Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

echium pininana

Hello dear plant people.

The days are getting shorter, the weather a tad bit cool. Can you believe it’s already mid October. It’s been such beautiful season, count 2014 a win for the gardeners of this west coast island. Where have I been you ask? Oh you know. Hands busy in the garden and greenhouse. Trying to focus on family life, watching the daily evolution of the young one. If I had ever thought I was busy in the past, this year is breaking records.

To say I’m reaping what I’ve sowed in an understatement. I’m always surprised by the botanical curiosities popping up in the garden. Having collected my plants at all times of the year, there’s almost always something interesting happening out back.

Tetrapanax offset
The Tetrapanax has had a successful season; it was so happy it created this offset this spring. Looks like I got two now. Hardy tropical foliage, always a head turner. I only need another 98 for the forest I’d like to plant one day.

Tetrapanax Flowering
At well over 10 feet tall, this Tetrapanax starting doing something unusual late in the season. With anywhere from 20-30 more frost free days do you think it will make it to flower?

desfontainia spinosa
No this isn’t a holly ( Ilex aquifolium ); it’s something much stranger. Desfontainia spinosa is a long way from home, appearing naturally from Costa Rica and further south. I’ve had mine for a number of years and it has modest growth at best. In summer it has some remarkable candy corn flowers. Pictured above, it’s Inca guardian.

Alpine Pots
Some plants lend well to small pots. As the days go on terms like drought tolerant and alpine are extra appealing.

helwingia chinensis
Helwingia chinensis is showing some great fall color.

Jerusalem artichoke
Standing nearly 20feet tall these jerusalem artichoke flowers are a welcome touch of gold on a glum rainy day.

Androsace
Rarely a flower, these saffron crocus come up every October. Charming foliage among rock jasmine; androsace.

Dragon Wing Begonia
Working at a greenhouse facility that predominately works with annuals; it’s hard not to have a few follow me home. If you’ve never grown dragon wing begonias their worth a try for sure. They grow vigorously and are almost never without flowers. Large shiny foliage right up until frost. A remarkable plant.

Perilla magilla
Looks like a coleus to me; think again. It’s Perilla ‘Magilla’ and I planted this mid summer. As the garden started to cool off from spring blooms; coleus and this Perilla really help liven things up. I have had zero trouble keep this looking good. An annual sure, but incredible it is indeed.

Coleus Oxford St
My favorite of the new Coleus varieties we grew this season. This ones seems to be the best branching and maintains it’s shape well. What incredible gold fringed leaves. The botanist who came up with this hybrid must be pleased.

Viola Sorbet Fire
Trialing some new cultivars from Ball Seed; Viola Sorbet Fire.

Viola peach melba and lemon ice
You know I ship 1000′s of flats of pansies and violas each season. After a while you get tired of seeing the same colors each year. I’m happy we’ve added a couple new ones to our list. Viola Lemon Ice and Viola Peach Melba.

Echium pininana
The next generation of Echium pininana; let’s hope for a mild winter.

Echium pininana
Speaking of echiums, I’ve never had more of them growing. Pictured above is where I placed the carcass of last season’s 15 foot bloom. I guess there is a high rate of germination.

echiums in seed tray
I’ve collected a few to grow on for friends. Still in my to top 3 all time plant favorites.

Echium Wood
Echium wood.

Cacti display
With wet weather on it’s way I spent the weekend moving in some 100 potted cacti and succulents. What a meditation.

Ornithogalum dubium
Unusual autumn blooming Ornithogalum dubium.

It’s all in the details. Time to stop and smell the roses. The world is full of astonishing things. If only one is to open their eyes and pay attention.

 

 

“Summer Time and the living’s easy”

What a beautiful weekend we had here in Victoria; perhaps summer has finally arrived. Gardens are still lush, but thirsty indeed. From greenhouse to garden I live with a hose in hand. I have yet to neglect my duties this season and the garden has rewarded me absolute lushness, ever vigilant do I stand.

Today my girlfriend and I took a stroll about Government House Gardens and what it a treat it was. The sun was shining  and the wind wisped gently, shadows danced creating the perfect lighting for a great photo shoot. Government House is my favorite garden in Victoria, it’s location is perfect and it’s botanical obscurity high. Open from sunrise to sunset Government House is free to the public and a great place to relax and forget about life’s woes. Rolling gardens that surround the main building eventually turn into paths of mixed garden on a lichen covered rock face. After a walk through some of the most exciting exotic gardens in Victoria one can continue their journey to the bottom of the property to check out their preserved Gary Oak ecosystem.  The gardener’s involved in this project have a real flair for horticulture. Their attention to detail is refreshingly immaculate; the diversity of the garden lends well to much exploring. It’s worth a visit at any time of the year; surprises are in store for those who pay attention and visit often. A perfect place for a coffee & stroll.

Ok.. now onto the photos. So many colorful flowers.

Papaver Allegro
I personally don’t care for oriental poppies in my garden, but here they look ablaze and incredible. Papaver ‘Allegro’ back lite by the nodding sun.

eccremocarpus scaber
Spotted an Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean Glory Vine) growing as happy as can be. Incredibly hardy here in Victoria if placed in the right location, a light mulch in winter and they spring to life post haste. I was excited to see this one doing so well.

eccremocarpus scaber closeup
A close up for identification purposes. Eccremocarpus scaber

exotic plants in victoria
One of my favorite plantings at Government House. An Eryngium agavifolium & Beschorneria sp. (False Yucca) thrive on this exposed rockface looking out at the sea. Lucky plants get the best view in town.

eryngium agavifolium
Eryngium agavifolium blooms

beschorneria blooms
Beschorneria blooms.

Watsonia
South African Watsonia.

Closeup watsonia

echium pininana
I was happy to see the echium pininana are still doing well.

Dying echium
All but this scarlet one of course. Having had a crop of nearly 100 last season I can say with certaintity this one isn’t going to make it this season.

Eschscholzia californica
Eschscholzia californica (California Poppy) in it’s full glorious splendor.

California poppy
Absolutely electric.

agave parryi
Always excited to see Agaves planted out here in Victoria. What a thrill, live on the wild side. Agave parryi is known to be one of the toughest agaves suited for northern gardens. Depending on the cultivar many are adapted to the wet conditions found out here on the west coast.  This one has a couple battle scars from last winter.

Eremurus
Eremurus (Fox Tail Lilies) remind me of fireworks. I really should get a timelapse on these some day, if you sped things up this would almost flicker like a sparkler. Incredible.

Fox tail lily blooms
eremurus flowers
Jewel encrusted.

Dierama
It’s no wonder why Dierama’s common name is fishing rod plant. Watch it dance in the wind, bobbing like a lure.

ID?
A couple ID’s needed pls. This is some cultivar of thistle mithinks.

ID?
Gold Star opportunity to show off your plant knowledge.

delosperma nubigenum
An impressive colony of delosperma nubigenum hanging down a rockface.

delosperma nubigenum delosperma nubigenum

delosperma cooperi
Although all Delosperma originate from Africa most and many are hardy in northern gardens. Provided they have sun and good drainage they’re an easy plant to grow and thrive on neglect. Easily propagated by cutting they come in a wide array of colors and habit. Flowers range from pink to sunset. They’re a fun plant to collect and rarely aggrivated the busy scheduled gardener. Can you say easy? Yes please!

primula bulleyana
primula bulleyanaprimula bulleyana
Primula bulleyana

Cotula
Cotula hispida

Exotic border
What’s that I spotted among this exotic border?

sonchus canariensis
A kin from my crop of Sonchus canariensis. I’m excited to see what it looks like at the end of the summer.

What a wonderful day.

P.S for those who are interested…

Please stop on by for the 6th Annual PLANT HOARDERS plant sale, in the cook st village.

A large variety of hardy & tropical perennials, old standbys and rare and exotic. Seed grown Tree Echiums (echium pininana), large specimen burgmansias, gunnera and other way cool plants. Not your average plant sale, well worth coming out rain or shine. LETS HOPE FOR SUN. Located a cook/fairfield (442 COOK), exceptional quality with fair prices. Indulge the inner plant geek and come down for some really great plants. Need gardening advice? Let me recommend something perfect for your garden.

Last week was an absolute fury of work at the greenhouse. I’m happy to see Mother’s Day come and go. So many hanging baskets; I’ve got marigold vision…

In other plant news, it’s springtime and the plants are just loving it. We’ve had a nice three weeks of sunshine and I’ve been wearing a t-shirt and shorts for weeks. For any of you who are wondering. I succeeded in my mission to get a tree echium to flower this season. In fact after growing more then 50 of them from seed, I had 6 bloom in total. Still none surpass my main plant at home, who lived outdoors all winter (with some protection) and is now reaching towards the heavens.

echium pininana

echium pininana

I took this photo a couple days ago and it’s already grown another half foot. It’s nearly 15 feet tall and climbing. This is probably the coolest plant I’ve ever grown. Imagine if I had five this big…. maybe next year?

More updates to come… So much going on.

Happy New Years Plant Geeks!

The holidays were great, many the night spent with family and friends. Food induced comas, tall glasses of fire water & general needless celebrating. I’m relaxed and plump. 2013 promises to be a great year. I’m thinking without all this doomsday paranoia perhaps humanity can concentrate on better things, like plants.

It’s nice to have a little break from the daily task of keeping the collection alive.  It’s amazing how busy I am in the spring and summer, by December the workload is reduced by 80%. Not without my chores but it’s a cake walk in comparison. Still plenty to look at of course. More so at the greenhouse than the garden, but I’m still surprised to see life outdoors. Actually to be honest our winter hasn’t been all that bad at all. Although we’ve seen the odd frost at the greenhouse, my house in the Cook Street Village seems to be relatively untouched. Sure some of the plants have relaxed due to the colder weather, but I honestly don’t think it’s seen even a lick of frost. My banana trees still have green leaves, so does the hedychiums. It’s been a strange winter indeed. Be it climate change or fortunate weather I’m happy either way. Keep the rain clouds coming as long as it keeps us away from deep freezes, the plants are loving it and it’s certainly lighter on the heating bill.

This winter I’ve spent entirely too much time indoors. Today I took the opportunity to go for a walk about and snap some photos. Let’s take a look shall we.


After all the effort of moving my echium last season; only to watch it die, I decided on a different strategy. Around the first of November a friend and I created this Echium shelter out of cedar and glass. Weather has been good so far but we’re not out of the water until the end of Febuary. Keeping the rain and snow off my prized echium should earn it couple extra lives I’m hoping.




Standing at over 10 feet tall this echium is sure to give a show next season if it survives the winter. After growing over 100 of these I’m determined to get one to bloom. With a surplus of exotics this year I’m doing my own trials on hardiness, so far with exciting results.


The Echium fastuosum ‘Pride of Madeira” I left exposed is doing quite well.


Geranium maderense hasn’t noticed our winter at all.


Hedychium coccineum was still flowering mid November and on January 2nd is still looking lush. An adjecent pineapple salvia flowers freely to the right.


The succulents I planted on the grassy knoll are thriving too. I have two aeoniums outside right now and both are doing considerably better then the ones I have at the greenhouse. It seems they thrive in this cold weather, assuming we don’t see a deep freeze.


This one really surprised me. The Senecio cristobalensis I sacrificed to the elements is not only surviving but getting ready to flower. It’s been knocked over a couple times from the wind, but other than that he’s doing just fine.


Wasabia japonica resembles a ground cover at this time of year. A couple weeks back a main shoot broke and I got to try fresh wasabi root for the first time. Essentially it tastes a lot like horse radish but the flavor is definitely more refined. Always a novelty to try something new.


My Mahonia media produced a late, small set of blooms. Perhaps it’s time to repot or drop in the ground.


Right on que, the euphorbias have been setting their buds. Pictured above, Euphorbia ‘Glacier’


Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’


Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’ resembles a small fern. Growing in a crack in the wall, it’s another plant that seems to enjoy the cool weather.


Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’  is setting buds looking rather lovely.


A lone leaf of a under performing Acanthus stands out on grey days.


A couple of mushrooms fruit nearby.


Yucca rostrata is impressive no matter what time of year.


Planting chard in the autumn will ensure some winter interest and tasty fresh greens.


Although far from rare, tried and true hens and chicks look good 365 days a year. Can’t argue with that.



The top photo was taken today where as the bottom is from April of last year. My favorite part about documenting all of this is being able to cross reference the progress plants make. Gardening is full of surprises.

And thus comes the end of today’s tour all from the warmth of our homes. Hopefully I’ll take some shots at the greenhouse for even more plant excitement! Until next time.

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.


Click Here to download a high res image for your computer background

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.

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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