Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Growing

I planted a golf ball sized Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) in mid March and it was a real success. By September it had reached a height of 18ft and by late October flowered topping over 20 ft. As the weather cooled in early November the flowers faded, the leaves dried and the plant told it’s gardener to cut it down and reap the rewards below. Today I dug out the Jerusalem artichokes and was blown away by how much it had multiplied.


The size of the original planting in mid March.


The crop 7 months later. 100x my original planting.

I would definitely plant these again! While I’m pretty new to eating Jerusalem artichokes I’ve read you cook them much like potatoes, either mashed, fried, or baked (preferably in butter). They are high in iron, potassium and fiber. Planted in rich composted soil, with medium to full sun and adequate water, helianthus tuberosus is a easy to grow, and practically care free. Some forethought in setting up some solid supports will make your life easier late summer when they become taller. Staking mid season might lead to damaging the tubers below.

Excellent!

Over the years I’ve experimented with a variety of climbing annuals. Grown from seed, these plants grow quickly, flower abundantly, and create a surplus of seeds for the following year. With care you’ll only need to buy seeds for these plants once, these easy to grow annual climbers can really spice up your garden. After growing these a couple times they’ve really became a staple in my garden, I’d feel a bit let down if they weren’t there year to year.

The plants I’m speaking about are nasturtiums, Sweet Peas, Scarlet Runner Beans, and Snap Peas. All are extremely easy to grow, require very little maintenance and give way more then they take.


Mid July 2011


Early May 2011

I’ve grown these plants for a couple years now and I couldn’t be more pleased with how they worked out this season. Planted out in early May, I set up 3 poles with nylon string stretched between them. Planted directly underneith, the plants did most of the climbing themselves, with minor human interference. As the weather got hot, I’ve made sure to keep things reletively moist, but other then that, easy peasy.


Two types of nasturtiums were planted in May, Alaska Mix (from the greenhouse) and an heirloom variety I grew from my own seed 3 years in a row. The combination is stunning to say the least, and greets visitors to the garden with a fresh hit of electric color. All parts of the nasturtium are edible. The leaves, flowers and the little caper like seeds have a spicy fresh flavor to them. A lady today stopped by the garden and told me she makes an interesting nasturtium pesto out of them. Pine nuts, cheese and olive oil, YUM! The flowers look great, and add a horseradish taste to salads. It would be hard to hate a nasturtium.


Nasturtiums are pretty easy to grow, with few problems. Mid season they often attract black aphids, within the moist centers of the mound. Luckily aphids don’t seem to effect the vigorous growth of the nasturtium. If this bothers you, keep an eye out and zap small infestations with a pyrethrum based spray. No problem. Later in the summer nasturiums tend to burn out, if they’re looking unkempt and stupid, cut them back and you should get a nice autumn display of color as well.


Alaska Mix nasturtiums have a variegated leaf for bonus points. Wow!


Sweet Peas Mammoth Mix is a great variety of sweet peas. I’ve grown these for the past couple years with mixed success, but most of my failure was due to sloppiness. Pick a nice sunny spot free of other plant competition and sweet peas will thrive. They have an lovely scent unmatched by many of the other flowers found in the garden, smelling much like woman’s perfume.


Scarlet Runner Beans are as practical as they are beautiful. Electric orange flowers grow abundantly, then form large bean pods that are high in protein. Planted out towards the end of May (when temperatures are less freezing) Scarlet Runner beans might take a bit longer to impress then nasturiums or sweet peas, but come mid summer they’re grow faster and larger then anything else. Native to mountains in Central America, Scarlet Runners fit in quite well in this northern garden.


The beans start developing in mid August all the way until frost, and hide a treasure of beautiful tasty beans. I took this photo last October admiring the art found within the plain green seed pods. I love them!


If you go to your local garden center in spring there will be no shortage of snap peas. They come in many different shapes, sizes and habits, but more or less grow the same. While this is the least flashy of the group, they’re still a dream to grow. Snap peas can be planted out a bit earlier then the rest of your crops and come mid summer you’ll have more snap peas then you’d ever imagine. It’s a great place procrastinate by and graze, there is nothing quite as delicious as a snap pea right off the vine.

It might be a little too late to plant these now, but heed my advice, and get ready for next year. You can’t go wrong with nasturtiums, sweet peas, scarlet runners and snap peas. Easy to grow annual climbers are fun and rewarding to grow.

So it’s officially starting to feel like spring. Minus the snow warnings, people’s garden vibe is starting up for the season and now begins the madness. There’s constant planting going on at the greenhouse right now and we were planting gallon lavenders all day.

Pots into trays, pots into soil machine, lavender out of plug tray, into pot, then brought up the hill, laid down in the greenhouse and watered. Repeat x 1000.

Being a grower is a repetitive gig no matter how you look at it, I think the more I accept that fact the less frustrated I get with it all. After all is said and done it’s pretty satisfying seeing a field of freshly planted product. Wait a month or two and voila, beautiful full lavender plants ready for gardens all around Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.

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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