Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Plant Collecting / Hoarding

Over the winter months I met a local cacti collector who is in the midst of reducing the size of their collection. While spring plant sales are a lot of fun, nothing is more exciting then viewing and aquiring plants from a private collection. On Sunday I paid her a visit and she shared some really incredible specimens with me.

The latest plant hoarding: “I can’t stop.”

Sedum hintonii (syn. Sedum mocinianum), Echeveria van keppel, Rhasalis pilocarpa, A NOID Stepelia,  astrophytum senile, noid agave, Euphorbia obsesa, Euphorbia stellispina, and a 65-80 year old Echinopsis!

I had a really great visit, saw some great specimens, and left with this amazing lot. A great big thank you for sharing these old-growth beauties with me, I’m looking forward to having them in my care and watching them grow.

A closer look.

Notocactus sp. What an unusual form.

I have a nice collection of steplia growing in the basement, but they’re still young and unestablished. I’m hoping this one to be a bit more impressive this season.

A young noid agave, what can I say, they’re a personal favorite. Any ideas?

I have a hard time saying no to any Euphorbia obesas I come across.  So cool, I need more, 3 isn’t enough!

Another interesting Euphorbia, E. stellispina.

A 31 year old Astrophytum senile, half the size of a football. Gnarly and showing it’s age, it’s quite an incredible specimen. I’m only 27, this cactus has got me beat.

Also a small rooted cutting labeled Sedum hintonii.  Further reading online says that it might be Sedum mocinianum, the main difference being the way it flowers. We shall see. I’m extra pleased about this one.

Onto the most exciting plant find of all my plant hoarding, a 65-80+ year old white flowering echinopsis. I’m absolutely floored about this one. Gnarly but vigorous, this cacti is older then myself, my parents, and was around when my grandmother was a toddler. It could have lived through two world wars, and has seen nations rise and fall. What an amazing find, it’s got the strangest presence.

Even at this old age, it produces fresh pups. Looking deeper into it’s soil, it’s growing almost entirely in gravel and has only had one drink all winter. Hardened off, it now lives outside. I can’t help but to stare at it for the time being.

It’s base shows the wrinkles of an old man, it’s glochids dried up but still effective. Still on seemingly dead wood, the pups grow effortlessly. I can’t wait to see if it flowers this summer.

I’m a happy camper, and so are the plants in my garden. The long days at the nursery have taken their toll on me and I’ve been finding it hard to keep up with this writing. Alas with all these incredible plant events, I feel it’s my duty to share. Here’s a quick photo roll of some of the more interesting things happening in the garden.

I recently planted my echium out, the weather has been mild, and the tropicals are ready to escape their plastic home.

Another angel of the the exotic bed.

My Cardiocrinum giganteum has nearly doubled in size, you can almost see it grow. Looks like we’ll be seeing flowers shortly.

The Japanese azalea seem early this year, what a great pop of spring color!

I didn’t have much luck overwintering my last echium so this one escapes it’s pot and goes straight into the ground. No point in worrying about it’s potential overwintering indoors if it’s going to die anyway. You live here until you don’t. Let’s see a bloom spike!

Melianthus major has some incredible spring colors right now. If you haven’t grown this plant before and see one in a spring planting give it’s leaves a little brush. It’s strangely peanut butter scented.

The Mimulus dentatus (Coast Monkey Flower) planted underneath the scopolia carniolica worked out rather nicely.  I wonder if this combination has been done before… I love monkey flowers, you never loose with mimulus!

I looked down to see this great combination of spring folaige, knipofia, actea, impatiens and wasabia.

Jeffersonia diphylla & Sanguinaria canadensis.

The fresh growth on a Rhodocoma capensis (African restio) which seem to overwinter well here in Victoria.

A Lewisia succulent bowl I put together last spring, that actually still looks nice a year later. WIN!

On the topic of lewisia, here’s a rare white Lewisia in flower. Out of the 300-500 lewisia we grow at the nursery every year, I only ever see 1-3 white ones per season in the mix. This one accidently followed me home.

The Podophyllum peltatum (North American Mayapple) are growing at an incredible rate and this year I have 2 more shoots then last. Looks like a happy podo.

Another podophyllum started poking it’s head up recently, P. hexandrum (Himilayan May Apple). This one was underpreforming in it’s old spot and ended up in this terracotta pot for future traveling ease.

I might have convinced my boss to give me a couple of his Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’ seedlings. Excellent!

Androsace sempervivoides is budding and flowering

My girlfriend got cute with some saxifraga cuttings I rooted, it makes for a neat effect. Feng shui?

Abutilon megapotamicum has also returned to the garden. Suspect borderline hardy, I just didn’t have the heart to risk it. The greenhouse has treated it well this season.

A fury of spring stardust. Heuchera micrantha amongst other hybrid heuchera, cyclamen and hepaticas. The life of a plant collector ain’t so bad.

Thanks for stopping by. Almost through the busy season, wish me luck.

Originally I wanted to write a post marking the beginning of spring plant hoarding, but then I realized, who am I kidding. I started months ago, or never stopped, every months means more plants in my collection. I love growing new plants, the fascination never ceases to please. New species and new varieties,  plants are a dangerous subject matter for the collecting type. I’d love to boast about discretion but this is something I know very little about. I’d love to say that I at least keep it to one of each, but then I’d also be lying. Really, what self respecting plant geek could pass up an in flower Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ for $10.00. Even if they already had one at home, I think not, “this one’s coming home with Nat.” While one might suggest caution for fear of one’s wallet being emptied I argue that plants are one of the best things you could treat yourself to, surely a better investment then a burger and a beer. Assuming you don’t murder your newly collected plant, they often maintain their value, if not increase as they mature. Tis the life of a king to witness plants bloom from far away lands, I care not for high definition graphics, but more about the crisp beautiful simplicity of an unfurling leaf. Plant collecting is indeed a pleasure.

A white form of Arisaema griffithii. I bought two corms last year but only one bloomed last season. This one came up white, while it’s brother is rich dark chocolate. A pleasant surprise that I don’t think was necessarily intentional when they were packaging the corms. I’ll count this one as a win. 

I love where plant hoarding has taken me, and in time my plant identification has made it even more fun. Often the strangest and the rarest go unlabeled, most exotic nurseries have some gems tucked away for a keen eye. A seemingly dull plain leafy looking plant could be much more amazing if you know the story behind it. Treasure lies for those in the know, make an effort to know your nurseryman for the best selection in town. Be a good customer, support your local nurseries and express a sincere interest. The majority of people running nurseries are in it for the same reason as you are, because they love plants. Given a chance many will share a wealth of information, a resource that should be utilized when the opportunity presents itself. There’s no shame in not knowing the growing conditions of a certain plant, spare yourself the trial and error and ask for some suggestions from someone who’s been there, done that.

The strange leafless blooms of darmera peltata

All rants aside, I’ve been working a lot lately and in turn, have felt an exaggerated need to treat myself with new planty goodness. A quick peak into my latest lack of discretion.

As weather gets more accommodating, now begins the long migration of plants from the greenhouse, to my garden.  A little old mixed in with the new.

Why do plant bloggers love posting pictures of their cars loaded with plants? I know what you’re thinking, did I really need 10 more trachycarpus fortunei. The answer is, yes.

I’m a little embarressed in that I had only intended in taking a peak. Oh well…

I found a very good deal on an exceptionally root-bound pot of Asparagus meyeri, otherwise known as a foxtail fern. Had to give this one a try.

A Tropaeolum tuberosum I started as a peanut sized tuber under lights this winter has grown into a large sprawling vine in only a couple months. A bizarre edible crop, this hardy nasturtium produces tubers said to have a strong peppery taste. I’ll let you know as things progress.

An extremely well established unidentified exotic ginger.

I visited at the right time to witness this Azara lanceolata in full wondrous flower. Another Chilean oddity, this strange tree grows on wet marshy hillsides and produces these amazing vanilla scented flowers. Another reminder to visit your local nurseries frequently so you can see their selection of plants at different times of the year.

The flowers of Azara lanceolata are reminiscent of an acasia tree, but almost more delicate. Even though I don’t have a strong sense of smell, the aroma is intoxicating.

While I’ve only recently learned it’s name, this plant has been on my wish list long before I knew much at all. I first spotted it at a botanical garden in Gottingen, Germany, this Phytolacca americana intrigues me. Known as a weed to some, our northern climate keeps these at bay, pink hued flowers that eventually mature into an ornamental pillar of black berries. So Strange.

Last but not least, I need a little help here.

Is this a Drimia maritima (syn. Urginea maritima)? The nursery had a small stock of them but no one has a solid ID.

If it is, I’ve been trying to seek one of these out for almost 2 years now, often being thwarted by it’s lack of availability and heavy cost of shipping. If it’s not what I think it is, either way I’m thrill, it’s a beautiful plant. After this photo I repotted it and exposed the bulb, lined it with beach rocks in a nice new ceramic pot, it’s a show worthy piece. More photos as soon as I can.

This wasn’t all that I collected this day, but it is as much as I’m willing to document at the moment. The others, while amazing finds, aren’t photogenic quite yet, and will be saved for another day.

Thanks for joining me.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Syn Dicentra spectabilis)

Arisaema griffithii still creeping out the joint.

Ornamental strawberry? What’s the point. Fragaria x ananassa ‘Pink Panda’

Maybe really neat. Fragaria x ananassa ‘Pink Panda’

The shade of a bamboo patch.

Echium pininana round two.

And if that doesn’t work out, I’ve got about 20 of each variety popping. One of these seedlings has got to make me proud.


Hello plant people

I hope you’ve been enjoying the spring weather, even if it’s a bit rainy here and there, I’m glad to have the light evenings, and so does the garden. This weekend I made it to Saltspring Island to visit my parents, and wouldn’t you have guessed it, I made time to visit a couple nurseries while I was there. If you haven’t been to Fraser Thimble Farms before, make sure you make time for a visit next time you’re on the island. While I’ve often taken this stop somewhat for granted, Fraser Thimble is coveted throughout Canada and even the USA for it’s amazing selection of rare, native and strange plants. I love visiting in spring, there’s so much to see, and at this time of year it’s worth visiting every couple weeks if you have a chance. I put my discretion shield on full blast but was quickly defeated and left with much more then I expected to. It’s spring after-all, the most dangerous time for a plant hoarder to venture into strange and unusual nurseries/ I didn’t stand a chance. But how could you, with such an incredible variety of the weird plants. A quick look at this week’s bounty.

I’ve been lusting after Cardiocrinum giganteum from the very first moment I heard about them. A cold hardy lily that can grow and flower up to 10 feet tall, how could anyone resist. It often takes up to 7 years or longer for the bulb to reach flowering size,  after blooming the main bulb dies but it’s offsets take it’s place. In time if you get an established community of these bulbs, blooms could be a frequent event. The foliage is remincient of giant cabbage, or even a philodendrom, for it’s foliage alone this plant has merit in the garden.

Richard at Fraser Thimble suspects this specimen to be around 9 years old. Considering it’s size this early in the season, we think it’ll flower this year. A tip from the grower suggests regular feeding during it’s growing season to encourage offset formation. This one already has a couple pups and looks healthy and vigorous, it had to come home with me. Prices range all over the map for Cardiocrinum giganteum and availability is limited. If you ever encounter a good deal one these, don’t pass it up.

Once you collected one Farfugium you’ll need to have more. I’ve had my eye on this Farfugium japonicum ‘aureomaculatum’  for some time now, and this one’s electric tie dyed leaves never cease to amaze me. Established clumps look like a lightning bolt bush. Once grouped into the genus ligularia the insignificant daisy like flowers are similar but farfugium has it’s own distinct look. Enjoys a constantly moist well drained medium and wilts, but survives full sun and drought amazingly well. For best results a little dappled shade would go a long way. Stunning!

An impulse buy on the way out, this giant foot ball sized Colocasia esculenta. I’ve always admired the large Colocasias you see in grandiose botanical gardens, this large root promises such a dream.

Planted in a large pot with good drainage, this one lives in my cold frame in the back. I’m excited to see what comes of it. Grower suggests to leave dry from October until April of every year, these large tubers are more prone to rot then smaller varieties and will benefit from a dry dormant period. I’ll keep you updated!

A Crinum powellii bulb for $7.50 also snagged me at the cash register. Although you see these growing in Victoria Crinums are practically unavailable at garden centers in the area. This one promises to be a real beaut.

A strange shrub from China, Helwingia chinensis also grabbed my attention at the very last moment. I know very little about it, but look forward to seeing what it has to offer.

Spring is here… What a relief.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly would know that I’ve been on a bit of a mail-order plant binge. Earlier this week the pair of Pseudolithos migiurtinus I ordered arrived. A couple days later another package arrived containing a Mirabilis jalapa and a new NOID species of plectranthus from Kenya. Amongst the new plants a small packet of tropical impatiens seeds also arrived, I. grandis and I. mengtszeana. I can’t wait! The best gifts are the gifts you give to yourself.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the trade of the Internet, the selection is vast and the customer service is superb. It’s strange to be a part of a global community in which all walks of life can meet together, discuss and trade ideas. A quick sign into paypal and a cactus can be flown in from Thailand. Connecting with specialized hobbyists from all over the world is a real asset, it skips the hopeless store clerks and connects you with the grower and/or collector. While the Internet is somewhat anonymous in nature it provides you with an amazing opportunity to connect directly with who you want to speak with.

While I spent much of the spring through summer visiting nurseries on the island, the internet’s ease of use and unsurpassed variety gives local businesses a run of their money. While it will still be a long while yet before you can order your pansies and petunias online, the search for the rare and the unusual might be best fulfilled in this medium.

The Latest Plant Order Feb 2012:
As per usual I like to do some research about the plants I’m acquiring and I figured I’d share the information with you.

Photo borrowed with admiration from The Vancouver Seed Bank

Sceletium tortuosum
Another South African mesemb that is by no means new in the botanical world. Cultivated in Europe for over 300 years, it forms a low growing succulent mound much like a delosperma. The main notes given for cultivation pertains to over-watering, and if in doubt, don’t. Over-watering creates weak growth and messes with the natural cycle of the plant. Recently this plant has been getting a lot of attention in the medical world for it’s possible anti depressant qualities. Hunters and shamens used to consume it to reduce stress and anxiety and create a feeling of euphoria.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Cactus Blog

Avonia quinaria

It’s becoming more and more apparent that South Africa is the motherland for strange and unusual plants. Avonia, a diminutive genus native to the Namaqualands of South Africa is another caudex forming succulent with lovely strange planty tentacles. Important cultural notes list that it needs a winter rest period and is deciduous so one shouldn’t be stressed when it looses it’s foliage in the winter. Avonia’s set seed on their own and don’t need a mate, so maybe I’ll be able to grow my own next season.

Photo borrowed with admiration from The Pacific Bulb Society

Boophane heamanthoides seedling
I’ve had my eye on acquiring one of these for quite some time now, but they don’t exactly show up everyday. Sacred succulents had some seedlings listed and I figured that might be the best way to give them a try. While it might not flower for a couple years I will get to see the whole developmental process while forgoing the impatient task of watching seeds sprout. The foliage alone is equally as interesting as the blooms, a wavy spur of tropical loveliness. It is said these are an old lived species indeed living well over 100 years old, if my children end up being plant nerds perhaps they’ll end up with this in their collection as a heirloom. The bulbs grow to an incredible size and is said best to grow in a mostly sand based medium in a deep but not necessarily wide pot. From seedling it might take up to 15 years to flower, but I suspect with my usual over caring it will speed along a bit faster. I’m all too excited to give this one a shot.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Cactus Art

Maihuenia poeppigii
A spiky mat forming succulent from Chile & Argentina. I first saw this on the Chiltern Seeds website, then again on Gerhard’s blog  Bamboo and More. What a strange specimen. Noted to be remarkably cold hardy (down to -20 if kept dry) Maihuenia grow at high elevations. If the temperature is sporadic consider treating it with a systemic fungicide to prevent possible rot. Apparently this can be grown much like sempervivums with very little soil whatsoever.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Raziel on mycotopia.net

Delosperma bosseranum
As I first began my journey into plant geektom delospermas always appealed to me. Hardy mesembs that grow in our outdoor gardens, it can’t get any better. This species of delosperma is a bit more unusual then your everyday delo and in time grows a tuberous caudex. Commonly known as the Madagascar Ice Plant it seems this specimen will be best suited for bonsai succulent pots. Plant as you would any other succulent in a well draining medium, be careful not to let dry out for any lengths of time.

It seems the Pseudolithos migiurtinus I ordered earlier this month have finally arrived.  I’m really starting to enjoy mail-order plant hunting. Unusual specimens from far out lands, quite often at a bargain you can’t find at home. I like supporting local business, but who’s growing Pseudolithos in town? Not me… Not yet…  After successfully ordering a Miracle fruit tree from Thailand a couple months ago, I thought it’d try it again with these little guys. So far so good, and this one even had free certification.

Getting plants in the mail is the most satisfying gift to yourself.

I’ve been reading about Pseudolithos for quite some time now and I’ve been biding my time to get my hands on one. This auction came up with a set of two for $15.00 US plus shipping. Seemed a bargain to me, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

They arrived in near immaculate condition, being in transit for over 3 weeks, these guys are a long way from home.

While these photos were taken in a bit of an excited rush, you get the gist of why these plants are so cool. Much like a lithops but totally unrelated, these plants look like living rocks. In time they send out the strangest stepalia-esk stinky flowers and look like eggs from mars. Cultural requirements can be a bit difficult to replicate, but I’m hoping for the best. They enjoy regular watering, but like to dry out in between, and lots of light and heat. Improper care will turn them into expensive mush. I’ve read they grow well under lights on a heating pad, so that’s where they ended up. I’ll update you all in a couple weeks once they get “plugged in”.

Ordering plants online is easy, and if you live in the same country as where the grower lives, even easier. One must be careful about ordering  plants on eBay as sometimes vendors pray on your lack of information. I’ll be nice today and not name any names, but there are lots of vendors selling “rare” plants that are actually pretty common. A couple vendors in particular have learned how to market their less then rare specimens into something much bigger and better. As I learn more about the sliding scale of rarity these plants hold it’s laughable to think people are paying what they do. Type in rare plants into eBay and you’ll get quite a list, little did you know they sell the same thing down the street for a fifth of the price. Rookie mistake Mr nobody. Before buying expensive rare plants on eBay, do your research, scour the Internet and learn more about what your buying. A lot of off the beaten path online mailorder nurseries will ship to you for a whole lot less. Make sure you don’t get caught up in the excitement of the auction, keep an eye out for a good deal, and bid late not early. I don’t like to let my intentions known until 30 seconds to closing.

To all my great plant geeks, a link to my latest favorite weird succulent vendor. Visit ccts-crazy‘s online store. But first! Hide your credit card…. :)

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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