Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

There I said it, summer is over.

The garden is as big as it’s ever going to get, my Castor beans, jerusalem artichokes and Tetrapanax are all breaking personal records. Growing tropical plants in the north is an exercise best saved for the insane (and broken backed). Sitting in the garden, enjoying an evening beverage it’s hard to believe I’m even in Victoria anymore. For a small garden I really have crammed in just about as many oddities as physically possible. I have plants from all continents sans Antarctica. Ranging from Europe to South America, coming from as far as the Himilayan Mountians, to the Canary Islands, Mexican deserts and beyond. In times that I’m not traveling on a plane I can travel through the story of the plants.

For those of you who are new to my plant rantings, let me just say, “Hello, My name is Nat, and I’m a plant hoarder”. Seriously though, some might call it a problem, but I’d like to think of it as a gift. My theory is as long as one’s plant collection is in good order, that being healthy and/or well organized, it’s not hoarding, but a botanical Ark. The purpose of this ark mostly being selfish of course. Who else really appreciates the effort put into a garden more than it’s creator and caretaker himself. It’s a plant lab for research and a playground for mental relaxation.

While I’d love to dream that my plants will live on when I’m gone, I’m afraid they’d mostly be lost without me. Agaves and cacti won’t soon be taking over the streets of Victoria, a guy can dream can’t he. Still hopeless or not I do my part and carry on the tradition in which we as people cultivate the plants that intrigue us. Hopefully passing them on and furthering their proliferation into the homes and lives of people wide and far. Be it to inspire or teach, or simply pass on a cutting that’s difficult to acquire. Call me the crazy plant man, let’s talk plants.


I’m hoping to create a tetrapanax forest in time. 

Truth be told I’ve not been writing as much as I’d like to be, but times have gotten busy. The fall chrysanthemum season kept my schedule full and my back on the verge of collapse. After a long road-trip in search of cacti and succulents, the everyday chore of watering an incredibly thirsty garden, and let’s not forget the nursery work. I was exhausted. Let’s rephrase that I’am exhausted, and for a moment I had contemplated if i had burnt out gardening all together. Certainly not, just a momentary lapse in energy. I’ll keep the coffee brewed, the plants strange and spirits high. Now for the annual migration of tropical plants to the greenhouse. A good rule of thumb for exotic gardeners on the west-coast of B.C is to have your tender plants in by October 31st just to be safe. That means only 30 days to move roughly 300+ plants indoors, I better get to stretching. I need staff, this one man botanical garden is lot of work.

Now before I start the process of the garden deconstruction I still need to do some proper photography. Why else do I grow such climatically fragile plant life if not to admire them at their largest and lushest time of year. Let’s take a look at what’s looking good this October 2012.


As mentioned earlier my castor beans have never looked better. This green Ricinus communis was grown from seed purchased in Germany, many many years ago. To think the budding young botanist at the time had no idea he would take it this far. A certain sentimental shout out goes to the plants that were there at the start, and this one was probably my first successful seed project. Out of a whole pack I only ended up with two and they’ve followed me this far. Now, how to get a 12 foot castor bean to the greenhouse in a VW Golf, I’ll make it work.


A tabletop of succulents, a highlight of some of my favorites which rotates as things come into flower and/or fade. Some notable appearances such as a lush, spiky Pachypodium lamerei, a neon flowered jatropha podagrica and an ever so strange Lophocereus schottii x monstrose.


Jatropha podagrica has bloomed almost all summer.


A large Pleiospilos bolusii has been blooming.


Old Aloinopsis schooneesii grow large underground tubers that can later be exposed for an interesting effect. Mostly a winter grower, A. schooneesii doesn’t mind a little summer water. Still looking forward to some flowers in the dark days. This one is staged rather nicely.


The smallest of the echeveria genus, E. minima is slow growing, stays dwarf in size and takes it’s time to offset. An interesting species to say the least.


I love the ribs on this Stenocactus sp.


Because it’s always a good time to take a photo of my favorite intergeneric oddity, Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.


Echeveria gibbiflora ´Carunculata´


A nice mix of succulents & bromeliads. Take notice of the second year dichondra repens to the left, it’s out of control, and incredible!


Crassula gollum is looking good this year.


Last photo of succulents I promise, my Trichocereus pachanoi seems to have developed a zit.


The cyclamen are out in full force. I can’t get enough of these reliable autumn beauties.  It looks so ethereal, practically unreal.


Cyclamen hederifolium


The twisted leaves of Begonia ‘Escargot’ add to the surrealism.


You’d think I’d be tired of chrysanthemums by now but really, they’re popular for a reason. A great hit of color in a month where blooms are at their fewest.


This westcoast (Blechnum spicant ) deer fern is thriving.  Crested saxifraga pour out of a broken ceramic. The yuccas, an unexpected surprise, former garden residents that refuse to leave. I dug this patch out last autumn, but here they are again. I’d sooner take yucca then pop weed I suppose, I mean, who wouldn’t!


I know people have mixed feelings about ornamental cabbage & kale, but I for one enjoy them. A nice touch of color.


This Sinningia leucotricha has enjoyed it’s time outdoors. For a past post on this one, click here.


Euphorbia leuconeura & autumn colchicums make a lovely unlikely pair.


Zauschneria californica is native to California but hardy 3000kms north in Victoria. I’ll count this one as a win. Easy to grow, blooms late summer until frost.


Speaking of hardy obscurities, Leucosidea sericea is a tree from South Africa reported to be quite hardy. This one gets to live outside this season, as a test.


What is it about the cooling temperatures of late September & October that make the colors of flowers just that much more rich in color.  Desfontainia spinosa often has candy corn colored blooms, at this time of year, bright orange.


At first glance it looks like the blooms of an orchid, but that’s not the case. A lowly toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta surprises you with these mindblowing blooms, late summer until frost. A flower that require you to take a closer look, Tricyrtis are well worth growing for fall interest.


A new vine to me, Manettia bicolor (candy corn vine).


An update on my Begonia luxurians. It’s grown from a 4″ cutting to this in one season. No pests, dare I say spider mite resistant, partial shade with regular water.


While there might not be a Passiflora caerulea flower open everyday, there has been one every month (sometimes as many as 8-10 open at once) since the very start of the growing season. Hardy for me last season, this one is a winner.


Click Here to download a high res image for your computer background

This is the biggest echium pininana I’ve ever seen, literally wider then my car and over 6 ft tall. I saw plenty of echiums on my drive south but none this lush. This one is planted out and will brave the winter storms, probably to it’s demise. Luckily if this one doesn’t work out I’ve got another 30 or so at the greenhouse, I will see one of these bloom. Someday.

Thanks for joining me on this tour.

7 Responses to Double Issue: A return to the garden: The last few days of jungle life.

  • HortLog says:

    Are these in greenhouse ? I am surprise you can grow so many tropicals in Canada. My fav is the Begonia luxurians and Sinningia leucothricha, but the latter always look very weak in our climate.

  • Keith says:

    Fantastic post.

    Desfontainia is one of my favourite shrubs. Nice to see someone else growing Tricyrtis too – I’m building up a collection of these now.

  • Lithopsland says:

    Hi Nat! Wow, your garden looks awesome. The castor bean looks impressive. Congrats! Love the succulent table, esp. the Aloinopsis schooneesii & its pot. And I think you’ve made me want to get a Sinningia leucotricha. Great post & plants mate. Good luck with moving the plants into the greenhouse. Watch out for your back. Best wishes!

  • The Victoria Gardener says:

    It’s been a battle keeping things watered. During my trip I had my friend/room-mate take care of the garden. Easier said than done in August as it’s a thirsty machine. In the end I still had a couple sad stories but mostly good. September has been pretty thirsty as well, I need better irrigation but the nature of the way I garden doesn’t make it easy.

  • Wow everything is looking just amazing! Did you have someone watering while you on vacation or just leave things to tough it out?

    Regarding the big plant migration and your comment “I need staff, this one man botanical garden is lot of work.”…I feel your pain! It’s still so dry and sunny here in Portland that I can’t even think of getting started, but I know I must. Good idea to take a round of photos first!

  • Mark and Gaz says:

    You’ve got a great and eclectic collection of beautiful plants there Nat! Not long now before the big tidy up for the winter but it’s looking good now :)

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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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