Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants


The weather is finally starting to shift. During a 90 day run of sunshine and cloud free days, I had almost forgotten about the cold and the rain. Of course It didn’t take more than a day of monsoon precipitation to refresh my memory. As I looked up at angry clouds they opened up and gave me a big wet kiss. It’s been raining steady ever since, like a flip of the switch summer is over and we’re suddenly midway through fall. October is a busy month for us on the edge gardeners, so many plants to bring in. I think many of you could agree.

Collecting plants from all over the world doesn’t come without it’s shortcomings. I’ve been quite busy sorting plants into hardiness, rarity and importance. Some plants go to the greenhouse, some into the basement under the grow light and others scattered throughout the house on windowsills. While ideally I’d bring all my plants to the greenhouse for winter storage, it’s still a work in progress. Having built it on the wettest piece of land we could negotiate we still have to work out some drainage issues. During rain like this the floor is a small series of rivers, an environment not exactly suitable for a cactus collection. Castor beans & bananas sure, but anything that needs absolute dryness is a no go.

Luckily a couple weeks ago I sensed the change in weather and got a head-start on the migration. I spent my Thanksgiving weekend washing down cacti, slowly but surely jigsawing them indoors. After what seemed like a hundred potted plants, one by one, I was exasperated.  Why did I do this to myself.  A few deep breathes, a calming of the mind, I simply keep reminding myself nothing amazing comes easy. For the many gifts of the plant collection, the juice is worth the squeeze. I should only feel so fortunate to have the resources at my disposal to continue such a grandiose collection. After 10 hours of cleaning and sorting, the majority of the cacti had made it’s way inside. Truth be told it looks pretty good too. The plants love being outside for the summer and when brought indoors present themselves as living art pieces in a man-made world.

With so many many plants in such a tight vicinity I’ve been keeping an extra eye out for pests. “Damn you dreaded mealy bug.” On tired bored evenings it’s not a strange sight to see me wondering about with a shot glass of vodka and a paintbrush, disintegrating mealy bugs before they become a problem. Once introduced to a collection it is unlikely you’ll ever be free of them again. Thoughts of a systemic insecticide crossed my mind but I don’t want to kill the beneficial insects in my collection. Upon closer observation it seems almost every potted succulent has a little spider protector living nearby. These little garden spiders have grown on me over the last couple years and I respect their choice to take refuge in and around my plants. If we work together perhaps the mealy bugs will be defeated once in for all, only time will tell.

My Stapelia collection, a personal favorite of hungry fuzzy white insects. 

At work things have slowed to a snails pace, orders are few and far between and the list of chores gets smaller and more importantly more mundane. Not that there isn’t work to be done, but now is the season for cleaning, cutting back and putting away. The rain thundered down as I cut back 4″ rumex sanguinea today. The tip, drip, drop of the rain on the greenhouse plastic reminds me of summers camping in the back orchard. For a seeker of peace, there really isn’t a better gig.

Over the past week this Ophthalmophyllum has been flowering. The bud appeared very quickly and within a week began to open. For the past 5 days it’s opened and closed mid-day, a lovely autumn curiosity.

Upon finishing my winter migration of my cacti collection I got a call I had been tentatively expecting. A fellow cactus friend of mine has sold her house and is downgrading her collection. We spent a Sunday afternoon loading up my car with many of her prized plants to live on in my care. Ah, let’s just add another 50 plants to the collection, it will be fine right?

Why do I do this to myself. The juice is worth the squeeze.

Still working on a large post about the Huntington Botanical Gardens, stay tuned and stay warm.

4 Responses to No rest for a plant geek: warm homes for tenders and tropicals.

  • Peter/Outlaw says:

    Wow! 50 new cacti. Pretty cool. Every fall when I do the autumn migration, I wonder why we don’t just live in California! We are, though, very lucky to live in the pacific northwest aren’t we?

  • bob archer says:

    Sorry to tell you this but,i’ve got a bunch more plants for you, I gotsk no room for all these dam cacti,what with all the banana’s ,coconuts ,and pineapples . cheers

  • Steve says:

    Hey there. All I have to say is WOW I like your cacti collection, and that’s such a great way to help your friend and get more plants at the same time 🙂 I’m starting to wonder about bringing my plants in soon too, but the weather is so temptingly warm (in the 80’s in my part of TX), just don’t want them getting wet from now till the end of winter. Thanks for the post/inspiration.

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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.