Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Indoor Gardening / Plants


The weather is finally starting to shift. During a 90 day run of sunshine and cloud free days, I had almost forgotten about the cold and the rain. Of course It didn’t take more than a day of monsoon precipitation to refresh my memory. As I looked up at angry clouds they opened up and gave me a big wet kiss. It’s been raining steady ever since, like a flip of the switch summer is over and we’re suddenly midway through fall. October is a busy month for us on the edge gardeners, so many plants to bring in. I think many of you could agree.

Collecting plants from all over the world doesn’t come without it’s shortcomings. I’ve been quite busy sorting plants into hardiness, rarity and importance. Some plants go to the greenhouse, some into the basement under the grow light and others scattered throughout the house on windowsills. While ideally I’d bring all my plants to the greenhouse for winter storage, it’s still a work in progress. Having built it on the wettest piece of land we could negotiate we still have to work out some drainage issues. During rain like this the floor is a small series of rivers, an environment not exactly suitable for a cactus collection. Castor beans & bananas sure, but anything that needs absolute dryness is a no go.

Luckily a couple weeks ago I sensed the change in weather and got a head-start on the migration. I spent my Thanksgiving weekend washing down cacti, slowly but surely jigsawing them indoors. After what seemed like a hundred potted plants, one by one, I was exasperated.  Why did I do this to myself.  A few deep breathes, a calming of the mind, I simply keep reminding myself nothing amazing comes easy. For the many gifts of the plant collection, the juice is worth the squeeze. I should only feel so fortunate to have the resources at my disposal to continue such a grandiose collection. After 10 hours of cleaning and sorting, the majority of the cacti had made it’s way inside. Truth be told it looks pretty good too. The plants love being outside for the summer and when brought indoors present themselves as living art pieces in a man-made world.

With so many many plants in such a tight vicinity I’ve been keeping an extra eye out for pests. “Damn you dreaded mealy bug.” On tired bored evenings it’s not a strange sight to see me wondering about with a shot glass of vodka and a paintbrush, disintegrating mealy bugs before they become a problem. Once introduced to a collection it is unlikely you’ll ever be free of them again. Thoughts of a systemic insecticide crossed my mind but I don’t want to kill the beneficial insects in my collection. Upon closer observation it seems almost every potted succulent has a little spider protector living nearby. These little garden spiders have grown on me over the last couple years and I respect their choice to take refuge in and around my plants. If we work together perhaps the mealy bugs will be defeated once in for all, only time will tell.

My Stapelia collection, a personal favorite of hungry fuzzy white insects. 

At work things have slowed to a snails pace, orders are few and far between and the list of chores gets smaller and more importantly more mundane. Not that there isn’t work to be done, but now is the season for cleaning, cutting back and putting away. The rain thundered down as I cut back 4″ rumex sanguinea today. The tip, drip, drop of the rain on the greenhouse plastic reminds me of summers camping in the back orchard. For a seeker of peace, there really isn’t a better gig.

Over the past week this Ophthalmophyllum has been flowering. The bud appeared very quickly and within a week began to open. For the past 5 days it’s opened and closed mid-day, a lovely autumn curiosity.

Upon finishing my winter migration of my cacti collection I got a call I had been tentatively expecting. A fellow cactus friend of mine has sold her house and is downgrading her collection. We spent a Sunday afternoon loading up my car with many of her prized plants to live on in my care. Ah, let’s just add another 50 plants to the collection, it will be fine right?

Why do I do this to myself. The juice is worth the squeeze.

Still working on a large post about the Huntington Botanical Gardens, stay tuned and stay warm.

If you are on the Monday-Friday work week, I think you would agree with me when I say Sunday is one of the best days of the week. There’s something calming about  the last day of week. After the hustle and bustle of the work week, a regular Friday celebration and Saturday’s “appointments’, my Sundays are often free for leisure. Today I packed up the car with sandwiches and coffee and hit the road for a nice long drive. We drove up the coast of Vancouver Island and “accidentally” found ourselves doing the complete Pacific Marine Circle Route. I love driving in British Columbia, you’re always only a stone’s throw away from some of the lushest old growth forests in the world. It was a rainy afternoon but we made the best of it, we stopped at a couple beaches and collected beach rocks for the garden. Afterwords we went straight through Port Renfrew, over to Lake Cowichan and back home to Victoria. The forests were lush and covered in moss and throughout the drive we’d hit patches of fog so thick you could barely see in front of you. Driving up through these coastal forests you’re quickly reminded that we live in a temperate rain-forest, the flora is almost tropical in it’s abundance and vigor. Sadly no photos due to a forgotten memory card, you never notice until it too late.

Coming home I found myself toying around with my indoor collection and it seemed as good a time as any to do some documenting. The plant’s are looking remarkably well and it seemed selfish not to share their beauty with my fellow plant geeks. The majority of the succulents and cacti are loving their artificial home, the grow light helps them forget that they’re living in a cement basement. Still I can’t wait till it’s warm enough for them to go outside, they look better under natural daylight.

At a glance.

I acquired this Mitrophyllum grande in September at the Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society sale. Winter growing,  it’s texture is reminiscent of hardened gelatin, it’s a strange specimen indeed.

Agave bracteosa is enjoying the glow of the grow light. I love it’s unusual twisted tips, I’m excited to grow this on to a large specimen size.

I’m still new to growing mesembs and this is the survivor of the two conophytums I acquired earlier in 2011. Much like lithops they require practically no water at all in the winter, over caring for these plants will surely lead to failure. I haven’t watered this one in over a month and I suspect it’ll be a while yet before it gets a drink. Besides overwatering, mesembs also seem sensitive to light changes, and I lost one due to a grow light failure. Keep things consistent.

One of the Pseudolithos migiurtinus I received earlier this month. While it’d be easy to omit my failure it’s larger mate died a week after planting. One afternoon I noticed it looked a bit spotted in color and as I poked it to see how it was doing, my finger went right through it. Rot had set in. I’ve read these can be difficult to cultivate but I had hoped to keep it alive a bit longer then a week. While this might have been a watering mistake I’m going to blame it on shipping stress and leave it at that. So far this one looks healthy enough, let’s hope for the best.

The cuttings I ordered from Paul Shirley Succulents have almost all taken root, this Huernia zebrina is showing strong new growth.

My Monadenium ritchiei doesn’t seem to notice it’s living indoors, it’s currently in the midst of a second wave of new leaves.

I love this cactus! Astrophytum asterias otherwise known as a sand dollar cactus is living artwork.

The Dudleya attenuata I received in late December is recovering from it’s shipping stress and is looking better everyday.  This one is thought to be between 50-100 years old.

A Lophophora williamsii that has been in the family for at least 10 years was looking pretty miserable when I first got my hands on it. After a season outdoors in the greenhouse and a long winter under the grow light, it’s looking quite happy now.  Known to be extremely slow growing, it’s interesting to watch it progress. It’s definitely plumped up since I first got it, and a closer inspection shows some new offsets forming from the rear. I enjoy growing plants with magical properties even though I have no intention in dabbling in such things. It adds to the story and lore, it’s fascinating to grow plants that have such history connected to their cultivation.

Pilea peperomioides otherwise known as a Chinese dollar plant is an unusual addition to one’s indoor collection. While it may have had it’s time in the spotlight I’ve never seen one of these for sale in or around Victoria. The plant itself holds an interesting story about it’s cultivation and is known to have been passed around Europe for it’s ease of propagation. Every once in a while a new offset pokes up which makes it a very easy plant to give away to friends. I let them collect every year until fall then separate them from the mother. This season I have 5 extras if any of you plant nerds would be interested? To read the whole story on Pilea peperomioides click here, it’s a good read.

Did I mention I love Pseudolithos Migiurtinus. “Please don’t die”

I bought 16 ornithogalum longibracteatum seedlings almost a year ago and only now are they really starting to thrive. This one in particular seemed to outshine the rest and has put out a dense tangle of lush foliage. Striving for natural light it threw out a flower stalk that is almost a metre long (seeking the small window in the basement). At the tip a complex inflorescence of delicate white flowers formed.

The flower stalk has been forming since mid November. It’s been flowering for a while now and looks like it still has a long while to go.

Winter blooms keep a gardener alive in the barren wasteland that is winter.

Another specimen I’ve yet to share with you is this unusual Tradescantia noid. It shares similarities to the common house plant,  wondering jew. it’s leaves are uniquely spotted and so far it’s almost always in flower.

It’s flowers are a welcome reminder of a more tropical existence. What an amazing design, the color is calming and I enjoy it’s strange stigmas.

Let’s take a closer look…. Fascinating!

Last but not least, my latest plant hoarding. While driving down the highway homeward bound I couldn’t resist the urge to stop into Dinters just outside of Duncan. Being early in the season there wasn’t a whole lot going on, still they had an interesting assortment of indoors. A few pots in particular grabbed my eye, this yellow barrel cactus, Echinocactus grusonii is nearly the size of a small watermelon. For my readers in the south I’m sure you come across this kind of thing regularly, but let me tell you, you don’t see large cacti for sale up here in Canada. Whatever I ended up paying for it, it seemed a bargain for such an old, large specimen. I placed the keys near it for perspective. This will add an exotic look to the garden next summer.

Thanks for stopping by, enjoy your Monday.


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.