Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Dicksonia antarctica

Over the last couple years I’ve slowly but surely created a garden at my family’s property on Salt Spring Island. It started out modest enough, a pond was dug, a spray of perennials tossed this way and that, a garden away from home takes some time to get going. This past year I kicked it up a notch and have made an effort to work on it every time I visit. A further observation of the weather patterns on the Gulf islands yields a wealth of possibilities. The Gulf Islands have a similar climate to the Mediterranean and are significantly more mild in weather then even Vancouver Island. Snow rarely falls and when it does it’s often gone before it becomes an nuisance. The Gulf Islands are sometimes referred to as ‘Canada’s Banana Belt’ for their remarkable sub-tropical climates. Any traveling plant geeks would surely notice the high percentage of exotics in the boardwalks and garden beds. Naturally as I become more and more  inclined to garden with tropical plants, this concept intrigues me.

A local celebrity for growing palms on the island, Banana Joe, is well known for growing a wide range of exotica. What’s most amazing is his old growth Tasmanian Tree fern, the envy of any plant lunatic.

Every time I visit I bring something new. On this trip a couple colorful primulas follow me to the rock. Cliche in their existence, primulas are great at adding a little extra color throughout the darke months. I planted a spray of them, weeded and tended to the perennials. Bulbs were sprouting and daffodils stood budded. The hellebores were fully in flower and looking significantly more impressive then the 4″ plants I had planted years ago. In November I had convinced my grandparents to buy a couple yards of compost to top dress the beds, a couple months later everything looks to be enjoying the new earth. A Gunnera I planted late in the season looks a bit questionable, but I remain optimistic that it will bounce back come spring. While this garden is still young in many ways, there was plenty to look at and inspect.

Join me on a quick walk about the property.

A couple small groupings of primula definitely brighten up the garden.

The hellebores certainly look proud this time of year. The white ornamental  cabbage I planted in early November has also preformed over and beyond my expectations.

For whatever reason this variety in particular is thriving, all the other varieties are either stunted or rotten.

Some people wouldn’t get caught dead with these in their garden, but still I think they have a time and a place. What else can handle the ravages of winter and still look so good.

I’ve since lost the variety name of this hellebore (?), but I’m impressed with it’s performance thus far. It was looking pretty much as nice as could be

The Oplopanax horridus (Devil’s Club) I planted last fall is still in dormancy, gearing up for spring. What a spiky menacing thing.

The Melianthus major I planted made it through the worst of the winter undamaged. The lower leaves got a bit fried in the light frosts but the top remains lush and vigorous. Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to see some flowers in spring.

This Podocarpus is showing signs of new growth.

So is this recently rescued Melaleuca tree. An Australian plant with new growth at this time of year, this far north? Talk about gardening on the edge.

This variegated rhododendron really stands out this time of year.

Sedum Blue Spruce

A view from another angle.

Great reflections

Fat goldfish.

A coveted greenhouse.

Inside the greenhouse: A Dicksonia antarctica (Tasmanian Tree Fern) I bought for my grandmother for Christmas. Once the weather gets nice we’ll be putting it in the garden and testing it’s hardiness next year.

Inside the greenhouse: A vigorous hoya vine.

A quick peak at the bay. Waterfront was a lot more affordable when my family first acquired the property long before I was born.

A path to the beach.

About 20 years ago I stood on this very same spot and gazed across the water to see a mountainside covered in snow. Where I stood no snow had fallen, the grass was green, and this in turn sealed my fate. No snow day for the kid who lives on the beach. I cursed the clouds and begged the heavens to give me some of the white stuff, but it rarely happened. Nearly two decades later I stand in the same spot and marvel in how miraculous it is that snow rarely touches this spot. In the coming years I hope to plant palm trees and bananas down here.

While we’re down here we might as well take a look at the Arbutus menziesii trees. An evergreen flat leafed tree, they grow throughout the Gulf Islands and contribute to the island’s tropical flavor.

Worthy of a second photo, I think so.

I think it’s time to head back off the beach and investigate something else.

A sea of green, even ivy has it’s place.

Mahonia aquifolium otherwise known as oregon grape has naturalized throughout the property. On these dry slopes it takes on the most amazing winter color.

A closer look shows a painters palette of color, I think nature beat you again Mr Artist.

While we’ve got our head’s tilted down, we might as well take a closer look at this Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle Tree). Planted 5-10 years ago this tree is fairly slow growing and is still quite small. It’s leaves are as spiky as a cactus and an accidental swat of my hand drew blood. Upon a quick glance monkey puzzle trees have never really amazed me, but after this photoshoot my mind may have been swayed. It’s like a branching agave or aloe, it’s a pretty incredible specimen. This one in particular has settled in happily and takes care of itself. No extra deer fences are required with these spiky monsters.

The one planting of Galium spp. (sweet woodruff) that I actually don’t mind. Complete permaculture, this plant thrives in this dry partial shade with little to no water other then rain. In spring it is a fog of white flowers and is quite pleasant.

A time and a place for everything.

I think my garden needs more crystals scattered throughout it.

Last but not least my parent’s got me a couple great belated birthday gifts. Two books I’ve been after for quite some time ‘Tropical Plant Collecting: From the field to the internet’ by Scott A. Mori, Amy Berkov, Carol A. Gracie & Edmund F, and ‘So You Want to Start a Nursery’ by Tony Advent (owner of the famous Plants Delight Nursery) I’m excited to give these are read, but I’m unsure when, as spare time seems to be slowly but surely disappearing. On top of the books my father gave me an unexpected bonus gift. A very large old lophophora he’s had since I was knee high. It’s a little beat up as is, but in time I suspect it will thrive. What a score!

Thanks for coming for a walk about.

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.