Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Specimen Photos

I love cyclamen.

It all started a couple years ago when my girlfriend brought me a small tuber from the garden she was working at. It was September at the time and the plant was in full bloom. Just a large mushroom looking thing, with little pink flowers limply hanging off.  Soon after being planted, the cyclamen perked up and put on a show that carried on right until first frost. From there the flowers faded and the leaves emerged. While initially it was the florescent blooms that attracted me to this plant, it’s leaves are equally as alluring. These highly ornamental leaves hold on right until the weather starts getting warm at which point the plant goes dormant and awaits cooler weather.

cyclamen hederifolium

They’re truly a pleasure to grow and if you have more then one variety in the garden you’ll likely see some hybrids appear. Seedlings are slow to start but spread they will. I’ve had them in my garden for nearly 5 years now and I’m just starting to accumulate a population . Ants and birds distribute the seed throughout the garden and seedlings appear in the strangest places. There seems to be a great deal of variability in their leaf design and flower color, each with their own personality and uniqueness. For those of you wanting to share cyclamen with your friends, look towards your oldest plants and take a peak under the leaves in early springtime. While creatures may distribute much of the seed, the majority end up self sowing right at the base of the plant. With a still hand you can gently prick these seedlings away from their mother and pot them on elsewhere. Using this method I was able to collect over 100 seedlings this spring with great success.

cyclamen hederifolium seedlings
Little cyclamen seedlings

While I mostly grow Cyclamen hederifolium (the hardiest) there are over 20 species to try; most native to the Mediterranean region. The more I study these plants the more ingenious they appear. Cyclamen thrive at a time of year when most plants are winding down. As the trees loose their leaves, the cyclamen flush out and capitalize on the newly available light. As summer rolls around and water demands are more dire, cyclamen close up shop and rest until things are more favorable. They are survivors and they owe it all to the strange tuber like storage organ they’ve adapted to survive when times are unfavorable.

Cyclamen hederifolium

This brings me to the reason why I’m talking about cyclamen today, their tubers. On Sunday I was toiling about in the garden in my usual fashion when I went to re-pot a newly acquired cyclamen that wasn’t doing so well. When I took it out of the pot it fell clean. It appears that it wasn’t growing poorly but actually going dormant for the summer season. Until now I’ve never really taken a good look at these tubers in their entirety and upon closer speculation I was blown away. As if this plant wasn’t cool enough, even their unseen tuber hide a secret beauty.

Cyclamen tuber

cyclamen tuber

cyclamen tuber

Cyclamen tuber

You can find art in the strangest places.

Ok let’s break down to some serious plant geekage here. Not all will be able to appreciate this argument but for those who do. Kudos.

Are Sanguinaria & Jeffersonia related to each-other?

Last year having noticed two spring ephemerals emerge & flower at the same time I combined them into the same pot for further research. Watching these two pop up this spring it’s remarkable how similar they are in habit, growth and flowering. The nomenclature  has them listed as different genus’s but are they actually the same?

sanguinaria canadensis
Jeffersonia diphylla emerging March 10th

Sanguinaria canadensis emerging March 10th

Let’s look at the facts. (care of wikipedia) for the proper breakdown of the family bloodline.

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Berberidaceae
Genus: Jeffersonia


Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Papaveraceae
Genus: Sanguinaria

Admittedly once their leaves mature they’re distinctly different, but the new shoots & flowers are so similar I don’t know what to make of it. I’m not exactly a scientist but there has to be something to these distinct similarities. It’s like looking at brothers in a family portrait.

sanguinaria canadensis flowers
Sanguinaria canadensis

Jeffersonia diphylla flower
Jeffersonia diphylla

When you see the buds of these plants emerge be sure to pay attention as they last little more than a couple days. As if sitting there only by good grace, a single raindrop or brush of your hand and off come the petals, blinked and missed until next year.

Spring ephemeral
spring ephemeral

What do you think?

After a long day of sleeping on windowsills, grooming and hunting mice; there is no better way to unwind than a little taste of Nepeta catarina. This strange plant in the mint family has the strangest effect on the feline persuasion. My friend collects the flower buds at the end of the season and this is where the best cat nip is derived. When cat’s sense the bruised leaves of this plant they begin to act erratic; often licking and rolling on the ground. Not all cat’s are affected but for those who are, they’re quite tuned to it’s presence. I once spotted a hanging basket at a dinner party and teared a small piece off between my fingers. Within 5 minutes, a small group of neighborhood cat’s were rambling about, acting totally intoxicated. A great party trick and always entertaining.

Give it a try sometimes; but in moderation of course. Friends don’t let friends drive home on the nip.

Cat Nip

Cat on catnip



Hello plant people

It’s been a tad longer than I had expected, time flies when you’ve got your hands elbow deep in soil. I’ve been planting like crazy trying to take advantage of all this incredible spring energy. The season is starting a little earlier this year and the plants are just loving it. As to tempt the fates let me brag a little more about how frost free my back garden has been this season, it’s almost subtropical. Aeoniums growing outdoors, an echium stands proud at nearly 12 feet; perhaps climate change isn’t so bad after-all.

From the still moments of winter emerges a fury of activity. It’s finally March and it’s time to get out there and get your hands dirty. I decree it’s a prime season to do some gardening! Although heavy with rain, a pineapple express has been gusting through our island bringing in the most amazing warm temperatures. The other morning I was opening up my greenhouse to the the sounds of birds singing, a crisp freshness in the air, it’s serenity was absolute. I love my job.

Today I took some time away from the greenhouse and garden and hiked out in East Sooke Park. Would you believe it’s the first time I’ve been out there? I’ve lived in Victoria for almost 7 years now and still haven’t explored Aylard’s farm, for shame. Through raindrop and mud puddle my girlfriend and I spent an wet afternoon exploring beaches and salal meadows.  The lush temperate rain-forests prevalent on the coast of BC resemble a jungle-like setting a lot more than I often give credit. The place was absolutely bursting with life. With all the Skunk cabbage, sedums, orchids and lichen, you couldn’t imagine a place with more wild lushness. Sometimes I’m blind and nearly daft to how much diversity we have in our forests, but take a closer look, it’s picture perfect.

Oceanfront trees are naturally shaped and bonsai

Oceanfront trees are naturally shaped and bonsai

Anyhow onto the topic at hand, Sedum spathulifolium. Just because I can’t make it to the deserts of the Baja or jungles of South America, doesn’t mean I can’t do a little plant exploring here at home. It’s no surprise to anyone on the coast that Sedum spathulifolium can be found pretty much anywhere moss grows comfortably. Often growing on exposed rock amongst the moss and lichens, this horticultural favorite grows effortlessly in some pretty obscure locations. It’s drought tolerant and changes colors depending on it’s growing conditions. The flowers in the spring are a electric yellow and suddenly succulent hillsides glow gold for a months on end. From the very first moment I encountered sedums I was in love. While some plant’s loose their luster over the years I still can’t help but stand and admire whenever I come across them.

Now for sedums in the wild.

Fields of SedumIMG_7165IMG_7155IMG_7152IMG_7148IMG_7145IMG_7141IMG_7247IMG_7231IMG_7228IMG_7212IMG_7209IMG_7208Wall of SedumIMG_7201IMG_7194IMG_7191aIMG_7191Lichen growing on rocksLichen

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia)

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia)

Beautiful British Columbia. Mother Nature has got me beat again. . .

Until next time.

The days are getting shorter, the weather wetter and like it or not, winter – IS – coming. Nothing makes you miss a summer vacation to a hot cactus wonderland like a couple weeks of good old fashioned British Columbia rain and gray. Let’s take a moment to forget the wet boots and mud puddles and reminisce of warmer days.

Add this one to your bucket list if you have a fascination in exotic plants, The Huntington Botanical Gardens is truly a national landmark. Famous for it’s large amassment of established rare flora, the garden has one of the finest collections of outdoor cacti in the world. Beyond succulents, the property also has many other incredible plant collections organized into over a dozen specialized gardens. Wander through a lush bamboo forest into a dry Australian prairie, up through a Camellia forest and across a bridge to the Japanese Gardens. Whether you’d like to visit a cloud forest in a glasshouse, indoor bog or art museum, anyone with good taste will find satisfaction in a trip to this awe inspiring location.

To start off I’ll share some of the photos I took in the succulent gardens. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my entire life.

Upon entering you’re greeted by agaves and aloe trees.

Large Agave attenuata in a sea of Aeoniums

In Canada we grow our aloes in terracotta pots, here they grow as big as trees.

This euphorbia was well over 15 feet tall.

A large Pachypodium (madagascar palm) in flower.

While my Cyphostemma juttae grows painfully slow, this one looks better than ever. I love fat plants.

Speaking of fat plants, Tylecodon paniculatus.

More aloes that rival small trees.

Large euphorbia.

A favorite of many caudiciform collectors, one of the largest Dioscorea elephantipes in cultivation.

Gnarly caudex.

A twisted labyrinth of cacti and succulents.

The geometric shapes of euphorbia never cease to amaze.

I was happy to have encountered this clump of Haworthia forming these incredible emerald hills.

It looks as though these notocactus leninghausii are looking at someone. Is it something I said?

I’ve never seen so many specimen worthy succulents all packed into on location. This shot reminds of me a Richard Scarry picture.

A rather charming clump of a personal favorite, Parodia magnifica.

Oreocereus celsianus.

Mammillaria geminispina

Impressive clumps of Echinocereus grusonii were abundant throughout the garden.

Although not exactly rare in cultivation, the size of these clumps is certainly impressive.

Need I say more?

Mammillaria compressa looks good on it’s own.

..but looks better in mass.

This one looks well defended.

Don’t touch.

There were also abundant large specimen agave in all shapes and sizes.

Lovely spiky rosettes.

An oldgrowth Queen Victoria Agave.

Please note the large agave bloom spike center stage.

They just grow bigger down here.

Field of echeveria

Aeonium cristate


A towering yucca tree in bloom under the hot Californian sun.

Knobby Cactus. (ID PLEASE)

Fresh from Mars, they’ve landed.

Speaking of knobby cacti check out this impressive Lophocereus schottii var. monstrose.

…And now for some flowers

Stapelia gigantea in bloom, mind the odor and take it from me, do not get down on your knees and take a big whiff. You might want to eject your lunch, they don’t call it a carrion flower for nothing.

Aloe blooms.

Whew. Are you’re legs sore? Hearts warmed? Heat Stroked and Sun Burnt? No… Oh wait, we’re still in Canada aren’t we.

Theres no place like good old wet home.

Thanks for joining me on this tour, and thank you Huntington Gardens for preserving such an incredible destination. Stay tuned for more photos of other parts of the Huntington Gardens.


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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