Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

echium pininana

“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.

To say May is a busy time of year for nursery workers is an understatement. From production to shipping to garden centers and beyond, there isn’t enough time in the day when you deal with this many plants. Overtime seasons hit a bit early this season and I suspect it to last a bit later as well, I feel like I’m running a marathon. Sore backs, stiff necks, a heavy coffee addiction and the days burn up as fast as I can face them. I’ve never been busier what with the nursery taking every spare moment I have, then watering & caring for my greenhouse and of course the backyard jungle. The work of a plant geek is never done and while I’ve been too busy for words, I felt it pertinent to give you all a quick update.

May walk-around.


The tropical border May 2012


My Cardiocrinum giganteum is absolutely giant and growing at an incredible rate. It’s probably well over 8 feet tall now and starting to bud. Won’t this be interesting.


It takes anywhere from 5-9 years for a Cardiocrinum giganteum bulbs to reach flowering maturity. Sadly after blooming this giant lily will perish in hopes of creating seed. In time it’s offsets will replace the mother plant and the cycle will continue.


I planted my Echium pininana out and have been enjoying all the dramatic spring growth.


A Meconopsis Himalayan blue poppy is currently flowering. What a stunning display of multicolored blue  frilly incredibleness.


For the 3rd season in a row this hardy Dianthus hybrid  blooms right on schedule. Above a Disporum sessile settles into it’s new pot ready to unravel it’s secrets.


Speaking of right on schedule, these Candelabra primula never cease to amaze.


The minute flowers of Corokia ‘Little Prince’ are a nice accent to a plant that often looks like it’s dead, even when it’s thriving. Corokia make excellent potted specimens and fits in well with the other garden obscurities.


Chives aren’t just for culinary uses, they also welcome in spring with cheery pink/purple pillow tufts. Hardy and pest resistant, I’ve been growing this patch of chives for nearly 4 years now. After blooming they sometimes looks ratty and unkempt, cut them back and they’ll flush out good as new.


When I first started this garden, the beds were nothing but tall grass, daisies and weeds. After clearing them up, I uncovered a struggling peony. Many years later it returns the favor by producing these melon sized scarlet blooms. Incredible.


Mahonia x media really is a great plant. Now that the flowers have faded, the berries are developing, and also a flush of new foliage. Surely a plant that offers year round interest.


Amongst a Tetrapanax a Allium giganteum creeps it’s way up into the canopy. I keep waiting for it to open, but it continues to grow taller. I’m excited to see the result.


Darmera peltata & Gunnera manicata begin to wake up for the season.


A unassuming Tellima grandiflora blooms with little expectation of being noticed. Upon a macro photograph the true intricacy of it’s flowers is seen. For shape and design these are some of my favorite, but you’d be hard pressed to see it without really taking a close look. Easily grown from seed I let the pods develop last year and sowed some with great success. I now have over 40 and I’ve also been finding the odd one poking up in the garden self sown as well.


Drimia maritima amongst the spring madness. Everything is so lush right now.


The amazing speckled leaves of a Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’. From Mid April on the heucheras have been waking up and flushing out new foliage.


It’s easy to be jealous of Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ artistic skills. Wow!


Pole beans and scarlet runners ready to be transplanted out into the garden.


The unusual bloom spike of aPhytolacca americana. Beautiful and unusual this isn’t even half of what makes this a cool plant to grow. Stay tuned for more weirdness.

Agave bovicornuta & Agave bracteosa were easy to harden off, and are now enjoying the sunniest spot in the back garden.


The frog has a new hairdo this year, sitting next to Agave stricta ‘Nana’.


An echeveria art-piece I did has a little visitor.


An enemy to most gardeners, snails get a pass in my garden due to their intriguing good looks. Respectfully he didn’t eat any of the echeverias and I let him be on his way. I’m sure with all the plants I have a couple snails won’t do much damage.


A new addition from Fraser Thimble Farms, Syneilesis aconitifolia, a welcome obscurity to the garden.


More plant hoarding: Enkianthus cernuus rubens .

Thanks for visiting, we’ll talk soon when things aren’t as busy.

A notice to all plant geeks in Victoria, the Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society is having it’s yearly spring sale at Hillside Mall this weekend. Be sure to show them your support and check out their incredible selection of rare and strange succulents & cacti. Check out their website for more information.

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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