Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

euphorbia wulfenii

As I walk around my garden I feel an odd conflicted thought. Out of no where everything seems to be breaking dormancy, did spring show up without letting me know? While this winter has been significantly more forgiving then the last, February hit us pretty hard with bad weather. Now in the first week of March it’s as if the plants have already forgotten, the first buds have come and gone and everything is laying out the red carpet for spring. Daffodils, crocus and iris reticulata have been doing their yearly dance, pulmonaria are in bloom and the difference between sunshine and rain need only wait 15 minutes. Even though it was sleeting last week I’m happy to say spring has hit on the west coast. Some might warn that I’m jinxing it a bit, but I feel confident that we’ve made it through the worst of it. Even my textrapanex is letting me know it’s spring, it’s growing tip having survived our winter suddenly threw the switch and began to open. The last couple days has had the most pleasant warm wind blowing, day or night the temperature seems relatively the same (8-10C).

Truth be told the more I become hopelessly entwined with plants, the more aware I am of nature as a whole. The more I identify with this natural world, the less I seem to connect with people that don’t. This is where the website has helped alot, and it’s the strangest medium for connecting with like minded people. Out from the shadowed gardens of the city comes a small collective of plant crazed, excellent people. Furthermore the website has allowed me to meet people from all over the world, share some insight, trade some seeds, and maybe even a plant or two. Somehow sharing my botanical experiences via this blog enhances gardening as a whole. Afterall how much fun would it be to keep all this wonder to myself, I write this blog for you, the plant people. I digress

To successfully have a garden with 12 months of interesting plants, one needs to have at least 5-10 plants for each month of the year. No matter how you look at it, that means for a garden to truly shine you’re going to need at least 120 plants out in the back. I don’t think everyone needs to go as far as I do (I can’t help myself), but if you’re going to do something, do it right. The year is still young and I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by what’s going on outside. Let’s take a look shall we?

My Tetrapanax papyrifer did remarkably well this winter. I think a low of -6C wasn’t enough to fry it’s growing tip, and this bud remained pristine the entirety of the winter. As this is the first year I’ve grown this plant, I find it fascinating that this bud could survive such brutal conditions intact and then open in the spring.

Another gardening on the edge success story is this Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’. Planted from a 2″ annual pot early last spring, it’s quickly made a complete circle around this large ceramic pot I have outdoors. Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ survived -6 w/snow with occasional protection from a sheet on the coldest nights.

My potted Wasabia japonica has overwintered just fine in the deep shade of a bamboo clump. Grown in water or above ground, the trick to this plant is protecting it from the heat of summer. For those of you with year long high temperatures, this plant is probably best admired from afar. As I think back to that faithful day when I ran around the back garden trying to save my poor heat stroked Wasabia. Growing it in water will make it slightly more forgiving, but a hot day will make it faint almost instantaneously. Don’t be scared to put it in deepest shade you have to save it’s life, that was the key to success after almost 2 weeks of watching it slowly die.

It’s elegant heartshaped leaves have an exotic lily pad look, what’s better is they’re deliciously edible and compliment a sandwich just right. “Oh that’s just a bit of organic wasabia leaf on your ham and cheese, no big deal”.

Not only is my Wasabia surviving, it’s thriving, it turns out late February / early May is the time this plant truly shines. The cool wet weather of March provides perfect conditions for the plant to produce flowers. Perhaps we’ll need to collect some seeds later in the season. If you’d like to learn more about Wasabia plants, click here for an interesting article on Dave’s Garden.

I almost lost this Tropaeolum speciosum to a insidious attack of spider mites last season. The plant thrived in the spring but in time became infested and I didn’t realize until too late. Luckily I caught it in time and saved it from almost certain demise, delaying it’s blooms until the next year. I’m still waiting patiently.

A late season score, Lavatera arborea variegata seems to be doing just fine. Growing anywhere between 5-20 feet, this biannual has some of the most amazing variegated leaves. I enjoy growing mallows and this one is certainly living up to my expectations. Classified as a biannual, growers on dave’s garden comment that you can keep the plant alive by removing the seed pods before they mature. This specimen stands at roughly 4 feet tall, with a 1 inch trunk in as little time as a year from seed.

My seed grown Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean Glory Vine) survived it’s cold sleep under the eve of the house. Recently it started to show signs of life, pushing through the straw protection I gave it for it’s winter sleep. Truly a borderline zone 8, the mild winter was kind to it.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis (syn. Dicentra spectabilis) although common place still seems a worthy addition to the garden. A true harbinger of spring, I have 3 varieties poking up at the moment, this one in particular being one of the first 10 plants I acquired at the start of my plant hoarding career.

Every garden needs a buddha, maybe even two or three. I like knick knacks.

I’m happy to have a Hepatica nobilis in my collection, it is definitely the star of the garden right now. The flowers began to appear a couple weeks ago and are the most intense purple/blue. The buds are formed mid season, and open the following year. After it’s done flowering a cushion of fresh foliage will appear which is equally as pleasing.

Similar to an anemone blanda is looks, Hepatica nobilis flowers last a lot longer and stay open rain or shine. Lovely!

A yearlong delight and personally the nicest hellebore I’ve ever seen, Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ is at the peak of it’s beauty right now. Sunny two toned evergreen leaves, and more flowers then ever. On it’s second season in the garden, this one is really earning it’s spot.

So nice!

As I have a love hate relationship with Vinca, this Vinca minor was planted by my girlfriend in an inconspicuous spot. So far it’s remained quite behaved, and this year’s flowers look pretty impressive.

A couple slips of Bergenia cordifolia I took home from a gardening gig, rooted up nicely over the winter and have started to flower this spring. Not my most favorite plant, but it is a welcome touch of color this time of year.

I put this container together last spring and time has really been kind to it. An accidental success, I’m pleased with the plant combination.

Primula marginata has just started to bloom.

I love this combination.

Say hello to the reliable blooms of euphorbia wulfenii.

Euphorbias are a must have in any garden I create from here on out. These planted from 5″ pots 3 years ago, are certainly drawing some attention. Amazing!

Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ in mid flower.

Speaking of euphorbias, for those of you not in the know, euphorbia griffithii is completely hardy but dies down to the ground every season. Wouldn’t you know as I saw my most favorite euphorbia dry up and disappear last fall I was nervous it has succumb to my haphazard treatment of it. This spring my worries were for nothing, up came 4 new growing tips, huzzah.

Rather subtle in it’s coloring, this helleborus orientalis holds itself with a dignified elegance.

Spring bulbs emerging into spring.

The weirdest thing in my garden at this time of year, Asarum splendens has beautiful dark leaves with an unusual spotted pattern.

What’s stranger is it’s ground level stepelia-esk flowers. It seems an unlikely place for a bloom, I suppose it’s pollinators are of the bug variety, beatles ants and such.

A closer look shows a menacing bloom indeed.

In other plant related news, my amaryllis red lion bloomed for it’s second season. Sure it’s a commercial grade, everyday plant, but with good reason, the flowers are bigger then my hand. Wow!

Last but not least, my Clivia miniata is blooming. Being a plant collector sure has it’s advantages some days. A touch of the tropics.

Thanks for coming along for the tour, as usual, it’s been a pleasure.


While I will admit I’ve been spending considerably more time inside then out, there is still a small world of amazement going on outside. Although the majority of the flowers have disapeared, December allows you to appreciate all the incredible foliage you might normally miss during the fireworks of spring and summer. In an attempt to record the yearly progress of my garden I went out and had a little photo-shoot this afternoon. The weather has been incredible mild this winter and I for one am loving it. We’ve had almost 2 weeks of sunshine, with no more then a handful of -1 frosts. A surprisingly amount of tenders are still hanging on, and things don’t look nearly as bad as they did last year. I got a bit carried away with the photos on today’s post so enjoy. For those of you living in the north, I think we could all use a little bit more greenery in our lives.

December 2011 Garden Tour:

Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ was one of the first plants I planted in this garden almost half a decade ago. While some people don’t like a euphorbia’s unruly growing habit, selective pruning can maintain their shape. The nodding style of their growth tips let you know that they’re preparing to flower, a process that will take upward to 6 months to complete.

This Euphorbia wulfenii only had one bloom last season, it looks like this year it will have upwards to 10.

This Euphorbia rigida was planted around the same time as E. ‘Glacier although I’ve never had this species flower. It’s growth tips do look like their up to something though.

My one and only Rhododendron  (noid) is fully in bud preparing for it’s fireworks display in early spring.

Working at an annual nursery I often like to fill gaps with seasonal color. Some might not love English Daisies but tell me this, what else is flowering so prolifically this time of year?

Oh I forgot, that’s right, Mahonia media. The first time I noticed these was in front of the of Bay Center Mall downtown Victoria. Absolutely tropical looking from November till Febuary, this is by far the most electric plant doing it’s thing this time of year. Bonus points that it’s 100% hardy in Victoria, and would grow almost tree like if given the chance.

Somewhat of a border-line perennial up here in Victoria, Zauschneria californica (otherwise known as california fuchsia) has been attempting to flower for a couple week’s now. I’ve chanced it in the cold frame in the back yard and kept it on the dry side. It’s not exactly thriving but I think it will pull through.

Underrated as a 2″ annual Felicia amelloide has been in non stop bloom since I planted it mid summer. I’m unsure how much of a frost it can take but so far it’s untouched by the -1 light frosts we’ve been having.  100’s of delicate blue daisy flowers.

Some people on Dave’s Garden complain that Malva sylvestris is a bit of a weed, so far I’m not jaded by this opinion. I’ve always enjoyed growing other mallows (ie. Laviteria) and this one is impressive to say the least. We’ll see if a million of them pop up next spring and change my mind.  This sole flower was welcomed and appreciated in the dark gloomy days of December.

I think I like Cyclamen hederifolium’s foliage even more then the flowers. Nature’s art at it’s finest. It’s hard to believe conservationist  are ripping out 5-10 year old cyclamen corms from local parks because they consider them invasive.  That’s like complaining there’s too many gin and tonics, or sunshine, give me a break!

In such a small garden I don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to boring old hellebore , but Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ won it’s place in garden forever the first time I saw it as a small seedling. What incredible evergreen foliage.

It looks like a set of flowers are well on it’s way.

A great trick for adding a extra greenery to your winter garden is planting italian parsley in autumn. I fill the odd gap with it and it thrives in the cool season. Extra points that being a cold weather crop it doesn’t go to flower and will be megasized come spring. I first saw a planting of this kind in Finland, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Wasabia japonica otherwise known as true wasabi grows happily underneath some bamboo. This isn’t exactly an easy plant to grow and has given me stress throughout the hot months of summer. It turns out 99% of the wasabi you eat in restaurants isn’t in fact real wasabi at all, but dyed horseradish. Real wasabi has a much different taste, and fetches high prices if you learn how to grow it well ($70.00+/pound) I think I’ve figured this guy out, and since then it’s been doing much better, still the finest grown wasabi grows in running water, which produces a much tastier root.

Checking on the last few tropicals that I’ve cruelly left to chance outdoors shows Fuchsia gartenmeister holding on strong even it’s definitely seen some frosts. “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed”.

I really came to appreciate this undervalued 2″ annual,  Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ and I’m hoping it survives our unusual mild winter. This plant is vigorous to say the least and has really thrived in this planter. I had no idea it would grow as large as it did. I might be the crazy guy putting a blanket on it during the coldest of our frosts but that’s neither here nor there.

While many of my passion flower vines were cut down and brought to the greenhouse, Passiflora caerulea was left outdoors to chance. So far it’s doing just fine and looks completely untouched by the occasional frosts. My Acacia pravissima still has buds and also seems to be doing well. On the coldest nights I fold the leaves into that cloth to help it have extra protection, but so far it probably hasn’t needed it.

Acanthus ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is a discontinued version of a Terra Nova hybrid because it didn’t prove as hardy as they would have hoped. The nursery threw out over 20 of these and I took some home. Before they were proved “inferior” they were selling for over $30.00 at garden centers. Although small, mine are growing, just fine!

December is a great month for mosses’ and lichens, my Sagina mound growing happily.

This Blechnum spicant (western deer fern) accidentally followed me home during a camping trip up the coast. It has absolutely thived in this pot, asking nothing in return for it’s good looks.

And look at this hardy Opuntia noid, it doesn’t seem to mind our cold, wet winters

This Soldanella  lives happily by the pond. It didn’t flower last year so I’m hoping it will do it’s thing this season. It’s one of the first plants to bloom come spring with dainty little purple umbrella flowers. Even as a alpine foliage plant it’s well worth having.

These Crocus sativus (saffron crocus)  have given me two seasons of grass like foliage and no flowers yet. How am I to ever make my famous saffron rice, the Indian potluck is going to be really disappointing this year.

I love these cladonia “pixie cup” lichen, and have been helping them thrive since the very first time I spotted them. About two years ago 1 or 2 “pixie cups” appeared and I’ve been watering this rock ever since. In the heat of summer they dry up, but when it rains they’re back instantly.

A closer look reveals the strangest forms. As I become more obsessed with plants I find myself noticing their smaller relatives more and more. Lichens are a symbiosis of two plant forms:  an algae and a fungus. “ooo interesting”

A cold season window planter. Decorative cabbage, oxalis, leadwort, ivy and pansys, wow.

Saxifraga ‘White Hill’  enjoys the cold weather. Such interesting geometry rosette.

Blue Fescue and Prarie Fire grass really shine this time of year.

The benefit to working at a wholesale nursery is you often come across a lot of great plants that need to find a home before they hit the compost. I planted over 50 of these in my front yard this autumn  and they really brighten up the place in the dull winter months.

I think I’ve finally found my favorite berry. Ugni molinae otherwise known as Chilean Guava is another borderline perennial the seems to do well in my Victoria zone 7-8 garden. The berries are somewhat like blueberries with a hint of juniper, sort of ginny. I love snacking on a handful while wondering about the garden in December. So far this one lives in my coldframe and seems untouched by the cold weather. Growing happily in a 5 G pot.

If you’ve never tried these before I highly recommend them, delicious! Said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite fruit. It’s a relatively carefree plant requiring little to no special attention during the growing season.

If you could believe it there’s more plants indoors as well. It’s so much fun but a bit overwelming at times. My roommates have joked around in the past about a plant intervention. I protested saying there is never enough plants and we left it at that. You’re telling me your complaining you live in a fully tending botanical garden? Sounds like paradise to me?

And last but not least, the downstairs grow lab. Things are thriving, and I’m waiting on some seeds to sprout. More plants anyone?

Let me tell you I drank a large Starbucks before this post and that was 2.5 hours ago, Thank you for joining me on this tour, of which ended up being considerably larger then I first imagined. Just a couple more months of winter and then we get to do it all over again!

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.