Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

It’s been well over a month since the winter solstice occurred and still I find myself sitting in the dark. While I often dance about gleefully on such occasions, the celebration is almost always premature. With February well on it’s way there’s no fooling anyone, it’s still dark before you know it. If I delay my trip home after work by even 20 minutes, I see little more then a twilight shadow as my car rolls into the parking lot. This weekend I was determined to get in the garden and begin the season. Unfortunately due to sunrise to sunset rain spatter I was forced to seek  dryer conditions. It seemed as good a day as any for a quick nursery tour, so I got into the car and drove out to Saanich.

Earlier this season I had purchased a hardy palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) from Brentwood Bay Nurseries only to regret having not gotten more . The nursery shut down for the winter and I was left dreaming of palmy what ifs. A few months later I heard it was open by appointment and today I found myself inclined to take a visit.  My family’s property on Salt Spring Island is  beach side and has a remarkable micro-climate on it. Over the past couple years I’ve started a garden over there and I dream of loading it with palms. These trachycarpus will do just fine, for the moment I’ll pot them up and grow them on in the heat of the greenhouse.

The visit at Brentwood Bay was a nice break from my rainy backyard and as expected I had an excellent time in the “hot house”. Flowering aloes and giant agaves, this nursery doubles as a botanical garden some days. This city lacks in tropical paradises and on winters where I don’t make it to Mexico, this will have to do. Pairs of hummingbirds zipped about the winter flowering acacia trees, the silence and peacefulness was a welcome treat. Time to look was limited due to prior engagements but we made the most of our time. As usual Robin was hospitable and showed me a fine array of great specimens. In a town where petunias rule the scene rest assured Brentwood has the finest selection of your everyday exotic. Today a small family of Tracycarpus fortunei followed me home, as well as a tropical hebe, a plectocomia himalayana and a Phoenix canariensis. I might have also negotiated a Aeonium nobile, which I’ve been secretly lusting over for some time now. Plant collectors, what a strange bunch indeed.

I can’t express the feeling I get when I go on these adventures, it’s pretty much as happy as I can be. The shopping satisfies the hopeless consumer in me while the plants provide much needed stimulus to escape the monotony of life. While I’d love to be climbing mountain sides and exploring the veldt, the 21st century plant collector has centuries worth of plant hunting at the convenience of a corner store. A new plant is like a new movie, the kind that changes every time you watch it, and has more extras and deleted scenes then you’d ever have time to see. While I’ve recently become aware of the shortcomings of plant collecting (I.E the lack of quick escape) I’ve committed to this reality and I will have to adapt to become a more calculated , thought out individual. After all the rewards are many, only a 100 years ago kings were the only ones have such a fine array of plants from far off lands. Now a 26 year old petunia pusher can do it for less money than it takes to be a drunk. We live a good life out here on the west coast, while the world burns in shambles, there are some benefits here in the future.

Aeoniums lined up one by one
Terra Nova Cyclamen coem  ‘Something Magic’ was in full bloom looking rather nice!

 The hot house at Brentwood Bay Nurseries

10 Responses to Spring already? Buying Palm Trees in January…

  • Louie Stone says:

    This is really interesting. Only recently I discovered that palm trees could grow in Canada. But then again, Vancouver Island is know for its mild winters. I have a Trachycarpus Fortunei in my back garden in the Netherlands that I got as a seedling twenty years ago. It is now about 3 meters tall and has survived temperatures of minus 20 centigrade. And it looks great!

  • Mark and Gaz says:

    It’s turned cold out here again, which is a reminder that it is February after all (almost)…

    I’m dreaming of a nursery trip again and some plant shopping just like yours. Your post has reinforced such longings. Thoroughly enjoyed this post and loved the way you described the sense of adventure of visiting nurseries and plant shopping.

  • Nate, not only are you a consummate plant collector and nurseryman, you’re also a bit of a philosopher. I love reading your posts because they always contain something that strikes a chord.

    I love your purchases! My knowledge of palm trees is virtually nil, but I’m becoming ever more interested, especially in dwarf varieties. Can you do a post on your family’s property on Salt Spring Island? I’d love to see photos of what you’ve done so far.


  • Ben Candlin says:

    Nice shopping spree!

    Yes, we are so fortunate with the choice of plants available these days, although I’ve been trying to find a Plectocomia himalayana here in the UK for ages now! Yours is not a bad size either!

  • Saurs says:

    O man, nurseries what close because of season-type things. In my mild and temperate climate, where folk weep profusely at a bit of weather, and whole forces of mac-clad journalists vie to be the first to film a mud-filled gutter (one of the few sure signs that weather is happening; our gutters were not meant for such treatment, and so forth), this is a sad and strange notion. How do you people cope? I would take to drinking. In fact, I already have. On your behalf.

    Quite right about the comparative ease with which we can acquire plants that were to white western folk exotic, strange, rare, and therefore highly prized and valuable less than a century ago. Now that succulent-type things and painted and dyed orchids and all manner of ferns from far-flung lands are readily available at less than a premium, and without the need for an entire empire at one’s disposal, I suppose some folk reckon them bourgeois. (Same with spices, food, fridges, property–anything to distinguish yourself from the plebs by virtue of expense, and therefore, privilege.) Now that any old Judy O’Grady can afford white bread and plant ornamentals willy-nilly, yer socially mobile white and middling types proclaim from the heavens how superior the brown stuff and the edible stuff are. It’s a bit grim, this unending game of oneupsmanship.

  • Yesterday I got to attend a talk by Annie Hayes of Annie’s Annuals in tha Bay Area. One of the slides she shared was of that Aeonium. I’m lusting after it myself.

    “Now a 26 year old petunia pusher can do it for less money than it takes to be a drunk. We live a good life out here on the west coast, while the world burns in shambles, there are some benefits here in the future”…well said.

  • I have a Trachycarpus fortunei (I think) in a pot in our courtyard, and I’m quite anxious about whether it really is as hardy (down to minus 12 centigrade) as the label said, given that we now have frost day and night…

    It does, though, add a certain exotism to a garden, and I like that it given some green in winter when most of the other pots are bare.

  • Tom says:

    Ahhhhhhhhhhh I’m SO SO SO SO SO jealous of you! I thought it was exciting that my hardy fig appears to have pulled through…but man if I could have palms I’d be so insanely happy!

  • Andrew says:

    You should try and grab a Jubaea chilensis if you can find one. I know a few are currently growing in the area, but I never got a chance to see them when I lived out there.

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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.