Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

The Best Plants

Weeks are certainly disappearing quick this time of year. So much sunshine, gardening and plants.

As per usual, the last couple weeks have been heavy in plant projects. The heat of the summer awakens the thirst in the plants. Between the garden in the back and the greenhouse at work, I spend most of my time waving around a hose. The plants are voracious in their thirst, and I can’t bare to see them crisp into oblivion. So far so good, but the summer is still underway. In all this watering I spend a lot of time staring at the plants, and some days I’m just down right astonished in how cool some of them are. To keep things simple today I thought I’d highlight three plants that I’m impressed with at the moment. While the Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ bloom their heart out, and Dahlia ‘Bishop of llandlaff’ can’t help but to impress, I thought I’d try to highlight a couple oddities you’re less likely to have blooming right now.

Let’s begin!

Iochroma australis

This rarely grown South American exotic is a real pleasure to grow. Distantly related to a brugmansia, Iochroma has diminutive purple frilled flowers and sticky leaves much like a nicotiana. Unlike it’s brugmansia relative, Iochroma isn’t a spider mite magnet and seems to fair well against this annoying summer pest. Flowering from mid summer until frost, I took my cutting from a specimen planted in a sheltered location outdoors in Victoria. This of course meaning, it’s significantly more hardy then most sources list, the specimen in question must have survived the -16 frost of the winter before last. Having taken a cutting from a tree a little taller then myself, it rooted with ease, and a year later my plant is a foot and a half tall covered in flowers. Honestly it’s a wonder this plant isn’t more commonly available with how easy it is to propagate, and the ease of it’s culture. Regular water, sun to partial shade and some light winter protection and you should have no problem whatsoever. It’s decicucious if left outdoors in the winter, with a little extra drainage and protection from heavy winds you too might be able to grow this plant outdoors in Zone 8.

Zaluzianskya capensis ‘Night Flowering Phlox’ (zal-oo-zee-AN-skee-uh)

What more do you say about a plant like Zaluzianskya capensis then amazing. Another cool plant from South Africa, Zaluzianskya capensis (What were they thinking with that name) is definitely something a different for a gardener who has everything. You might not pay it much mind during the day, but at night Zaluzianskya comes to life. Without seeking it out Zaluzianskya will introduce itself to you. The flowers start to open in the early evening and around 7-8 at night, the smell of candied talcum powder smacks you in the face. The smell is absolutely delicious, and one can’t resist putting their face right in the bush to take a deep sniff. What’s so nice about this plant’s smell is not only how unique it is, but how far it lingers. As the evening moves on, the smell seems to intensify and by midnight the whole patio will be perfumed.  The flowers fold up in the most unusual way, unfurling into snowflaked pinwheels at dusk. Often grown as an annual, I attempted to overwinter mine in the greenhouse with mild success. Truth be told, I let the mother plant die by letting it dry out one winter eve. That being said  I would say this plant does not recover well from neglectful watering. Luckily the plant roots well from tip cuttings and one can ensure a fresh plant by doing so at the end of each season. The plant grows quickly, and is also a heavy seed setter, so you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to procure a specimen. A true conversation piece, for the best effect put it within arms reach from the patio table. It’s great to bring out to show guests between pints and storytelling. If you’re not a plant nerd you haven’t seen this plant, your friends will be amazed.

Tucked amongst an echium fastuosum.

Bomarea edulis

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered this Bomarea edulis from Sacred Succulents earlier this year, but I’m so glad I did. A little off the beaten path with this one, it’s a plant for the geeks. Not to say it isn’t attractive, but more that it’s subtle in it’s beauty. Vigorous and quick growing, the vine started to flower a couple months ago and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. The flowers come in succession so their are always more on their way. After the flower has been pollinated, the petals fall off and the seed pod enlarges and hangs in a bizarre way. So far I’m as pleased with the effect. The plant requires no special treatment whatsoever, and looks best if planted somewhere it can hang. Rumored to be hardy to -5 C, once I increase my stock I’ll do some more thorough hardiness tests. Upon closer speculation, the delicate flowers hide a world of intricacy. I love the colorful fades of pink and yellow.

Well wasn’t that fun! 2 weeks until BC to California roadtrip. I need a vacation. So. Bad.

Until next time.

~The weather was so mild today I found myself doing some clean up in the front garden. Old pots with fried annuals, spent lavender blooms, and acanthus just to name a few. I know it’s only January but I had a moment where it almost felt like spring.  It’s tough living up here in the Artic Canada where ice covers the land for 11.5 months of the year, who knew you could grow tomatoes outside the igloo. In all seriousness though, it was 12 degrees Celsius this afternoon, absolutely dreadful out *wink*. ~

Seeing as though it’s a fresh year, and spring is right around the corner (and to the left, right, down some stairs and in the basement). It’s time to recognize the show stopping plants of 2011. I’d love to list them from 1-10 as to say which one was the best, or my favorite, but it’s not as simple as that. One can’t compare a raspberry bush to a patch of broccoli no more then you can compare petunias to miscanthus grass. They’re all my favorite, where one grows fat, one grows tall, another brightly colored, or one finely detailed. Nature is an amazing thing.

The Stupid Garden Plants 2011 Plant Awards.

‘The Eternal Sunset Award’ for longest flowering plant : 

Abutilon megapotamicum:
A no brainer year round semi hardy exotic flowering abutilon. I first potted this plant up in early May and it flowered all the way until frost, better then that, it’s still flowering at this moment in the greenhouse. Native to Brazil, and other parts of South America it’s flowers resemble Chinese lanterns and are a prefered treat by local hummingbirds. Placed at a high vantage point or hanging basket trailing abutilon will impress, and intrigue.

Runner up: Hoya Carnosa
A couple years ago I took a cutting of this from a 15 year old specimen at my parent’s house . It was slow to root, but once it got started it grew vigorously and did most of it’s climbing and trellis work by itself. Flowering from April until September, my 3 year old hoya vine bloomed sporadically, sometimes with 10+ bloom clusters at once, all dripping with nectar and leaving a sweet smell in the air. Although not nearly as fool proof as the abutilon with a little technique and luck, these plants will surely impress. Hoyas bloom best in root bound pots, so over-potting them is not recommended. I also allow my vine to travel wherever it would like, and doing so seems to encourage almost continuous growth. Thirdly my hoya is located near a 12hr cycle grow bulb, and I suspect this to be a big part of it’s never ending blooms. Show me the light!

‘The Jurassic Foliage Award’ for plants of excellent leaf structure, grandeur and presence :

Tetrapanax papyrifer
Long before I could identify a Tetrapanax, I was astonished by their leaves and prehistoric look. In the heat of August and September my Tetrapanax really took off and I’d often find myself shocked by how quickly the leaves went from bud to beyond dinner plate size. Endemic to Taiwan Tetrapanx papyrifer is the only species in it’s genus and is commonly known as a rice paper plant. With such amazing tropical foliage you’d almost surely think it to be tender, but Tetrapanax is exceptionally hardy, down to zone 6a (-23.3 °C (-10 °F). If your a fan of Fatsias, Tetrapanax will blow you away. A light fuzz graces it’s branches and leaves, and even though it goes deciduous after a frost, the spent leaves are so foreign and large you’ll want to leave them lying about. A must have for anyone wanting to recreate a tropical paradise in their northern garden.

RUNNER UP: Echium pininana
You guessed it, echium wins the runner up for impressive foliage and presence. If you’re lucky enough to get this echium to it’s second year you’ll be shocked by the speed of it’s growth.  Large fuzzy leaves burst forth and add an impressive display of tropical foliage to your garden. If you’re lucky it holds promise of a towering  bloom unmatched elsewhere in the botanical world. If only grown for it’s foliage alone, you won’t be disappointed. Among all other plants in my garden the echium stood out, and it’s is beyond photogenic. It’s a showstopper and even your non planty friends will surely notice it listening in on all of your conversations. It’s only drawback is it’s somewhat severe tenderness, hating cold weather and dying from even moderate frosts. Best overwintered in a heated greenhouse, by the third year it would surely win the award for most amazing bloom.

‘The Up In The Clouds Award’ for the most impressive tall plants in the garden:

Alcea ‘Peaches and Dreams’
Somewhat of a cottage garden staple, hollyhocks are a great plant for adding verticality to your garden. This cultivar in particular is readily available at garden centers and in my opinion outshines the rest. Double blooms worthy of being sowed onto a clowns costume start late summer and continue into October. Although it’s flowering cycle is a little more temporary then some, at it’s peak, it is truly a thing of beauty. A great Alcea is a stunning addition to one’s garden but might take some patience for it to reach it’s true potential. For the three years it’s been planted, it’s third year was it’s “piese de resistance” and grew a whopping 15ft or more. Yielding multiple branches of  strangest fluffy grapefruit puff balls, I’ll end this one with one word. Wow.

A shot of the towering alcea shoot out amongst the scarlet runners.

Runner up: Helianthus tuberosus (jerusalem artichoke)
One must give credit when credit is due, and the jerusalem artichoke is an underestimated mindblower. Grown properly, this large member of the sunflower family will outclimb the rest, mine growing a whopping 18+ ft from a golf ball sized tuber. It’s speed and vigor will amaze and astonish, and even without it’s flowers it’s impressive height adds an additional tropical element to your paradise. In mid October when almost everything else is welcoming winter, helianthus tuberosus blooms a small spray of sunflowers. A welcome touch of color at that time of year. The only drawback is that it grows so tall that you can’t possible get a close look at it’s blooms. In mid November the plant will subside to frost and you can reap the benefits of the treasure below. Large sweetly flavored tubers are created and make an excellent starch for those winter months. They say once you grow Jerusalem artichokes you’ll probably have them for the rest of your life as you almost always miss a piece in the soil. Try them in 2012.

‘The Fleeting Moment Award’ for the most temporarily beautiful :

Puya mirabilis
I was lucky enough to purchase a P. mirabilis the day before it flowered. With seven flower buds ready each flower opened for a single day and worked it’s way up the branch until they were finished. Acquired on a Sunday, the blooms were spent exactly a week later. Due to it’s temporary nature it demanded the attention of it’s grower. It was either pay attention or miss it’s dance, it’s flowers were as unique as they were bizarre. A terrestrial bromeliad, it’s foliage doesn’t hint at it’s hidden beauty, an unlikely surprise, worthy of respect in a northern garden such as this. One of the most magical and ethereal of all the plants in my collection.

RUNNER UP: Passiflora jamesonii
I’ve always been a fan of passion flowers, but this one really takes the cake. As a vine, it was absolutely voracious, sometimes growing a foot or more a week and over 12ft in each direction by the end of the season. With some much vegetative growth, blooms didn’t exactly seem imminent, but on one calm afternoon I noticed a single bud forming. As I’m somewhat new to growing this species, I might surmise that it’s lack of blooms was due to a cultural mistake, but I suspect it just wasn’t hot enough here in Victoria. Regardless I watched the bud develop for what felt like a month and when it finally did open, it was only for a day. A flower that truly shows the impermanence of beauty, I was glad to have made the effort to witness it.

More awards to follow…

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.