Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Echeveria glauca

Hello Plant People

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere, lost in the beauty of the sunny backyard garden. Too much work, a whole lot of plants, and life goes on.

Funny how an absent of writing seems to come off as missing an old friend, I love sharing stories of my plant insanity, and hope some of you are still stopping by. While June certainly had more rain clouds then sun rays, it’s moisture was well received by my water hungry garden. Although the “gardener” got a few extra days off this June, July looks like it’s going to be a hot one. Starting today is a 10 day predicted forecast of cooking summer weather, we might even see a couple days in the 30’s (In Victoria, I know, I know). My giant Echium, Tetrapanax and Ensete false banana have instantly responded to the heat, growing like something out of Little Shop of Horrors. The colorful display of spring flowers has faded and in it’s place comes a whole new wave of tropical blooms. There is still plenty of summertime curiosities to peruse and fascinate, yet another time I’m thankful for being such a plant lunatic. So much to see…

Let’s take a closer look.

The tropical border is looking lush and exotic. My Achilles heel is a large garden made up of potted specimens. A nightmare to water, but satisifying in it’s ability to be reorganized as things look their best, and fade out for the season.

Let’s look at what’s been blooming the last couple weeks.

An old standby, Echeveria glauca is blooming early this year. The first succulent to really grab my attention, it’s lost it’s initial wow factor but still manages to win my respect for introducing me to a such a lovely genera of plants.

Aloe aristata is the first Aloe in my collection to yield blooms. We dug this one out of the Mary’s garden down on Cedar Hill Road, reliably hardy in Victoria if you keep the winter wet off it. Native to the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, these can be found growing up to 7500 feet above sea level in their natural habitat. Hardy succulents intrigue me.

Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean Glory Vine) overwintered just fine in a pot placed outdoors, it’s rate of growth is almost scary. A heavy seed setter, if you grow this plant for one season you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share. Bonus points that it flowers on it’s first year from seed. Plant it where it has plenty of space to climb, it breaks easily when moved and is best left to climb on it’s own.

What I suspect to be Phytolacca polyandra otherwise known as Chinese Poke Weed. I first saw this genus in Germany, and have loved it ever since. Can’t wait for the unusual berries.

You’ve got to love the intricacy of it’s flowers.

A plant gifted to me last fall by the lovely people at Scentsational Plants, Arthropodium strictum (Tasmanian Chocolate Lily) was another winter success story.  It’s been flowering for the last couple weeks with these strange off center miniature blooms.

Close up strangeness.

Standing at almost 5 ft tall, Allium giganteum was worth the trouble.

When I first saw these little white berries appear I thought my Ugni molinae (Chilean Guava) was setting an early set of fruit. I should have known that they weren’t berries but flowers, it sets it’s fruit around the end of October. Get it together plant geek!

A weed to some, the yearly return of Linaria purpurea (Toad Flax) is always welcome sight. Amazing sprays of self seeding, non obstrusive, electric purple flowers. Yes please, introduce this ditch weed into my garden any day. This plant predates my garden and plant knowledge, it’s earned it’s space whether I like it or not.

Speaking of Linarias, I recently ordered some seeds from Chilterns and this Linaria aeruginea ‘Neon Lights’ was one of them. Mixed seed in various colors, only two specimens survived due to unintentional neglect. Unsure of if it’s perennial or annual, if it seeds anything like it’s releatives, I shouldn’t have a problem keeping it in the garden.

Arisaema triphyllum never ceases to fascinate and lasts much longer then the A. griffithii I have. We all need more Jack in the pulpits in the garden.

A new plant to me, Corydalis sempervirens has minute tropical looking flowers. What sold me more then that was it’s light green, almost powdered delicate foliage. It’s shade of green is unmatched in the garden.

The Lupinus arboreus I found as a seedling on dry waterside cliff doesn’t owe me anything. Out of all the plants in my garden this spring, this plant was acquired beyond the garden center and outflowered everything and anything in the garden. Naturally a shrub, I’ve been standardizing it into a tree with great results. Burning bush is an understatement.

Lovely lupin flowers.

Desfontatia spinosa flowers remind me of candy corn. Underneith a Lewisia glandulosa teases me with plenty of buds, but I’ve yet to see a single one flower.

Another old resident of the garden is campanula persicifolia, this one in particular I suspect to be a hybrid between the white and the blue varieties in my garden. Has anyone else see a spotted campanula flower?

A potted Hymnocalis festalis (Puruvian Daffodil) is a finely crafted work of natural art. What a wispy design of white frilled loveliness. If you happen to come across one of these, do stop and smell the roses, they have an alluring perfume.

Shocked and amazed.

I probably have over 10 species of saxifraga growing in my garden, and Saxifraga stolonifera wins first place for it’s flowers. Almost like a red stemmed orchid without the prestige and hype.

Take a closer look will you.

Obscure blooms of the South American, Bomarea edulis.  This plant probably wouldn’t sell out in Garden Centers but I enjoy it’s far off tale. Tuber ordered from Sacred Succulents.

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Sunburst Ruby’ lends well to a tropical garden. It’s reds stand out amongst all the green foliage of early summer, late spring.

Mitraria coccinea is a firestorm of orange tangelo colored flowers.

On the edge or hardy? I’m still not quite decided, this one made it through just fine in the coldframe.

Verbascum bombyciferum’s phallic flower droops and hangs in a different position every evening. A great drought resistant self seeding biannual for adding height and architecture. It reminds me of a blazing candelabra.

Another side fascination I’ve had this year is collecting exotic bulbs. Aztec Lily, Sprekelia formosissima in it’s full glory wondrous glory. The very first day the flower opened I took a deep breathe in and got to smell it’s short lived perfume. Smells like citrus mixed with strawberries, the aroma was intoxicating. I went for a second smell with no return, perhaps it only produces it in small supply.

For anyone having read mylast couple posts, I may come off as a broken record with pictures of my Cardiocrinum giganteum. Still I can’t help but to feel it deserves further documentation, standing at 12+ ft tall, stury and unstaked, this is one impressive lily.

9 years for the bulb to get to flowering size, 5 days of rain to knock them all off. I took this photo the day before the storm. Cardiocrinum giganteum is so classically beautiful, a true testament to the beauty and perfection of nature.

Even during heavy winds this Cardiocrinum giganteum barely moved an inch. Check out the base of it’s stalk.

12 feet and counting = happy plant geek.

I’m still not sure if I’ve properly identified this plant, but I suspect it to be Acacia koa. This strange acacia has two types of leaves coming off one branch. The reason for this morphology is unknown to me, but it has both flat leaves and small mimosa like leaves. I’ve never seen anything like it.

A closer look.

It’s always a good time for a photo of Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

Not rare, but totally everyday. I’m proud of my soft cushion planting of Saxifraga ‘Triumph’. It’s so fluffy!

I love when groundcovers start to merge, which one will remain victorious.

A nice way to justify breaking a fresh terracotta, put some succulents in it and act like you did it on purpose.

Buddha likes the saxifraga too.

The eyes of a gentle soul. Tobius the Cat.

Wishing you all a Sunny Weekend! Thanks for joining me on this tour.

Autumn is finally upon us and summer is slowly saying goodbye. It seems like we waited forever for spring to come, and now the gardening season is nearly at it’s end. Although this will be the 26th autumn I will have experienced, it still seems to astonish me. Where did all the time go, nearly 300 days of gardening come and gone.

“I feel like a bit of a  living, breathing time machine, I blink and find myself in the future. The only problem is I can’t make it stop.”

I digress. The other day I found myself in my small greenhouse reflecting on such topics. By the time I get home, get showered and cleaned up, the sun has already faded from my back garden. I am greeted by a gentle spray of soft muted shadows and an almost instantanous calm. The garden has never looked more lush, full, and jungle like. While most gardeners live for spring’s firework display of flowering bulbs, primulas and other colorful lovelies I might be tempted to say I like late summer/autumn gardens more. The size of everything is so grandiose and developed, a 15 foot jerusalem artichoke grows more everyday. While my climate dictates that I should love plants happy in my zone, I often sway towards the tropics. These tropical tourists do much better in the heat of summer and autumn and really thrive this time of year. The only drawback to the late season garden is that is on it’s way out instead of it’s way in. Rather meaning that like a great movie you don’t want to end, it’s just matter of time before the tropical paradise fades away.

My girlfriend posing for scale under the giant jerusalem artichoke

As I sat there in the greenhouse, reflecting and generally gapping out at my cacti collection, the sun went down, and I found myself sitting in the dark at half past seven. I have been toying with the idea of  doing some night photography and this was the night that I made it happen. Plants are sometimes a difficult subject to capture. Greens on greens, deep shadows, and macro destroying breezes all stand in the way. There has been many the great plant moment that I wasn’t able to capture due to the limitations of technology. It turns out night photography of plants might be ideal, the evening offers far less distraction. I ran inside, grabbed my tripod and flashlight and off I went. Perfect black backdrops every time, it’s so simple it should have been more obvious. An hour must have passed as I looked like a total wierdo photographing plants in the dark with a flash light. My friends will NEVER understand, I’m afraid the new me is here to stay.

Now onto the photo shoot.
Night Photography of Plants: An Autumn Garden Tour.


Echeveria glauca always fascinates me.

Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ flowers are larger then most echeveria flowers. Amazing!

Euphorbia obesa looks quite alien under this setting.

This cacti is still a NOID for me (A little help!?), but I have two of them, both have spectacular blue green tattoos. I’ve been trying to photograph this one all season with no success. Night photography does a great job.

Melianthus major is a personal favorite. Peanut Butter scented leaves, spectacular blue green foliage. Easily hardy in Victoria, don’t get stressed about it dying down to the ground, it will come back. Mine survived -15 last winter and grew back completely by mid summer. A must have in next year’s garden if you don’t have one already.

The very last flowers of my Zaluzianskya capensis (Night Flowering Phlox). This plant has the most unusual lovely evening scent. A mix of almonds and baby powder, it’s flowers are closed during the day and open at night. For more information about this plant see this post.

Just another oddity hidden amongst the rest. So unusual.

With a clever lcd lighting system, a Tetrapanax papyrifer is converted into a  bizarre night light.

As always the Echium pininana is a glory hog and still holds a large pressence in the garden. What a dramatic shadow it creates. It’s top growing point has been doing unusual things the last couple weeks. Will it flower before frost? Only time will tell.

If not it’s off the greenhouse to seek refuge and warm thoughts.

A rather new addition to the garden, Beschorneria ‘Ding Dong’ otherwise known as false red yucca. Why I felt the inclination to buy more tender plants past August is beyond me. I love the agave like foliage, awaiting it’s bizarre flowers.

The Physalis alkekengi otherwise known as Chinese Lanterns is thriving. It took two years for me to get a specimen of my own. I snagged some seeds from a yard a couple years back. The plants were slow to develop in their first year but really leaped the second. These are the first lanterns I’ve got from these plants, it was worth the wait. Interesting flowers are few and far between this time of year, a welcome addition to the garden.

With autumn comes the first flush of Cyclamen hederifolium flowers. So. Nice!

There you have it. Thank you for joining me for a late night garden tour. Who says you need sunlight to appreciate a garden anyhow!?

A couple nights ago I found myself sitting in my small greenhouse appreciating my cacti collection. It’s a great place for the cacti to live, they enjoy the extra heat and seem to thrive in this environment. While the rest of my garden gets generously watered the cacti house is on a much more moderate watering regime. Behind a wall of towering scarlet runner beans, the greenhouse is a good place to take a moment out and contemplate one’s life. I’ve always been attracted to close quarters and this is a bit a small sanctuary for me, an obscure sense of privacy is obtained in a city bustling with life. While hopelessly gapping out, I found myself in the golden hour and quickly ran to grab my camera. For all you cacti and succulent fans, here’s a small peak into some of my collection.

I recently found this cacti pot at a flea market for 3 bucks. While the pot has 3 different specimens, none impressed me more then this small spike ball. So far a NOID for me, it looks somewhat like a euphorbia. Either way a nice score. 

A closer look, the needles gather water in the most unusual way.

Echeveria glauca, the first echeveria to really grab my interests, pre gardener.

The very first time I spotted one of these in flower I was smitten. This was long before I knew anything about plants, but I remember it grabbing me. It seemed so unusual, out of a hallucination or willy wonka movie. These succulents are almost anti gravityin their ability to repel water miraculously. They’re covered in a light white dust that mixes with water and creates a strange gel. I’m still unsure why they have this powder but asthetically it enhances the color of these fine plants. With that in mind I suspect it helps the plant in one way or another and shouldn’t be wiped off. Look with your eyes not your hands. A drop of water in the crown of the echeveria makes for a cheap crystal ball.

Ok just one more photo, incredible!

Upon closer inspection Agave bovicornuta has a menacing look. War scars tattoo it’s large succulent leaves, while it’s crown thorns say “No Touch”

A closer look: looks like a chainsaw blade.

Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus) is flowering again. I found this one in Feburary and it was in bud then, I’m happy to see another set of blooms in the same year. It’s loving life outside.

A closer look at it’s neon orange flowers. For more information on this plant, see a post earlier this year, Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus)

Pleiospilos nelii otherwise known as Split Rock was aquired late spring. Since then it has completed discarded it’s old fleshy body and replaced it with these new ones. It’s essentially the same size but fresh, quite strange. 

It has the strangest spotted patterns, nature is the most intricate artist. I know a pointilist that get’s hand cramps doing this kind of work.

Echeveria runyonii has similar flowers to Echeveria glauca but super sized. Outstanding.

Graptoveria paraguayense ‘Fred Ives’ has been reliably beautiful all year round, aquired from a friend last year.

As far as giant African succulents go, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is a must have. It’s doubtful I’ll ever see it flower, but regardless it has a worthwhile presence in the garden.

Euphorbia obesa also known as (baseball plant), I’ve wanted one for what seems forever. This specimen followed me home one day on an accidental nursery tour. A choice succulent.

Looking up from my greenhouse I’m pleased to see Disocactus flagelliformis (rat tail cactus) loving life in a characteristally unusual hang spot. 

After visiting the hot south I feel a bit ridiculous collecting cacti and succulents in the way I do. When you visit a tropical cacti garden and see them at truly enormous statures it makes you feel a bit silly for nursing them along in small containers. Of course this is the beauty of being a gardener in the 21st century, one has never had more access to species then right now. If I want to hang a cacti in a maple tree, then that’s my prerogative. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

There is no shortage of beautiful volunteer sunflowers all over my garden, for the most part I let them grow where they sprout, at varying sizes.

A yearly favorite, 12 foot sunflower loom overhead.

Leonotis (Wild Dagga)

Bulbine frutescens – they open and close with the daylight.

Fuchsia boliviana — Red Bolivian Fuchsia. Added bonus they produce a tasty fruit similar to a grape.

Rose amongst a tree lupin. Perfect!

Hibiscus tree is starting to flower again. Excellent!

Rhodochiton atrosanguineum, so strange.

Abutilon pictum Thompsonii (Varigated Flowering Maple)

White Guara flowers all August

Alcea ‘Peaches and Dreams. This is it’s second year and it’s really gone overboard. Fighting for the tallest thing in my garden, this hollyhock is neck and neck with my jerusalem artichoke. 12+ feet and counting. Non stop blooms, like a slow motion firework.

Simply Amazing…

The very first cyclamen flower of the season. Just when you start to miss them again, they appear.

Chilean Glory Vine – Eccremocarpus scaber

Thalictrum delavayi ‘Hewitt’s Double’ – a late flowering minature thalictrum!

Anigozanthos flavidus (Kangaroo Paw)

Impatiens Congo Cockatoo

Orange Daylily, perhaps Hemerocallis ‘Kwanso’. The last bloom on the stalk…

Echeveria glauca

One of many different shades of gladiolus

I hope this satisfies your need for plant eye candy.. Months of work put into a 35 second photo spread. Calms the mind, feeds the soul.

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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