Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Plant Photography

Growing plants from other parts of the world is an exciting game of patience. Many plants grown from seed take a while to mature before setting bud.

I first read about Isoplexis canariensis a couple years back. Stories of an illusive Canary Island Foxglove always intrigued me. Luckily we live the modern era where one doesn’t necessarily have to travel to the location of the plant to commence one’s plant science. I eagerly placed an order on http://www.rareplants.de and shortly after received a package in the mail. I sowed the seeds in June of 2012 and have been rewarded with vibrant blooms a mere 14 months later. The whole crop started to flower mid July of this year, I suppose you could call this project a complete success. Unfortunately what does one do with 25 flowering exotic plants that no one really knows exist. These strange plants have flowered for weeks and are still creating buds. Their hardiness probably lies a great deal warmer than Victoria will offer, only time will tell.

Isoplexis growing in Victoria.
Who knew.

Canary Island Foxglove

isoplexis canariensis

isoplexis canariensis

I recently installed some incandescent Christmas lights in an effort to keep frost off my small backyard greenhouse. I’m amazed by how much heat these little bulbs give off and I really didn’t expect them to look this good either. The greenhouse ends up looking like a giant lantern and glows in the illumination of the Christmas lights. The oranges and reds of autumn really stand out in the yellow glow of these lights. As I stood outside yesterday evening admiring their glow, I found myself in one of those excellent photography moments. I ran and grabbed the camera, the air was cold and calm and i began snap photos. It was a magical 20 minutes, and I’m quite pleased with the results. I think these are some of the best plant photos I’ve taken to date. The night is kind to a plant photographer, there is less background noise and high contrast. If there was ever a time for night photography, November would be it.

Nighttime Garden Photoshoot: November 2011

Mimosa & Acer

It’s only now in November that my Acer ‘ Blood Good’ has began it’s transition to pure fire scarlet.

Billardiera longiflora is a dainty little vine from Australia, which so far proves to be hardy here in Victoria. In mid spring it has little indiscreet flowers and in late summer these cute little purple “peppers” appear. An interesting specimen for the collection.

Acer ‘Blood Good’ stretches into the darkness.

My Tetrapanax papyrifer remains untouched by the lights frosts we’ve been having. It looks majestic under such lighting.

The last remaining Physalis alkekengi fruits hanging like miniature jack o lanterns.

The Acacia pravissima stands along side the Dahlia imperialis awaiting the oncoming winter.

It took all season for this hardy fuchsia ‘Herald’ to leap into action, now it’s less then a week away from getting frosted.

Mahonia media is loving the November weather.

Considering this is a winter flowering plant, it’s flowers are as tropical looking as it gets. I love Mahonia!

This photo takes the cake for extreme foliage. Left To Right, Fatsia, Tetrapanax, Mahonia, Acer

I’ve went a little overboard this winter with the straw, everything’s tucked in for the winter.

I’m just a plant geek, with a greenhouse and a dream.

Autumn is finally upon us and summer is slowly saying goodbye. It seems like we waited forever for spring to come, and now the gardening season is nearly at it’s end. Although this will be the 26th autumn I will have experienced, it still seems to astonish me. Where did all the time go, nearly 300 days of gardening come and gone.

“I feel like a bit of a  living, breathing time machine, I blink and find myself in the future. The only problem is I can’t make it stop.”

I digress. The other day I found myself in my small greenhouse reflecting on such topics. By the time I get home, get showered and cleaned up, the sun has already faded from my back garden. I am greeted by a gentle spray of soft muted shadows and an almost instantanous calm. The garden has never looked more lush, full, and jungle like. While most gardeners live for spring’s firework display of flowering bulbs, primulas and other colorful lovelies I might be tempted to say I like late summer/autumn gardens more. The size of everything is so grandiose and developed, a 15 foot jerusalem artichoke grows more everyday. While my climate dictates that I should love plants happy in my zone, I often sway towards the tropics. These tropical tourists do much better in the heat of summer and autumn and really thrive this time of year. The only drawback to the late season garden is that is on it’s way out instead of it’s way in. Rather meaning that like a great movie you don’t want to end, it’s just matter of time before the tropical paradise fades away.

My girlfriend posing for scale under the giant jerusalem artichoke

As I sat there in the greenhouse, reflecting and generally gapping out at my cacti collection, the sun went down, and I found myself sitting in the dark at half past seven. I have been toying with the idea of  doing some night photography and this was the night that I made it happen. Plants are sometimes a difficult subject to capture. Greens on greens, deep shadows, and macro destroying breezes all stand in the way. There has been many the great plant moment that I wasn’t able to capture due to the limitations of technology. It turns out night photography of plants might be ideal, the evening offers far less distraction. I ran inside, grabbed my tripod and flashlight and off I went. Perfect black backdrops every time, it’s so simple it should have been more obvious. An hour must have passed as I looked like a total wierdo photographing plants in the dark with a flash light. My friends will NEVER understand, I’m afraid the new me is here to stay.

Now onto the photo shoot.
Night Photography of Plants: An Autumn Garden Tour.


Echeveria glauca always fascinates me.

Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ flowers are larger then most echeveria flowers. Amazing!

Euphorbia obesa looks quite alien under this setting.

This cacti is still a NOID for me (A little help!?), but I have two of them, both have spectacular blue green tattoos. I’ve been trying to photograph this one all season with no success. Night photography does a great job.

Melianthus major is a personal favorite. Peanut Butter scented leaves, spectacular blue green foliage. Easily hardy in Victoria, don’t get stressed about it dying down to the ground, it will come back. Mine survived -15 last winter and grew back completely by mid summer. A must have in next year’s garden if you don’t have one already.

The very last flowers of my Zaluzianskya capensis (Night Flowering Phlox). This plant has the most unusual lovely evening scent. A mix of almonds and baby powder, it’s flowers are closed during the day and open at night. For more information about this plant see this post.

Just another oddity hidden amongst the rest. So unusual.

With a clever lcd lighting system, a Tetrapanax papyrifer is converted into a  bizarre night light.

As always the Echium pininana is a glory hog and still holds a large pressence in the garden. What a dramatic shadow it creates. It’s top growing point has been doing unusual things the last couple weeks. Will it flower before frost? Only time will tell.

If not it’s off the greenhouse to seek refuge and warm thoughts.

A rather new addition to the garden, Beschorneria ‘Ding Dong’ otherwise known as false red yucca. Why I felt the inclination to buy more tender plants past August is beyond me. I love the agave like foliage, awaiting it’s bizarre flowers.

The Physalis alkekengi otherwise known as Chinese Lanterns is thriving. It took two years for me to get a specimen of my own. I snagged some seeds from a yard a couple years back. The plants were slow to develop in their first year but really leaped the second. These are the first lanterns I’ve got from these plants, it was worth the wait. Interesting flowers are few and far between this time of year, a welcome addition to the garden.

With autumn comes the first flush of Cyclamen hederifolium flowers. So. Nice!

There you have it. Thank you for joining me for a late night garden tour. Who says you need sunlight to appreciate a garden anyhow!?

A couple nights ago I found myself sitting in my small greenhouse appreciating my cacti collection. It’s a great place for the cacti to live, they enjoy the extra heat and seem to thrive in this environment. While the rest of my garden gets generously watered the cacti house is on a much more moderate watering regime. Behind a wall of towering scarlet runner beans, the greenhouse is a good place to take a moment out and contemplate one’s life. I’ve always been attracted to close quarters and this is a bit a small sanctuary for me, an obscure sense of privacy is obtained in a city bustling with life. While hopelessly gapping out, I found myself in the golden hour and quickly ran to grab my camera. For all you cacti and succulent fans, here’s a small peak into some of my collection.

I recently found this cacti pot at a flea market for 3 bucks. While the pot has 3 different specimens, none impressed me more then this small spike ball. So far a NOID for me, it looks somewhat like a euphorbia. Either way a nice score. 

A closer look, the needles gather water in the most unusual way.

Echeveria glauca, the first echeveria to really grab my interests, pre gardener.

The very first time I spotted one of these in flower I was smitten. This was long before I knew anything about plants, but I remember it grabbing me. It seemed so unusual, out of a hallucination or willy wonka movie. These succulents are almost anti gravityin their ability to repel water miraculously. They’re covered in a light white dust that mixes with water and creates a strange gel. I’m still unsure why they have this powder but asthetically it enhances the color of these fine plants. With that in mind I suspect it helps the plant in one way or another and shouldn’t be wiped off. Look with your eyes not your hands. A drop of water in the crown of the echeveria makes for a cheap crystal ball.

Ok just one more photo, incredible!

Upon closer inspection Agave bovicornuta has a menacing look. War scars tattoo it’s large succulent leaves, while it’s crown thorns say “No Touch”

A closer look: looks like a chainsaw blade.

Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus) is flowering again. I found this one in Feburary and it was in bud then, I’m happy to see another set of blooms in the same year. It’s loving life outside.

A closer look at it’s neon orange flowers. For more information on this plant, see a post earlier this year, Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus)

Pleiospilos nelii otherwise known as Split Rock was aquired late spring. Since then it has completed discarded it’s old fleshy body and replaced it with these new ones. It’s essentially the same size but fresh, quite strange. 

It has the strangest spotted patterns, nature is the most intricate artist. I know a pointilist that get’s hand cramps doing this kind of work.

Echeveria runyonii has similar flowers to Echeveria glauca but super sized. Outstanding.

Graptoveria paraguayense ‘Fred Ives’ has been reliably beautiful all year round, aquired from a friend last year.

As far as giant African succulents go, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is a must have. It’s doubtful I’ll ever see it flower, but regardless it has a worthwhile presence in the garden.

Euphorbia obesa also known as (baseball plant), I’ve wanted one for what seems forever. This specimen followed me home one day on an accidental nursery tour. A choice succulent.

Looking up from my greenhouse I’m pleased to see Disocactus flagelliformis (rat tail cactus) loving life in a characteristally unusual hang spot. 

After visiting the hot south I feel a bit ridiculous collecting cacti and succulents in the way I do. When you visit a tropical cacti garden and see them at truly enormous statures it makes you feel a bit silly for nursing them along in small containers. Of course this is the beauty of being a gardener in the 21st century, one has never had more access to species then right now. If I want to hang a cacti in a maple tree, then that’s my prerogative. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

It rained on Monday, actually it poured. I knew from the moment I stepped outside. The air was calm and the skies were silver, while driving to work a gentle spatter of water began to pour. I wore shorts the entire day, and although I got quite wet, it wasn’t exactly unpleasant. The rain came as quick as it went, and by 5:00pm the skies had opened up to sunshine again. Just in time to get off work.  The whole experience reminded me of hurricane season in the Mayan Riviera. Stepping out in the back the whole place glowed green. I can’t put my finger on it but plants look different after a rainstorm. There is a lushness in their leaves, the greens are deeper and unlike handwatering, nature does a thorough job. As an added bonus I get a day off watering, time I get to put towards other things. Like..? Blogging about plants? Apparently~!

The weather made for some really excellent raindrop photos. Leaves have the most unusual waterproofing, it almost defies gravity.

Raindrops on a crocosmia leaf.

Ginko Waterdrop

Sophora moisture fractal

Grass fishing rods.

Senecio water back drop.

This water droplet almost has a picture in it. Print it and frame it!

I really love this photograph, Eryngium ‘Jade Frost’. If taken out of context it reminds of some sort of intergalactic space station. Good inspiration for a painting someday.

A closer look.

Absolutely Surreal.

Enjoy the sunshine and warm weather while it lasts. Autumn’s been creeping around scaring children.

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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