Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Gardening Rants

It’s been frigid cold here in Victoria this past week. Temperatures dropped as low as -10 and a light sprinkling of icy snow coated the city. In the mornings my garden features a series of tropical plant ice sculptures. The two echiums up front have curled up and croaked. A few succulents that didn’t make the cut in the migration met an untimely fate. Mild to some it’s still bloody cold I tend to think these winter months are best celebrated closer to the equator.

On Sunday we took a quick stroll around Government House to see how the plants were fairing.


Frost damaged sonchus acaulis
Even with the best attempts of the resident gardener this sonchus acaulis looks to have met it’s match with this cold weather. Still you never know.

Agave parryi
A few large agave looked healthy enough.

Hardy Succulents
Here’s hoping they live to see the new year.

hardy bromeliad


Mahonia media flowers all winter long.


I don’t know what I find so fascinating about propagation;  I just can’t seem to stop. From the very start the concept of turning one plant into two has intrigued me. A single plant cut into pieces, rooted carefully creates many more indeed. In no time at all an aspiring plant collector can create a large army of duplicates; through trial and error great things can be achieved. With a little extra skill and most certainly some luck experiments with seeds can have even more staggering results. To think a Californian Redwood started out as small as a grain of rice; it’s humbling to say the least. If there was any one thing I’ve learned from working with plants over the years is that on a biological level, the meaning of life is to reproduce.

That being said, the big secret is out. I’m going to take the next big step as a master propagator and try my hand at creating little people. I’m happy to announce that by the year’s end my girlfriend and I are having a baby boy. I’m excited to embark on this new chapter of life. I have a feeling a garden is an excellent environment to raise children in.

Change is in the wind, please wish us luck.

hoodia juttae
Hoodia juttae seedlings 1.3 years old.

Euphorbia obesa seedlings
Euphorbia obesa 1.2 years old

dioscorea elephantipes
Dioscorea elephantipes 1.5 years old

Castor bean seedling
Castor bean seedling

Echium pininana seedling
Echiums pininana seedling 1.5 months old

I’m still alive, alas just a quick hiatus from writing at the moment. More updates to follow :)

puya mirabilis
Puya mirabilis
Sonchus acaulis
Sonchus acaulis
Asarum splendens
Asarum splendens
Frosted leaf cyclamen
Enkianthus cernuus
Enkianthus cernuus
Senecio cristobalensis
Senecio cristobalensis
ugni molinae
Ugni molinae
Fall color
Fall color
cacti in autumn
Cacti wait patiently to be brought in for the winter.
Lots of leaves
Messy trees
Pumpkin patch
Pumpkin patch
Brisk days at the greenhouse
Cat in Garden
Tobius the garden cat.

Alas it’s been a while yet since I’ve found moments to muse stories on this botanical blog of mine. For those of you who still stop by, thank you for having faith in my return. A lot of big things are happening right now and sometimes creative projects take the brunt of it.

This spring and summer has been a fury of activity. Operating a small hobby greenhouse in the valley has turned out to be a bigger endeavor than one would imagine. Whether you have irrigation or not, the plants need to be regularly checked on. We had a record breaking sunny June & July and the days were hot. While this makes for excellent margarita weather it also inspires extra thirsty gardens.

Growing exotics in the north is not without it’s challenges. Reading some of my favorite plant blogs located in the U.K, Portland & California I would have thought there would be a bigger appetite for strange plants up here. Still I ended up having a few more echiums, sonchus & isoplexsis than I really knew what to do with. Starting strange plants from parts unknown is a great adventure in science. These plants are from the other side of the planet and here they are, flowering in my greenhouse looking quite at home. Propagating is addictive and it can lead to a bit of a messiah complex if you’re not careful. It’s a bizarre feeling being the caretaker of this many plants, it’s very satisfying but a huge responsibility.

Most people crazy enough to have a blog dedicated to plants can relate; this past-time can quickly grow out of hand. If you have the growing space, it will be filled. Even if you don’t you’ll make something work. Although my life is undoubtedly more fulfilling with these plants one can’t underestimate the commitment it takes to have even a modest sized collection. It’s not good enough to have everything survive, we strive for perfection don’t we?

Anyhow onto the topic on hand. The plants.

dicksonia fibrosa
While some might find success growing tree ferns outside, mine lives in the greenhouse where it really thrives.

A noid species of phytolacca bloomed earlier this spring and is now creating it’s strange pillar of berries.

begonia luxurians
Old news for some but Begonia luxurians still holds a special place in my collection. This year I’ve seen leaps in bounds in it’s growth. It’s rippled leaves reminds me of classical art.

dendroseris litoralis
I just love plants with a story. Dendroseris litoralis otherwise known as the cabbage tree is endemic the Juan Fernandez Islands west of Chile and was nearly brought to extinction in the 80′s due to over grazing. It took me a couple years track down some seeds but once acquired they were relatively easy to get going. This is one of two left in my collection, it’s vigorous growth is fun to watch and I’m thrilled to see it’s progress.

solanum pyracanthum
Solanum pyracanthum features velvet stems and golden spikes. Stranger so this plant is a distant relative to the tomato and after flowering creates a similar fruit. I’m uneasy of trying it’s delictable flavor, I’ll leave this one up to admiring.

Aloe polyphylla
A couple successful science projects from seed. Eryngium venustum (Left) Eryngium eburneum (Above) & Aloe polyphylla (Right)

More plant tales to come.  thanks for stopping by. 

Weeks have been passing by like water flowing down a river. I’ve gotten so good at getting lost in the chaos of nursery work that time seems to move with ease. Sometimes I’m happy to see the moments drift on by but more often than not there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. I’ve never been involved with something I believe in so passionately. To find oneself grumpy on a rainy Monday morning in the greenhouse business is absurd. There’s always something to do, to look at, to perfect; it’s an OCD’s paradise.

Today finishes a solid 14 day stretch; tomorrow I’m at it again as a guest salesman for the annual Sunrise to Sunset Sale @ Gardenworks Blenkinsop. While I must admit this is the busiest I’ve ever been in my life I might also add that this is probably the happiest I’ve ever been too. Lots of big things on the horizon and an absolute paradise of botanical wonders in my daily adventures.

Seeing as though it’s officially the first day of summer here in Victoria it’s prime time to give an update on all the cool things spring has had to offer.

A great mix to set the mood by a local DJ in Victoria (NEON STEVE)

Let’s start at the greenhouse and work our way back to the garden. Let’s get started shall we.

Almost two years ago we asked the boy’s if we could build a greenhouse on the wettest, least desirable plot of land on the nursery grounds. It didn’t always look like much but as the days went by things looked better everyday.  We’ve spent more evenings than not toiling in the back trying to make this project a success. When I originally proposed the idea I would have had no idea of the work involved to make something like this work out. We dug ditches, we sowed seed and more than one cutting was planted. A series of gutters were needed, some power and some water as well. Mistakes were made and more are inevitable. Still things are looking nice and it’s been a real gift and a pleasure to grow plants in a proper growing space.

Phaedranassa viridiflora
Phaedranassa viridiflora bloomed for us this season. A rare bulb I ordered from Ecuador rarely seen in cultivation. As I’ve often said before just because a plant is rare doesn’t mean it’s hard to grow. This plant remained vegetative for it’s first season but bloomed without any special care the next. Always excited to see new oddities. Not exactly flashy but different yes?

Last winter I acquired a small collection (35 species) of old growth Epiphyllum cactus and this spring they all began to set bud and flower. The first to bloom were the most impressive but as the whole collection started to pop I didn’t even have time to document their glory. As the collection grew I became a bit overwelmed by them all and have been passing them along as I find eager people to do so. Contact me if you’re searching, there’s still a couple left.

I have since forgotten the name of this hybrid but this specimen is well over 25 years old. When I first spotted it’s blooms they were pointed at the wall and barely seen. Cream colored white flowers bigger then my hand; in the evening they release a sweet aroma that is pleasant to say the least. It seems to me that these cacti are easy to grow, tolerating drought but enjoying regular water. Some cautious growers would suggest a low level fertilizer to grow them but mine seem to thrive on the full juice, offering up a gang of flowers and lots of new growth.

 billbergia pyramidalis "striata
Mid may my Billbergia pyramidalis ‘striata’ started to send up a bloom spike. As the buds developed these beautiful purple pink iridescent flowers popped out of nowhere. A short experience at best I recall them to be here today and gone tomorrow lasting a little less than a week. These plants are easy to grow, loving plentiful water (keep their vases filled) and sun to partial shade. In the wild they grow in the crutches of trees epiphytically; mine grow terrestrial in a pot with regular old potting soil. Easy and remarkable I hope to propagate more for next season.

billbergia pyramidalis striata flowers
Billbergia pyramidalis striata has a color unmatched in the realm of man. They almost glow.

billbergia nutans buds
billbergia nutans
Another bromeliad to bloom this May Billbergia nutans. Have we fallen down the rabbit hole yet?

Begonia 'Escargot'
I don’t keep many begonias in my collection but some I just can’t resist. Begonia ‘Escargot’

sonchus acaulis
The fantastic foliage of the Canary Island GIANT dandelion Sonchus acaulis.

Sophora prostrata 'Little Baby'
So far the best photo I’ve been able to capture of Sophora prostrata ‘Little Baby’. I love sophora trees and I currently have 3 varieties in my possession. Much like an albizia mimosa tree I adore the delicate leaves which projects an image of the tropics. Known to be marginally hardy you might get away with planting these out if you find the right spot; so far I haven’t taken the risk. I do on the other-hand know of a big leafed Sophora planted out in James Bay that has now reached over 30 feet tall and is an absolute ball of sunshine when in flower.

Food for thought. Growing exotics isn’t like growing annuals, they are a  living and breathing science project. There is more than one factor when determining the hardiness of a plant.  Exposure, moisture, drainage, and micro climates. Experiment, fail and succeed. Repeat.

Speaking of science experiments. Let’s talk about echiums for a while. Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time can tell I’m just a little obsessed with these plants. In fact in the 3 seasons that I’ve been growing them I went from one plant to a crop of over 100. They’re easy plants to grow but not fool proof. If you enjoy prehistoric looking foliage and giant blooms Echium pininana and Echium wildprettii are well worth a gander. With a little bit of luck , favortable weather and some light protection in the winter these plants can truly thrive in our westcoast climate. Plant nerd or not, no one can argue with how cool at 20ft echium looks in bloom.

Echium wildpretii
Lush spring growth of echium wildpretii.

Echium pink fountain
Echium ‘Pink Fountain’ blooming in it’s first season from seed. Being seed grown each plant has it’s own unique personality. This one had the most remarkable curled leafs.

echium pink fountain
Certainly remarkable yes, but if the blooms are delayed a year or two a bigger and more impressive display can be achieved.

echium pininana
March: 3rd season plant sailed through the winter with a little extra moisture protection. Just setting buds.

echium pininana
echium pininana
echium pininana in flower
April: Buds and flower spike are maturing and just starting to open. 1ft or more of growth per week for the next 4 weeks.

echium pininana
echium pininana
echium pininana
So serious
June: Growing echiums is no laughing matter. This one stands at over 20ft tall, reaching well over the gutters of the house. While the blooms have faded somewhat from when I originally took this photo, the plant still stands tall and gets bushier everyday. The bee’s love it and travel from all over the city to collect it’s plentiful treasure.

echium pininana
I wish it had been blue, red or pink but it ended up being white. I suppose I’ll have to try again next year. ;)

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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