Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Seeds – let the waiting begin

Today was a good day. As my time off work is quickly coming to an end I’ve found myself really appreciating the lazy dog days of December. After having a leisurely late breakfast, I spent much of the afternoon cleaning up my outdoor potting area. It’s amazing how messy the area has become, a year’s worth of frantic potting, failed seedlings, and nursery refugees can get out of hand. Why I bother to keep 400 4″ plastic pots is beyond me, maybe one day I’ll wake up from this insanity. After cleaning I rotated the compost heap and marveled in the successful process of turning food waste into black gold. Last year I threw a couple handfuls of large earthworms into the compost, this season they’ve multiplied into thousands. The center of the compost held a dense layer of wiggling worms, I have never seen more in all my life.

I know, gross, but look at all of them, and this was only one scoop.

“Quick! Honey! Grab me the camera, I’ve gotta photograph these worms!” . . . . . *blink* *blink*

In more exciting news, a plant package I had been expecting for some time now arrived at my door. As I wondered to the front of the house, I saw a post office truck parked outside, it seems he was in the process of writing me a parcel slip because I didn’t answer the door. Thrilled to have caught him before he left, I signed the the bill and grabbed my package frantically. I love receiving packages in the mail, and a plant package is even better. The order I speak of was from Absolute Cactus, a most excellent mail-order cacti and succulent nursery located in California. What’s better Diane at Absolute Cactus went through the trouble of hand-wrapping my plants for extra effect, with nice little envelopes with cultivation tips to boot. I love belated Christmas gifts.

Absolute Cactus plant order

Do I need a second Euphorbia obesa? No… Did I order one… Yes… Yes I did…

After seeking out some pots for these fine specimens (EI stealing them from bonsai’d horse chestnuts) they were potted up with fresh cacti soil, gravel and sand.

Although this Dudleya attenuata looks a bit worse for wear, I’m confident it will spring back to life. Harvested with permission from a cattle ranch in California, Dudleya attenuata are rare plants indeed. Often referred to live forever plants, this specimen is believed to be over 50 years old. Although this photo doesn’t do it justice, each echeveria-esk rosette comes out of a small woody caudex. Winter growing, Dudleyas are said to be tough plants. The one thing to keep in mind of course is not to over-water them, especially in their summer dormant period. This Dudleya had a large tap root underneath it’s caudex stem and I planted it in 50% gravel, 20% sand and 30% cacti soil, let’s see if it’s a recipe for success.

After all the excitement of my new plants this afternoon I went out for dinner at my girlfriend’s mother’s house. Salmon and scallop potatoes, and more presents, lucky me. Having just returned from a trip to South Africa, her mother and partner, got me a very nice Protea seed kit and book about Kirsten Bosch Botanical Gardens. I found this to be an incredibly thoughtful gift and I look forward to seeing if I can get them to grow.

Amazing Protea seed kit from a small South African Seed Company Fine Bush People

It’s quite a nice way to lay out seeds, and as a product it’s a real winner. They have the strangest fuzzy seeds, only time will tell if I can get them to grow. 6 new species of tender perennials to care for, ok, you guys can follow me home too.

Today was a good day.

As you may have already known, I’m a big fan of my Impatiens niamniamensis. Whilst I don’t like to play favorites, this species of impatiens really impresses me. It’s exotic flowers, strange bonsai trunk and pure exotic nature make my imagination run rampant. While I’ve often heard impatiens referred to as “Touch Me Nots” because of their exploding seed pods I’ve never actually seen it happen. The common Impatiens walleriana we grow at work don’t seem to go to seed, perhaps due to some glitch bred in during the hybridising process.

Having only had my I. niamniamensis for a little over a season and a half now this is the first year I’ve managed to get it to seed. The first year pollinators didn’t find it and most of the flowers faded off and did nothing. This season something different happened. I had originally thought that I. niamniamensis might have left it’s pollinators at home somewhere in central Africa, I was wrong.  In late summer I began to see drunk wasps crawling inside the blooms to get a taste of the inner nectar. A few weeks later seed pods started to develop and a couple days ago I found my first exploded seed pod on the floor. The seeds are made of the strangest rubbery material twisted in on itself to create a slingshot effect when disturbed.

Seed Pod

Having lost the first pod’s seeds to the floor (or who knows where) I decided to try to capture the seeds and placed a small plastic bag around the seed pod. Within 24 hours the pod had exploded and the bag had collected the seeds. Excellent! Having felt pretty happy with myself I began to tie another bag onto an almost ripe seed pod when suddenly it burst and flung it’s contents in every which direction. A small popping sound could be heard, and the tightly wound rubber pod snapped apart. The conclusion to this experiment, when the pods are ready they wait like armed grenades, ready to explode when disturbed. The slingshot effect must help the plant disperse it’s seeds great distances, thus eliminating competition for the mother plant.

I love it when plant science works out. I’ve read they’re easy enough to grow from seed so I’m going to give it a shot with the fresh ones I’ve collected.

It must have been mid May, or early June but when I first saw Gloriosa superba in bloom I was stunned. While visiting Gardenworks on a delivery the mental seed was planted and within the week a gloriosa vine was in my possession. While the price tag was a bit larger then I’d like to admit, the specimen was incredible and it’s short visit was well appreciated. Bursting forth in early spring gloriosa is best grown in a greenhouse up north, by May and June it should be in full bloom and afterwords it dies to the ground. In climates warmer then Victoria, namely it’s homeland Africa/South Asia, Gloriosa vines are said to flower all year round. Here in Victoria it only gave one loud hurrah, still it’s a worthy plant for any tropical flower junkie.

Gloriosa vines prefer rich well draining soil and like full sun. Keep them consistently wet but not soaking, I have heard that a regular cause of gloriosa disaster is overwatering. While much of my garden was needing a drink daily, my gloriosa in an 10″ pot needed it only 1/3 of the time. To be safe, let it dry between waterings, it’s not a very thirsty plant. After blooming the vines will die and can be cut down to the ground, slowly decrease watering, and put your gloriosa pot aside for the season. If you were lucky one of your gloriosa will produce a seed pod, at which point it is safe to leave it on the vine until it matures late in the season. I just cut mine down today to harvest the orange corn like seeds.

Gloriosa aren’t reliably hardy in wet cold climates and should be dug up and stored for the winter. Store in dry peat for the winter, or bring in  the whole pot and keep it in a warm dry spot. In spring pot up and gradually increase watering until you see some action. Be very careful of digging up your gloriosa tubers as they are A) poisonous and B) extremely fragile. Washing your hands after touching them and/or wearing gloves might be an idea. Late in the season Gloriosa roots are shallow at best and the safest way of removing them from the pot is by hand. Slowly digging your hands into the soil will have the best results for not breaking these strange V shaped tubers. If you’d like to double your stock feel free to break the V’s in two as long as you can see an active growing point (eye on the tuber). Dusting with sulfer (fungicide) will also increase your success.

Gloriosa seeds

Gloriosa are supposed to be quite easy to grow from seed, a 50/50 mix of peat and compost is recommended for best results. Soak seeds for 24 hours prior to sowing and place in a warm spot, planted seeds would benefit from being placed on a heating mat. Once seedlings are of a good size, move them out to their own pots. I have read that it can take up to three seasons to get a good flowering sized tuber. I will update you on my success.

In other plant related news, I have been busy all week moving plants indoors. The majority of the cacti have been brought in, a load or two to the greenhouse, and now the majority that are left are giants. Damn you Echium pinniana for being so large and grandiose, and also damn you for promising flowers on the second year but waiting til the third. Lastly damn you for being so cold sensative, and damn you for being so good looking.  I have 20 days tops to find you a warm home, I need a truck! Loree @ Danger Garden, I feel your pain.

How to Germinate Tree Peony Seeds Successfully

A couple week’s ago the tree peony seeds I planted in mid March started to poke their heads up into the summer weather. For the most part the experiment seems like a success with pretty much a 90% healthy germination rate.  Tree peony seeds have a double dormancy you have to break in order to get them to sprout properly.  Peony trees rarely grow true to seed so these seedlings are bound to be something new.

A successful process for growing tree peonys from seed:

1. Collect fresh tree peony seeds from an establish plant. Seeds are most viable when fresh off the plant, I collected mine in mid November.
2. Place your dehusked peony tree seeds in a bag of wet vermilculite, and place it somewhere warm. Then forget about them.
3. In early March I looked inside the bag of vermilculite to find handfuls of sprouted seeds. (See the post earlier this season for more info)
4. Plant up into 2″ or 4″ pots with potting soil. Plant a more then 1 seed per pot if you’d like to increase your chances of success.
5. Keep moist, not drenched, and wait. Planted the sprouted seeds at the end of March, baby trees started to pop mid July. The seed’s second dormancy takes 3-4 months to poke their heads, maybe shorter if grown in a greenhouse.
6. Once seedlings are established, pot into bigger pots, 1 & 2 gallon should work just fine.
7. Wait 2-3 years as your peony matures, flowers only appear on established plants.


Little Darmera peltata seedlings sprouted up a couple of days ago, and more are poking their heads up everyday. Let me explain how this came to be.

I first encountered Darmera peltata at the Uvic Plant Sale in early May. At the time they looked rather bland, I had no idea how amazing they would become. They were sold to me as small leafless stems of flowers in 1 gallon pots. It was coming to the end of the sale, and the lady at the table ended up giving me two specimens for the price of one. While I usually avoid duplicates in the garden, I had dreams of sprucing up my  compost heap, and this is where they ended up. I dug two large holes on the pile, filled them in with fresh potting soil and placed in the two Darmera specimens. Within a couple days they started to really take off, the flower stems elongating and expanding into quite an unsual display of flowers.

Dramera begin to flower in mid May in Victoria, leafing out in early June.

As quickly as the flowers had arrived, they were spent, the little pink flowers lost their petals and started turning into seed pods. At this point the plant began to leaf out, and by mid June had impressive dinner plate sized leaves.

While doing my regular evening walk about, I noticed the seed pods had finally finished their development. The seed pods had dried up and were ready to distribute the precious seeds within. At the time I was tired of looking at the at the dried flower stalks and found this a suitable moment to remedy my visual discomfort. I cut off the stems and shook the seed pods into my hand. I distributed some of the some extra seed on the compost heap and I took the rest to try my hand at growing more. I set up a plug tray full of fresh peat moss and scattered the seed liberally. While I’m not a fan of thinning out over seeded pots, I felt a bit pessimistic about this chore and wanted the highest chance of success. After I had sowed a full tray of seed on the top of the peat, I sprinkled a little extra peat and misted gently to soak thoroughly. From here I just let the tray be, watering daily so as to maintain moisture levels. About 2-3 weeks later the Darmera seedlings began to appear. Once they can hold their own I will prick them out into their own pots and grow them on from there. I must admit I’m thrilled by the success of this experiment, as there was very little information online about such things. Hopefully by next season I have a small army of these plants.

Darmera peltata

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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