Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

darmera peltata

Originally I wanted to write a post marking the beginning of spring plant hoarding, but then I realized, who am I kidding. I started months ago, or never stopped, every months means more plants in my collection. I love growing new plants, the fascination never ceases to please. New species and new varieties,  plants are a dangerous subject matter for the collecting type. I’d love to boast about discretion but this is something I know very little about. I’d love to say that I at least keep it to one of each, but then I’d also be lying. Really, what self respecting plant geek could pass up an in flower Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ for $10.00. Even if they already had one at home, I think not, “this one’s coming home with Nat.” While one might suggest caution for fear of one’s wallet being emptied I argue that plants are one of the best things you could treat yourself to, surely a better investment then a burger and a beer. Assuming you don’t murder your newly collected plant, they often maintain their value, if not increase as they mature. Tis the life of a king to witness plants bloom from far away lands, I care not for high definition graphics, but more about the crisp beautiful simplicity of an unfurling leaf. Plant collecting is indeed a pleasure.


A white form of Arisaema griffithii. I bought two corms last year but only one bloomed last season. This one came up white, while it’s brother is rich dark chocolate. A pleasant surprise that I don’t think was necessarily intentional when they were packaging the corms. I’ll count this one as a win. 

I love where plant hoarding has taken me, and in time my plant identification has made it even more fun. Often the strangest and the rarest go unlabeled, most exotic nurseries have some gems tucked away for a keen eye. A seemingly dull plain leafy looking plant could be much more amazing if you know the story behind it. Treasure lies for those in the know, make an effort to know your nurseryman for the best selection in town. Be a good customer, support your local nurseries and express a sincere interest. The majority of people running nurseries are in it for the same reason as you are, because they love plants. Given a chance many will share a wealth of information, a resource that should be utilized when the opportunity presents itself. There’s no shame in not knowing the growing conditions of a certain plant, spare yourself the trial and error and ask for some suggestions from someone who’s been there, done that.


The strange leafless blooms of darmera peltata

All rants aside, I’ve been working a lot lately and in turn, have felt an exaggerated need to treat myself with new planty goodness. A quick peak into my latest lack of discretion.


As weather gets more accommodating, now begins the long migration of plants from the greenhouse, to my garden.  A little old mixed in with the new.


Why do plant bloggers love posting pictures of their cars loaded with plants? I know what you’re thinking, did I really need 10 more trachycarpus fortunei. The answer is, yes.


I’m a little embarressed in that I had only intended in taking a peak. Oh well…


I found a very good deal on an exceptionally root-bound pot of Asparagus meyeri, otherwise known as a foxtail fern. Had to give this one a try.


A Tropaeolum tuberosum I started as a peanut sized tuber under lights this winter has grown into a large sprawling vine in only a couple months. A bizarre edible crop, this hardy nasturtium produces tubers said to have a strong peppery taste. I’ll let you know as things progress.


An extremely well established unidentified exotic ginger.


I visited at the right time to witness this Azara lanceolata in full wondrous flower. Another Chilean oddity, this strange tree grows on wet marshy hillsides and produces these amazing vanilla scented flowers. Another reminder to visit your local nurseries frequently so you can see their selection of plants at different times of the year.


The flowers of Azara lanceolata are reminiscent of an acasia tree, but almost more delicate. Even though I don’t have a strong sense of smell, the aroma is intoxicating.


While I’ve only recently learned it’s name, this plant has been on my wish list long before I knew much at all. I first spotted it at a botanical garden in Gottingen, Germany, this Phytolacca americana intrigues me. Known as a weed to some, our northern climate keeps these at bay, pink hued flowers that eventually mature into an ornamental pillar of black berries. So Strange.

Last but not least, I need a little help here.

Is this a Drimia maritima (syn. Urginea maritima)? The nursery had a small stock of them but no one has a solid ID.


If it is, I’ve been trying to seek one of these out for almost 2 years now, often being thwarted by it’s lack of availability and heavy cost of shipping. If it’s not what I think it is, either way I’m thrill, it’s a beautiful plant. After this photo I repotted it and exposed the bulb, lined it with beach rocks in a nice new ceramic pot, it’s a show worthy piece. More photos as soon as I can.

This wasn’t all that I collected this day, but it is as much as I’m willing to document at the moment. The others, while amazing finds, aren’t photogenic quite yet, and will be saved for another day.

Thanks for joining me.


Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Syn Dicentra spectabilis)


Arisaema griffithii still creeping out the joint.


Ornamental strawberry? What’s the point. Fragaria x ananassa ‘Pink Panda’


Maybe really neat. Fragaria x ananassa ‘Pink Panda’


The shade of a bamboo patch.


Echium pininana round two.


And if that doesn’t work out, I’ve got about 20 of each variety popping. One of these seedlings has got to make me proud.

HAPPY SPRINGTIME!

Things have certainly been ripping along, I’m in absolute awe of all the new growth in the garden. After many tireless hours, and inconceivable levels of plant hoarding, the garden is full, established and brimming with life. The last week was an absolute zoo at the nursery which involved many late nights, and even a little Saturday catch up. Truth be told I feel a bit silly complaining about work when essentially I’m paid to do one big plant scavenger hunt, sun shining high, birds singing. Still as the long weeks add up my body aches a little more. Anyone who knows the dance of overtime knows there’s very little time to do much else. Living and breathing the plant scene right now, there’s a buzz in town and I’m enjoying the energy. My spirits remain high and I’m proud to have the job I have today.

A lot has been popping in the back garden, and I thought it might be time to do a bit more sharing.

The late April garden tour:


The Cardiocrinum giganteum has grown more then a foot since I got it a couple week’s back, it’s a fun plant to watch grow. Large glossy leaves and a promise of a tall flower stalk that will be the gem of the garden.


It’s main stock is a sight to be seen. It’s circumference and speed of growth is unreal.


Tetrapanax papyrifer has been enjoying the spring weather, rewarding me with a new leaf every couple weeks. If you haven’t tried this plant yet, keep your eyes peeled, the garden wouldn’t be the same without it. Low maintenance, undemanding and pest free, I haven’t had a thread of trouble growing Tetrapanax in Victoria. Extra bonus points that it’s almost completely hardy around here, it didn’t even loose it’s leaves this winter.


A meconopsis bud has been brewing the last couple days. Everyone tells me these plants are difficult and short lived, but so far this specimen hasn’t given me any problems whatsoever. A potted specimen I bring out into the main display in spring, and retire in the late summer. Himalayan poppy’s are unusual and beautiful, a great addition to the the perennial border.


Jeffersonia diphylla (Twin Leaf) & Sanguinaria canadensis (Blood Root) make an attractive unlikely pair. Both emerge into spring in the strangest way, flowering before the leaves even unravel. I enjoy the delicateness of the foliage and their lush greens are pleasant to say the least. Should you be keen to see a jeffersonia in bloom, don’t blink or you might miss it. This one came and went within the matter of 8 hours, I came home to a spent bloom having saw the bud only that morning.
All things pass.


I love the exotic blooms of this under cultivated hardy succulent, Chiastophyllum oppositifolium (kee-as-toh-FILL-um, op-po-sit-ee-FOH-lee-um). I have two of these at the moment, one in the garden and one in a 1 gallon pot, and the one in the pot is doing significantly better. For the best results extra drainage and perhaps some light winter protection will help encourage spring blooms. Furthermore I think chiastophyllum might be resiliant enough to be planted in rock walls and other vertical, well drained plantings. A must have, this is only the beginning of the long vibrant garland-like strands of flowers.


A perfectly grown Gentiana acaulis we aquired from Joe Keller at the VIRAGS Show and Sale has started to open and is a daily wonder. The flowers open and close with the sunlight, perhaps to protect it’s softer parts from winter moisture and cold temperatures.


Upon closer inspection this gentian’s flower is a real work of art. Out of this world beautiful, a perfect landing pad for a busy bumble bee. The dots inside are actually protruded bumps and the flower is comprised of a hard plastic-like casing and frilly soft petals when in full bloom. What an amazing shade of blue.


The rhodohypoxis are planted at the base of a eucalyptus tree and grow happily symbiotically. The thirsty tree above keeps the potrootbound and dry, preventing rot and also making it tough for city rats and squirrels to eat the delicious bulbs below. These have popped up for the last 3 seasons with no special care at all.


What can I say, I have a sweet spot for hardy primulas. Primula sieboldii lends well to the collection.


This primula auricula has been under performing for the last couple seasons and has been recently potted in a terracotta. A couple weeks later these blooms are my reward.


This Saxifraga ‘Triumph’ looks it’s best at this time of year. Cool weather growing, it seems to have migrated at least a foot from where I originally planted it. Now it drapes itself down the bordering rocks and looks quite naturalized. Even without it’s flowers it’s worth having in the garden. Bonus points that once spring moves into full swing you’re rewarded with a bumper crop of red tricolor blooms, I can’t complain.


The definition of springtime.


Proper gardening is all about timing. Plant something at the right time, and it won’t just “live” it will thrive. Bellis ‘English Daisies’ are a great short lived, cold weather perennial. For the best value buy them as 6pack annuals in fall, plant them and forget them until spring. The winter gives them ample time to get established and this is how they’ll look from February until June.


I have more then 10 different types of daffodils in the garden and yet they’re often left undocumented. I thought it was overdue that  I include a shot as they are the true harbingers of spring.


These Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Blue Bells) were here before I started the garden and will likely be here after I leave this garden. Truthfully I’ve loved them since the first day I saw them. Exotic flowers that grow like weeds, I’m impressed, I really am.


I often enjoy looking at the garden lengthwise and seeing the mix of colors all interwoven like a tapestry.


Once the flower stalks of Darmera peltata begin to unfurl, they move at an incredible rate. What perfect little capsules.


You don’t need to go to outer space to see something weird. Just. Go. Outside.


The shiny leaves of newly emerged Rodgersia. This specimen is thriving in the deep dry shade of a large clump of bamboo.


Something that might be new to some of you, Matthiola arborescens otherwise known as a tree stock. Much like your traditional annual stock, but supersized. Silver foliage and nicely scented flowers, I’m excited to see how this develops this season. A late find last season, this overwintered just fine in my coldframe in the back.


My podophyllum peltatum (North American May Apple) started to emerge at the end of last week. While podophyllums are somewhat new to me in the grande scheme of things I certainly enjoy growing them. Hosta-like in their developed foliage, there emergence in spring is miraculous and entertaining to watch. Another plant that needs a daily glance, this podophyllum moves quick once it gets started.


I’ve got two Arisaema griffithii in bloom at the moment, one dark one light. You always win with hardy exotics.

At The Nursery


A quick shot of the new greenhouse we built this winter. Is that an Echium pininana out front you ask? Why yes it is! Sadly it’s not the same one as I so proudly boasted about last season, that one died while being overwintered in the greenhouse. I should have said something earlier but I was still mourning. This season I’m taking it a step further, I’ve already got about 20 seedlings on the go, we will see one of these bloom somehow!


Amidst all the fury of greenhouse madness I was able to take 30 minutes to snap a couple nice shots. I love fresh crops of euphorbia, the contrast of foliage is amazing.


A field of rosemary and lavender.


6 pack fiberous begonias, the bane of the nurseryman. King of the frustrating crops, begonias can be a pain in the A$$. For the moment this season’s look phenomenal. Only time will tell.


I can’t help but to smile looking at these large crops of different colored heucheras.

Last but not least: The Latest Plant Hoarding

While buzzing about a garden center on a sales call, I noticed this amazing specimen of Jatropha podagrica. Strangely enough I had been eyeing one of these up on Tropiflora a couple months previous but changed my mind when I saw the  $80 dollars for shipping and phyto tickets. There’s a small crop of these circulating Victoria’s garden centers right now, if you want an interesting developed caudiciform I suggust you go for an adventure right now. Not cheap, but barely expensive, I saw a couple at Gardenworks Blenkinsop and Marigold Nursery Saanich. They’re in short supply and won’t last long, you need one of these.


Amazing neon orange blooms.

Thanks for coming along for a tour. Enjoy the spring weather!

-N

Success!

Little Darmera peltata seedlings sprouted up a couple of days ago, and more are poking their heads up everyday. Let me explain how this came to be.

I first encountered Darmera peltata at the Uvic Plant Sale in early May. At the time they looked rather bland, I had no idea how amazing they would become. They were sold to me as small leafless stems of flowers in 1 gallon pots. It was coming to the end of the sale, and the lady at the table ended up giving me two specimens for the price of one. While I usually avoid duplicates in the garden, I had dreams of sprucing up my  compost heap, and this is where they ended up. I dug two large holes on the pile, filled them in with fresh potting soil and placed in the two Darmera specimens. Within a couple days they started to really take off, the flower stems elongating and expanding into quite an unsual display of flowers.


Dramera begin to flower in mid May in Victoria, leafing out in early June.

As quickly as the flowers had arrived, they were spent, the little pink flowers lost their petals and started turning into seed pods. At this point the plant began to leaf out, and by mid June had impressive dinner plate sized leaves.

While doing my regular evening walk about, I noticed the seed pods had finally finished their development. The seed pods had dried up and were ready to distribute the precious seeds within. At the time I was tired of looking at the at the dried flower stalks and found this a suitable moment to remedy my visual discomfort. I cut off the stems and shook the seed pods into my hand. I distributed some of the some extra seed on the compost heap and I took the rest to try my hand at growing more. I set up a plug tray full of fresh peat moss and scattered the seed liberally. While I’m not a fan of thinning out over seeded pots, I felt a bit pessimistic about this chore and wanted the highest chance of success. After I had sowed a full tray of seed on the top of the peat, I sprinkled a little extra peat and misted gently to soak thoroughly. From here I just let the tray be, watering daily so as to maintain moisture levels. About 2-3 weeks later the Darmera seedlings began to appear. Once they can hold their own I will prick them out into their own pots and grow them on from there. I must admit I’m thrilled by the success of this experiment, as there was very little information online about such things. Hopefully by next season I have a small army of these plants.


Darmera peltata

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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