Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Cyphostemma juttae

The days are getting shorter, the weather wetter and like it or not, winter – IS – coming. Nothing makes you miss a summer vacation to a hot cactus wonderland like a couple weeks of good old fashioned British Columbia rain and gray. Let’s take a moment to forget the wet boots and mud puddles and reminisce of warmer days.

Add this one to your bucket list if you have a fascination in exotic plants, The Huntington Botanical Gardens is truly a national landmark. Famous for it’s large amassment of established rare flora, the garden has one of the finest collections of outdoor cacti in the world. Beyond succulents, the property also has many other incredible plant collections organized into over a dozen specialized gardens. Wander through a lush bamboo forest into a dry Australian prairie, up through a Camellia forest and across a bridge to the Japanese Gardens. Whether you’d like to visit a cloud forest in a glasshouse, indoor bog or art museum, anyone with good taste will find satisfaction in a trip to this awe inspiring location.

To start off I’ll share some of the photos I took in the succulent gardens. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my entire life.

Upon entering you’re greeted by agaves and aloe trees.

Large Agave attenuata in a sea of Aeoniums

In Canada we grow our aloes in terracotta pots, here they grow as big as trees.

This euphorbia was well over 15 feet tall.

A large Pachypodium (madagascar palm) in flower.

While my Cyphostemma juttae grows painfully slow, this one looks better than ever. I love fat plants.

Speaking of fat plants, Tylecodon paniculatus.

More aloes that rival small trees.

Large euphorbia.

A favorite of many caudiciform collectors, one of the largest Dioscorea elephantipes in cultivation.

Gnarly caudex.

A twisted labyrinth of cacti and succulents.

The geometric shapes of euphorbia never cease to amaze.

I was happy to have encountered this clump of Haworthia forming these incredible emerald hills.

It looks as though these notocactus leninghausii are looking at someone. Is it something I said?

I’ve never seen so many specimen worthy succulents all packed into on location. This shot reminds of me a Richard Scarry picture.

A rather charming clump of a personal favorite, Parodia magnifica.

Oreocereus celsianus.

Mammillaria geminispina

Impressive clumps of Echinocereus grusonii were abundant throughout the garden.

Although not exactly rare in cultivation, the size of these clumps is certainly impressive.

Need I say more?

Mammillaria compressa looks good on it’s own.

..but looks better in mass.

This one looks well defended.

Don’t touch.

There were also abundant large specimen agave in all shapes and sizes.

Lovely spiky rosettes.

An oldgrowth Queen Victoria Agave.

Please note the large agave bloom spike center stage.

They just grow bigger down here.

Field of echeveria

Aeonium cristate


A towering yucca tree in bloom under the hot Californian sun.

Knobby Cactus. (ID PLEASE)

Fresh from Mars, they’ve landed.

Speaking of knobby cacti check out this impressive Lophocereus schottii var. monstrose.

…And now for some flowers

Stapelia gigantea in bloom, mind the odor and take it from me, do not get down on your knees and take a big whiff. You might want to eject your lunch, they don’t call it a carrion flower for nothing.

Aloe blooms.

Whew. Are you’re legs sore? Hearts warmed? Heat Stroked and Sun Burnt? No… Oh wait, we’re still in Canada aren’t we.

Theres no place like good old wet home.

Thanks for joining me on this tour, and thank you Huntington Gardens for preserving such an incredible destination. Stay tuned for more photos of other parts of the Huntington Gardens.


I love living in Victoria, but it does have it’s limitations. What’s a plant geek to do when he exhausts his local sources? Head down south of course!

We took the 101 all the way down to L.A and what a pleasure it was to ride on new roads, unexplored. The coastal highway through Washington, Oregon and California is absolutely to die for and one couldn’t hope for better scenery. For someone with a botanical eye you’ll find extra interest in the large variety of unusual plant habitats. Driving through coastal forests, into dunes and deserts, sandy hilltops and subtropical jungles, it’s a tough ride indeed. Still through the arduous journey of greasy spoons and motel box-springs, we carried on in search of some of the most famous botanical gardens the West Coast has to offer. To start off on a high-note I’ll begin with one of my favorites, UC Botanical Garden @ Berkeley.

Being exceptionally shortchanged on enthralling botanical gardens, a Canadian needs to head south if he’s seeking the exotic. I’ve read about the botanical gardens at Berkeley for some time now and I’m thrilled to have finally been able to visit them.  San Francisco is a Zone 10, making it just a little bit easier to  grow a subtropical garden. Wouldn’t you know it I saw all my favorites, and some new things too. This place must be the holy grail for growing strange and unusual plants, the city’s lowest recorded temperature is a mere -3C ( 26.6 F). Bingo!

Let’s take a look at some strange specimens shall we?

A large impressive Dudleya brittonii (Chalk Dudleya) greeted us at the entrance.  San Marcos Growers has a great description right here.

They had a mighty fine fern house full of many spored obscurities. Behind the glass an incredible mixed collection of orchids and carnivorous plants.

This Elaphoglossum peltatum (Elephant Fern) really caught my eye.

Perhaps the people of the south are no longer impressed by giant opuntias, but this one had me shocked and amazed. This one was so old growth it had branches like an old tree. Needless to say it was bigger then the car that got me down here, it must have been quite old indeed.

Every this way and that I saw another impressive succulent display. Here we have a very large clump of Euphorbia coerulescens growing happy as can be outdoors. Sure makes you feel silly for nursing along a small cutting in a windowsill. I digress…

Euphorbia coerulescens

The more south I drove the clearer it became. Could we all have have giant aloe trees in our back yard down here?

Drum roll please! I was also lucky enough to spot a recently flowered Boophone haemanthoides. South African bulbs remain a personal favorite.

Oldgrowth cyphostemma juttae  looks like gnarled rock.

Amaryllis belladonna blooming amongst exotic cycads.

Euphorbia clavarioides tucked between some rocks.

What a lovely aloe polyphylla you have there.

Sure, try to tell yourself this isn’t the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. Correct-o-mundo!

Oh? And then there were the agaves. So much larger then the ones we grow at home.

Some were even flowering, reaching well above the canopy.

It seems I was a day too early, these agave buds are about to pop!

UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens is a lush to say the least. A true paradise for any aspiring botanist, naturalist and/or human being.

Dianthus rupicola simple elegance.

An exotic brugmansia

Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata otherwise known as a grass tree.

A quick peak into their tropical house yielded a treasure of large established strange and unusual.

This bird of paradise is well over 20 ft tall.

They also had this incredible art piece in which various lengths of glass tubing brought in light into a dark room, thus making the tubes appear to glow.

Dazed and confused in a cactus garden down south.

Thank you for joining me on this tour.

As spring rolls on and temperatures remain consistently warmer, it’s finally time to bring your plants outdoors again. Over the past month or so I’ve been slowly but surely bringing out my cacti, succulents and tropical oddities. While many plants seem to do just fine in living room, nothing beats the great outdoors. Given the opportunity to breathe the fresh air, plants will almost always benefit and in turn, thrive.

Euphorbia leuconeura (Madagascar Jewel) loves it outside and begins flushing out rather quickly after being place outdoors.

Of course bringing your plants outdoors doesn’t come without it’s dangers, there are a couple things to keep in mind. It’s not as simple as placing the plant from indoors to out, patience and planning should exercised. Much like many of us who get a sunburn on our first day out in the sun, plants also have to adjust to the new intensity of sunlight. Plants taken from the sheltered existence of the home and out into the elements need a bit of time to adjust. Getting impatient will not only damage your plants, but might kill them all together. “Poor little sunburnt cactus…”

Some plants are easier the harden off then others, this Disocactus flagelliformis went right out under the maple tree. It’s home away from home. 

It’s essential that you ease them into their new surroundings, hardening off your plants is a must . The idea being that you bring your plants out into the sun for a couple hours a day, increasing their exposure gradually until finally they can handle a full dose of the outdoors. I’ll openly admit I have tried this back and forth technique, moving a banana tree in and out of my house for a week. After many trips in and out I stepped back in protest, this strategy is back breaking, dedicated and monotanous. Let’s take a simplified approach, and make the move only once.

Some of the plants that on the third stage of the migration, having been deemed ready to live in the cold-frame. 

After temperatures have started to stabilize and remain warmer in the daytime and night, it’s the perfect time to start the migration. A overcast weekend will work even better and the first move should be to a sheltered, shady outdoor position. I place my plants on the side of my house where it’s shady for 3/4ths of the day with minimal direct sunlight . While it seems like this wouldn’t make much of a difference from your indoor setup, sitting in the shade for a while seems to toughen them up a bit. They’ll feel their first rain drops, be blasted with fresh air, and experience real temperatures changes. Most reccomend you leave your plants in a position like this for at least 2 weeks, I often start to bring them out a little sooner. After about a week I go from shade, to partial shade, and shortly after to wherever I want. The stress caused by hardening off your plants seems to vary from specimen to specimen, but the more patience you have, the more successful you’ll be. A summer spent outdoors will give your plants better growth and a better life. They’ll reward your efforts by being overall more healthy, thus living longer, flowering more frequent and being significantly more rot and pest resistant. Let your poor plants out won’t you, it’s a good week to do it. 

Cyphostemma juttae’s first leaves started to emerge this week. Hardening off on the side of the house.

A new addition in the midst of being hardened off, Euphorbia greenwayi.

Hope everyone’s enjoying the garden as much as I am. So much lush spring growth!

In hopes of better recording the madness of this plant collecting dream I hope to post the odd specimen photo as to keep a digital inventory and catalog of what I have in my greedy little plant hands.

About a month and a half ago I uploaded a picture of my Cyphostemma juttae. While the plant was surviving quite well, it wasn’t exactly thriving. While I had read online that these plants can be sensitive to over-watering I had been treating it much like any other cacti in my collection. Upon closer inspection the pot almost always dried out after a day or two after watering, this told me that the plant was much thirstier then the Internet had led me to believe. Since then I started watering a lot more regularily, in turn the plant has rewarded me with more growth in one month then I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve owned the plant.

The lesson? Cyphostemma juttae enjoys a fair amount of water during it’s growing season. To be safe let it dry out before giving it another drink, but don’t be surprised if you top it up more then a couple times a week. So far it seems to be enjoying the wet stuff.

Cyphostemma juttae caudex

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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