world where it makes sense to have one’s greens shipped in fresh from 3000 kms away why not try to grow some at home. Starting from seed is easy, and if you don’t have the patience vegetable starters are available at most garden centers around town. Growing exotics is a feast for the senses but growing food might feed the family. Let’s give it a go, it’s not hard, trial and error leads to some great results and so far with moderate effort I’ve created a nice little buffet of tasty, locally grown organic produce. No big deal.

Green onions
I don’t think it’s a big secret that after using most of the green onions you buy at the grocery store you can place them in water and get a few extra rounds of greens for extra servings . Furthermore as they peter out on your windowsill, plop them in the soil for truly miraculous results. Sometimes slow growing at the start (1-2 months) all of a sudden they swell up and grow vigorously. To plant it takes 3 minutes, to grow 2 months and from there free green onions all year round. Plant multiple bunches and you’ll never buy another green onion again.

If I buy one bundle a week for baked potatoes and nachoes @ $1.25 a week x 4 weeks = $5.00/month saved on green onions. Multiply that yearly and that’s $60 in the pocket for good times, gasoline or new sneakers. Yes please.

baby green oniones
These are one month(ish) after planting from cut green onions. You might be tempted to harvest (and you could a bit) but if you wait a bit longer they all of a sudden double in size.

Lettuce Patch
In Victoria you can grow lettuce outdoors almost all year round (We were eating fresh arugula all winter long). Lettuce is easy to start from seed and even easier to plant and grow from starter plants. You’ll need to have some patience at the start but once established you can go outside and harvest fresh greens almost everyday for weeks. Plant a few rounds at varying stages of growth to ensure fresh greens as the season progresses.

Here is the key factoid about lettuce I once read in a vegetable growing handbook. Never let lettuce dry out, that’s why your lettuce tastes like poison. Lettuce gets a bitter acrid taste if neglected, constant irrigation is key, IE water when dry. As the plant matures you can harvest leaves as you need without killing the plant. Ever heard of a food machine?

Romaine Cos
Our global food system is awesome in its variety and vast availability but deprives us of knowing how these plants grow and produce food. Not only are homegrown vegetables healthier and cheaper, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing. “I grew this”. Munch munch munch!

Romaine Cos
When first transplanting starter plants be wary of looking at the garden bed and thinking everything is well watered. The bed might look watered but until the transplants are rooted in, their transplants root ball might be very dry. For the first few weeks it’s worth an extra gander to ensure everything is well irrigated.

Lettuce Red Sails
Another fun thing about growing your own lettuce is you can choose the varieties. Did you know the lettuce you buy in stores is not exactly the BEST variety of lettuce, but the lettuce that ships the best. There are so many different kinds to choose from. Some might not look great in a grocery store but grow awesome in the garden. Variety. Is. The. Spice. Of. Life. Pictured above Lettuce Red Sails.

Snap pea - Sugar Snap
Snap pea ‘Sugar Snap’

Snap pea sugar snap
I tend not to buy too many snap peas at the grocery store because they never seem fresh enough. With the exception of a little foresight for staking these plants practically grow themselves. Fresh & full of vitamins. Wish they would accumulate more but my better half usually snacks them to non-existence before I get a chance to have one. Snap Pea ‘Sugar Snap pictured above.

Raspberry Everbearing
I first acquired this raspberry many many years ago. Probably when I first started at the nursery some seven years back. I was at a friend’s house party raving about her 7 foot tall raspberry bushes covered in big delicious raspberries. I was sold. She gave me a runner (which raspberries have no shortage of) and the rest is history. I’ve moved this patch a couple times over the years and it’s always produced. The first raspberries started a few weeks ago, new ones everyday, and pretty much go until frost (with a small break in the hottest part of summer). I rake all the horse chestnut & maple leaves onto this bed every winter and the raspberry bushes devour it remarkably quick.

I love going outside and eating fresh raspberries with my son. It’s great to make the connection from plant to snacking at such a young age. I have similar memories as a kid myself. He loves them. I mean LOVES THEM!

Nasturtium Alaska Mix
Not everyone knows this but they should, all parts of a Nasturtium are edible. The leaves, the seeds & the colorful flowers. From early spring until mid summer these plants flower off the hook. They have a light horse radish heat to them and taste extra fresh. A charming addition to any salad, who knew we were eating fine dining but really it’s just from the garden.

Nasturtium Alaska Mix
If you wanted to try your hand at growing nasturtiums from seed you shouldn’t be intimidated. They have a 95% germination rate, sprout quickly and can be transplanted shortly after. In mid spring they start to burst into life with hundreds of edible flowers. If you leave the flowers alone they form a small seed which is also edible. A poor mans caper they’re a great hit of spice to fresh vegetable dishes. Beautiful too!

Broccoli Premium Crop
My real accomplishment this year is a mighty successful crop of broccoli. Pictured above is Broccoli Premium Crop, a high yield cultivar we grow at the greenhouses. Planted as a starter in early spring these didn’t take very long to become serious behemoths.

IMG_2971
Broccoli Premium Crop
Broccoli Premium Crop

Broccoli Premium Crop

Broccoli Premium Crop
These are some of the biggest broccoli heads I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t be happier with the results. For some reason I thought it would  be more difficult. Out of the 6 plants I put in the ground, 1 underperformed and the rest grew like gangbuster. You have to keep an eye out for cabbage moths but overall these were not difficult to grow. Next year I’m going plant twice as many.

For someone who has dedicated the last many years of his life to flowering annuals and rare & unusual exotics it’s really cool to grow something I can feed my family with. With growing fresh vegetables at home you get to know the whole story. No chemicals, just mushroom manure & pure simple sunshine. Delicious. And… Munch munch munch. I grew that. Doesn’t that feel good.

More plant news to follow.

  • facebook Share on Facebook
  • stumble Share with Stumblers
  • twitter Tweet about it
  • rss Subscribe to the comments on this post

Good day and good evening.

Where have I been for all these weeks past. Out in the open air watching cumulus clouds cruising in the atmosphere. Long days under a spring sun rising and falling up overhead. Growing plants industrially is not just a job it’s a way of life. Once spring hits, open the gates and the grand marathon begins. Spring is an exciting time of year to be working with plants everyday. It’s awe inspiring to watch so many seedlings rise to maturity, crack bud to flowering color and then be sent off to a garden destined but still not yet known.

Cumulus clouds

Here is my day. Wake up, breakfast with my miss and toddler son, goodbyes, coffee, drive, coffee … coffee. Plants. All day. Lunch. coffee. Plants until dusk. Water garden, Dinner, Family. Sleep.  Repeat from Feburary 28th until the summer solstice.

This is no problem of course beacause growing this many plants is just so satisfying.

IMG_2654

shadow of nurseryman

For the people in my life beyond the great wall not all can understand this style of living. But growing plants is just so much more than just a job. Feeling sick today? Sad? Tired? Forget about it. The show must go on. When you’re standing there in the full fury midst of spring you can’t exactly stop or “take it easy”. The reality is there are quite literally millions of plants that would benefit by you showing up today and paying them your respect.

The plants are growing, the plants need water, some plants like to grow in early spring, others in the summer.  Do you have an afternoon to get the task done, today. It’s like writing music or painting artwork. Watching waves of marigolds and foxglove being paved down on outside beds. Today they are freshly planted, tomorrow they need a drink, all of a sudden they’ve grown very big and are crowding each other out, time to space, but wait, more water, is that aphids?

Field of nursery crops

It’s a surreal experience and I’m lucky to work with some really dedicated people. When one of them breaks you notice a change in the flow for sure. Who’s next?

And now for some quick garden teasers.

In the garden

oplopanax view
A low view of the Oplopanax.

Tetrapanax forest
Textrapanax forest.

Podophyllum Spotty Dotty

Podophyllum Spotty Dotty Flower
Podophyllum Spotty Dotty. Crimson drooping flowers underneath an nebulous patterned star shaped leaf.  Have you ever thought to give it nice good sniff. It definitely has a strange aroma. We couldn’t quite place it. One person said soap. It makes me think of the word fetid. Still it is not entirely unpleasant. Just unusual.

enkianthus cernuus
Enkianthus cernuus flowering.

Lewisia elise mix
Lewisia Elise Mix in it’s grand perfection. Although lewisia are known for their electric colored flowers I strangely find myself admiring these plain white ones.

Cotula hispida
The unusual floating flowers of Cotula hispida.

the golden hour
A funny thing happens after nearly 11 hours at the greenhouse. The valley quiets down, the air warms, silence, a white evening light. The transition to sunset is always amazing. The golden hour for photography but also for just the pure pleasure of the moment.  I notice it everytime I stay late, it’s a gift for those who stick with it.

Sunset @ the greenhouse
Sunrise to sunset. Plants all day everyday.

  • facebook Share on Facebook
  • stumble Share with Stumblers
  • twitter Tweet about it
  • rss Subscribe to the comments on this post
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.