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.

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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.

While I will admit I’ve been spending considerably more time inside then out, there is still a small world of amazement going on outside. Although the majority of the flowers have disapeared, December allows you to appreciate all the incredible foliage you might normally miss during the fireworks of spring and summer. In an attempt to record the yearly progress of my garden I went out and had a little photo-shoot this afternoon. The weather has been incredible mild this winter and I for one am loving it. We’ve had almost 2 weeks of sunshine, with no more then a handful of -1 frosts. A surprisingly amount of tenders are still hanging on, and things don’t look nearly as bad as they did last year. I got a bit carried away with the photos on today’s post so enjoy. For those of you living in the north, I think we could all use a little bit more greenery in our lives.

December 2011 Garden Tour:

Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ was one of the first plants I planted in this garden almost half a decade ago. While some people don’t like a euphorbia’s unruly growing habit, selective pruning can maintain their shape. The nodding style of their growth tips let you know that they’re preparing to flower, a process that will take upward to 6 months to complete.

This Euphorbia wulfenii only had one bloom last season, it looks like this year it will have upwards to 10.

This Euphorbia rigida was planted around the same time as E. ‘Glacier although I’ve never had this species flower. It’s growth tips do look like their up to something though.

My one and only Rhododendron  (noid) is fully in bud preparing for it’s fireworks display in early spring.

Working at an annual nursery I often like to fill gaps with seasonal color. Some might not love English Daisies but tell me this, what else is flowering so prolifically this time of year?

Oh I forgot, that’s right, Mahonia media. The first time I noticed these was in front of the of Bay Center Mall downtown Victoria. Absolutely tropical looking from November till Febuary, this is by far the most electric plant doing it’s thing this time of year. Bonus points that it’s 100% hardy in Victoria, and would grow almost tree like if given the chance.

Somewhat of a border-line perennial up here in Victoria, Zauschneria californica (otherwise known as california fuchsia) has been attempting to flower for a couple week’s now. I’ve chanced it in the cold frame in the back yard and kept it on the dry side. It’s not exactly thriving but I think it will pull through.

Underrated as a 2″ annual Felicia amelloide has been in non stop bloom since I planted it mid summer. I’m unsure how much of a frost it can take but so far it’s untouched by the -1 light frosts we’ve been having.  100′s of delicate blue daisy flowers.

Some people on Dave’s Garden complain that Malva sylvestris is a bit of a weed, so far I’m not jaded by this opinion. I’ve always enjoyed growing other mallows (ie. Laviteria) and this one is impressive to say the least. We’ll see if a million of them pop up next spring and change my mind.  This sole flower was welcomed and appreciated in the dark gloomy days of December.

I think I like Cyclamen hederifolium’s foliage even more then the flowers. Nature’s art at it’s finest. It’s hard to believe conservationist  are ripping out 5-10 year old cyclamen corms from local parks because they consider them invasive.  That’s like complaining there’s too many gin and tonics, or sunshine, give me a break!

In such a small garden I don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to boring old hellebore , but Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ won it’s place in garden forever the first time I saw it as a small seedling. What incredible evergreen foliage.

It looks like a set of flowers are well on it’s way.

A great trick for adding a extra greenery to your winter garden is planting italian parsley in autumn. I fill the odd gap with it and it thrives in the cool season. Extra points that being a cold weather crop it doesn’t go to flower and will be megasized come spring. I first saw a planting of this kind in Finland, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Wasabia japonica otherwise known as true wasabi grows happily underneath some bamboo. This isn’t exactly an easy plant to grow and has given me stress throughout the hot months of summer. It turns out 99% of the wasabi you eat in restaurants isn’t in fact real wasabi at all, but dyed horseradish. Real wasabi has a much different taste, and fetches high prices if you learn how to grow it well ($70.00+/pound) I think I’ve figured this guy out, and since then it’s been doing much better, still the finest grown wasabi grows in running water, which produces a much tastier root.

Checking on the last few tropicals that I’ve cruelly left to chance outdoors shows Fuchsia gartenmeister holding on strong even it’s definitely seen some frosts. “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed”.

I really came to appreciate this undervalued 2″ annual,  Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ and I’m hoping it survives our unusual mild winter. This plant is vigorous to say the least and has really thrived in this planter. I had no idea it would grow as large as it did. I might be the crazy guy putting a blanket on it during the coldest of our frosts but that’s neither here nor there.

While many of my passion flower vines were cut down and brought to the greenhouse, Passiflora caerulea was left outdoors to chance. So far it’s doing just fine and looks completely untouched by the occasional frosts. My Acacia pravissima still has buds and also seems to be doing well. On the coldest nights I fold the leaves into that cloth to help it have extra protection, but so far it probably hasn’t needed it.

Acanthus ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is a discontinued version of a Terra Nova hybrid because it didn’t prove as hardy as they would have hoped. The nursery threw out over 20 of these and I took some home. Before they were proved “inferior” they were selling for over $30.00 at garden centers. Although small, mine are growing, just fine!

December is a great month for mosses’ and lichens, my Sagina mound growing happily.

This Blechnum spicant (western deer fern) accidentally followed me home during a camping trip up the coast. It has absolutely thived in this pot, asking nothing in return for it’s good looks.

And look at this hardy Opuntia noid, it doesn’t seem to mind our cold, wet winters

This Soldanella  lives happily by the pond. It didn’t flower last year so I’m hoping it will do it’s thing this season. It’s one of the first plants to bloom come spring with dainty little purple umbrella flowers. Even as a alpine foliage plant it’s well worth having.

These Crocus sativus (saffron crocus)  have given me two seasons of grass like foliage and no flowers yet. How am I to ever make my famous saffron rice, the Indian potluck is going to be really disappointing this year.

I love these cladonia “pixie cup” lichen, and have been helping them thrive since the very first time I spotted them. About two years ago 1 or 2 “pixie cups” appeared and I’ve been watering this rock ever since. In the heat of summer they dry up, but when it rains they’re back instantly.

A closer look reveals the strangest forms. As I become more obsessed with plants I find myself noticing their smaller relatives more and more. Lichens are a symbiosis of two plant forms:  an algae and a fungus. “ooo interesting”

A cold season window planter. Decorative cabbage, oxalis, leadwort, ivy and pansys, wow.

Saxifraga ‘White Hill’  enjoys the cold weather. Such interesting geometry rosette.

Blue Fescue and Prarie Fire grass really shine this time of year.

The benefit to working at a wholesale nursery is you often come across a lot of great plants that need to find a home before they hit the compost. I planted over 50 of these in my front yard this autumn  and they really brighten up the place in the dull winter months.

I think I’ve finally found my favorite berry. Ugni molinae otherwise known as Chilean Guava is another borderline perennial the seems to do well in my Victoria zone 7-8 garden. The berries are somewhat like blueberries with a hint of juniper, sort of ginny. I love snacking on a handful while wondering about the garden in December. So far this one lives in my coldframe and seems untouched by the cold weather. Growing happily in a 5 G pot.

If you’ve never tried these before I highly recommend them, delicious! Said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite fruit. It’s a relatively carefree plant requiring little to no special attention during the growing season.

If you could believe it there’s more plants indoors as well. It’s so much fun but a bit overwelming at times. My roommates have joked around in the past about a plant intervention. I protested saying there is never enough plants and we left it at that. You’re telling me your complaining you live in a fully tending botanical garden? Sounds like paradise to me?

And last but not least, the downstairs grow lab. Things are thriving, and I’m waiting on some seeds to sprout. More plants anyone?

Let me tell you I drank a large Starbucks before this post and that was 2.5 hours ago, Thank you for joining me on this tour, of which ended up being considerably larger then I first imagined. Just a couple more months of winter and then we get to do it all over again!

Whew! What a week!

The weather in Victoria seems to be declining steadily, shorts have been replaced with pants and a sweater seems almost essential to leave the house in the morning. The temperature has dropped down to 10 C and I fear a frost is right around the corner. Everyday after work is a mad dash to catch some sunlight and sort my plants into various groups of tenders, tropicals and succulents. With the sun now almost completely set at 7:00pm, the few hours I have after work are precious. It’s like cleaning up after a big party, the garden is slowly but surely dismantled and cleaned up. For the moment it’s a complete mess, no time to worry about day to day tidying, I have to find warm homes for my plants before it’s too late. My house is absolutely stuffed, and everyday I bring another load to the greenhouse.

“Oh hey (insert boss’s name here) mind if I overwinter some plants at the greenhouse?”
“Sure thing Nat, just put them in the corner”
(Evil laughter as a cube van pulls up with 1 million plants)

Passiflora caerulea loves the cool autumn weather.

Luckily I have excellent boss’s that encourage such plant madness or life would be much more depressing right now. While the first bay of the main house slowly fills with strange tropical specimens, a couple friend’s and I embark on building a greenhouse of our own at the back of the property. We got the A-OK from our fearless leaders and hope to get started pretty quick here. If everything works out it should be roughly 40ft long and 16ft wide, not bad for a couple of plant geeks.

I must admit at this time of plant dismantling I’m a bit overwelmed by it all. It’s only now that I get to see the sheer volume of my collection, and quite frankly it’s a bit out of control. A quick walk around the house counts a staggering 90+ potted plants, not including any cuttings or would be seed projects. Outside is a fully stocked garden 360 around the house, and now the greenhouse at work slowly fills up. I suppose my mission this year was to learn about plants, and what better way of doing it then to grow them. You’ve got to grow them to learn about them. I would say books barely scratch the surface with the idiosyncrasies of plants, watching them you seem to learn something new everyday.

With the cold chill in the air today I decided to take the matter of saving my tree echium into my own hands. I can”t wait for a truck any longer, I folded down my seats in my VW Golf and managed to get it in. The guy who car pools with me often makes a jokes when there isn’t any plants in my car, as if something’s amiss. You know when you’ve gone down the deep end when.

Quickie Fall Tour October 2011:

Autumn spiders are out in full force.

A valentines day Gerbera that I bought for my girlfriend, allowed to rest, is now in the midst of another impressive display of flowers. Excellent.

Some fall asters I bought from a gardener near Shawnigan Lake really brighten up the place.

A sumac bonsai has great autumn colors.

Autumn colchicum spring out of nowhere.

Flowering from May until frost works just fine for me, Abutilon megapotamicum is a must have. While some treat this as an annual, this one is definitely getting stored in the greenhouse this year.

Last but not least, the cyclamen. If there is any reason to love fall, it’s these amazing little showstoppers.


Thanks for stopping by!

As I look out my window into my garden everything seems pretty dead. Where only a few months ago a sub tropical wonderland existed, a barren “dead” zone has taken it’s place. Or has it? A closer inspection reveals a variety of plants coming to life, things are still happening, surprisingly. Now that December has come and gone, spring is on it’s way. Regardless of the freezing temperates, the plants in the back are getting ready for their next years display. I got inspired the other day and went camera crazy, here’s what’s happening in my garden January 2011.

Despite sub freezing temperates the hellebores (winter rose) are blooming happily.

(Below) I’ve had this hellebore for over a year now and it’s still quite tiny, regardless it developed this small flower. So far it the only black bloom in my garden. It doesn’t exactly pop out at first glace, but with a closer investigation it’s a pretty neat addition to the garden.

Another winter flowering specimen, “Glacier Blue” euphorbia is also in bloom at this unlikely time of year.

“Wulfenii” euphorbia

“Tasmanian Tiger” euphorbia in bloom

My first attempt at growing Fox Tailed Lilies (Eremurus). Not exactly an exciting picture but I was happy to see these pop up as I’ve read they’re prone to rot if they aren’t planted in well draining soil. The dormant plant cost my something like 10-13 bucks so it would be a shame to have lost it to the elements.

It seems as the winter days continue on the patterns on these cyclamen leaves only get more intense. This plant is a real winner, beautiful flowers, amazing leaves, winter interest!

You know spring is on it’s way when the daffodils decide to poke their head up. I love this photograph!

Last but not least I thought it fitting to include a photograph of this lewisia “cotyledon” which seems completely unscathed by winter. Awesome!

Oh how I love cyclamen! Just as fall starts reminding plants their days are numbered, cyclamen send out flowers seemingly out of nowhere. My patch began last year and has doubled in size since then, as well as spread beyond the original patch. This is one plant that I could never hate regardless of how invasive it becomes. Cyclamen hederifolium is generally quite an easy plant to take care of. They detest waterlogged soils and require a bit of protection for scorching sun, rain and wind. Other then that I haven’t had any pests bother mine whatsoever. This plant is fool proof, and it adds interest to a garden in the months where nothing else seems to thrive.

Cyclamen in flower

Anyhow, onto the topic I intended on covering. Your common cyclamen are easy to propagate by seed. Last June after the leaves had died down and the flowers turned into seed pods I contemplated collecting the seeds to sprout indoors during the winter. Although this would have been a fine method to use for once my absent minded behavior paid off. Long story short,  I never collected the seeds *sigh*.

The beautiful leaves of cyclamen hederifolium

A couple days ago while inspecting my drab winter fried garden, I looked at a patch of armeria and noticed a small seedling beside it. Having never seen this seedling in my garden before I took a closer inspection to notice it had a very close resemblance to a cyclamen. Further investigation would prove worthwhile, while this one seedling was a stray, the center of my cyclamen patches were absolutely covered in seedlings. A small gentle pinch and the seedlings are released, making them ready to spread wherever you’d like. I imagine these seedlings wouldn’t do all that well on top of the existing corms anyhow, so you’re probably doing the plant a favor by thinning it out a bit.  I potted up a flat of 4″ pots with 4 seedlings per pot, a nice little treat for next year’s plant sale.

The lesson

One could go through all the trouble of collecting the seeds in June and attempting to get them to grow under artificial conditions.


You could wait til mid November/December and harvest the seedlings carefree, and super easy in their natural habitat on the mother plant.

Now that’s good gardening!

The cyclamen seedlings have been spotted

A close up if you didn’t notice themthe first time. A gentle pull from the base
of the leaf and the seedling comes right out.

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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