Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

government house

Good morning and/or afternoon. I hope the day is treating you fine. Another stunning day on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. I really do feel fortunate to be living in such a beautiful part of world. It seems when you turn on the news it’s either drought this or bomb that; if I were to turn it all off and step outside my door things seem pretty calm and smiley in good old Victoria B.C.

It’s been an incredible season for gardening this year. I hate to be one of those people who always opens up their conversations with talk of sunshine and/or hey how bout that weather but alas I’m a closet meteorologist. When one finds themselves working outside day in and day out it’s easy to take notice. Blessed is to have an office outdoors. Today I got some quality garden moments, first a stroll through government house then a little relaxation in the back. Let’s take a look at what caught my eye today. Government house rest stop
A perfect stop to slow things down and take it all in. Mix mediterranean with a gary oak meadow. perovskia atriplicifolia
Perovskia atriplicifolia growing on a dry rockface oceanside view. eryngium agavifolium
It seems the Thistles were looking their best, so many different types were in bloom. A very large Eryngium agavifolium. Eryngium Eryngium Eryngium Echinops
Caught the echinops just starting to open. kniphofia
I’m a real fan of giant kniphofia (red hot pokers) agave parryi & oreganums
A large Agave parryi that survived two -16C cold snaps this winter exposed and wet. No big deal, nice job agave. Below an ornamental oregano; Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’.
crinum powellii
It’s always seemed to me Crinum’s were too tropical to be hardy in Victoria but fool me not these come back every season. crinum powellii
Crinum powellii is a showy bulb from South Africa related to Christmas amaryllis. My only experience with growing these is at the greenhouse but testimonials seem to say they are easy to grow in the garden. Two tips for the wise, they hate being disturbed once planted and are sometimes victim to slugs as the first leaves emerge. Keep your eyes open during early spring when fresh bulbs and bare rooted plants are being sold. digitalis
I’ve admired this digitalis the last few times I’ve visited Government House. This one is new to me. Could it be Digitalis parviflora? digitalis

Government House Victoria B.C. Centrally located and an easy place to find some serenity.

P.S. I need some ideas for gardening topics to write about. Have you had something you wanted to know, let’s find out together.

It’s been frigid cold here in Victoria this past week. Temperatures dropped as low as -10 and a light sprinkling of icy snow coated the city. In the mornings my garden features a series of tropical plant ice sculptures. The two echiums up front have curled up and croaked. A few succulents that didn’t make the cut in the migration met an untimely fate. Mild to some it’s still bloody cold I tend to think these winter months are best celebrated closer to the equator.

On Sunday we took a quick stroll around Government House to see how the plants were fairing.


Frost damaged sonchus acaulis
Even with the best attempts of the resident gardener this sonchus acaulis looks to have met it’s match with this cold weather. Still you never know.

Agave parryi
A few large agave looked healthy enough.

Hardy Succulents
Here’s hoping they live to see the new year.

hardy bromeliad


Mahonia media flowers all winter long.


“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.

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 (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.

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

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

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 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.

It’s been a long hard week at the greenhouse and the truth is I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. This is such a beautiful time of year to be working at the nursery. Fields of flowering cyclamen and primroses a plenty. My bosses took a small week-long hiatus and left me in control of their operation. While it wasn’t always easy I enjoyed the opportunity to play a bigger role in the business. It’s satisfying managing people and finding the right job for the right person. I’m always amazed what a good attitude will bring to the workplace, I drink a couple extra coffees and keep things positive. Sure I didn’t end up getting a long weekend like everyone else, but everything went smoothly and in that I’m satisfied. The experience gave me a better perspective on what it’s like to run a business of this size. I now understand why my boss has trouble sleeping during the busy season. Making sure every plant is watered, pest free and shipped when it’s in it’s perfect state is not for the faint of heart. It’s easy to judge your employers actions this way or that but take a moment in their shoes and you’ll see it’s a lot of work being on top. Managing staff, talking up clients and making the BIG DECISIONS can take a lot out of you. We all have our strengths and weaknesses but “the boss” is suppose to make it look like he has none. To keep people focused, to set a good example, and to put out the inevitable “house fires” that occur. On Monday they’ll have returned and I’ll go back to my humble life as the resident plant geek and order puller.

orange witch hazel Hamamelis

Witch hazel – Hamamelis

In other plant based news, have you stepped outside lately? Sure it’s been an average of 5-8 degrees Celsius lately but it’s stinking beautiful out there. Cold yes, lifeless not. All around you things are slowly springing to life, bulbs are setting buds and snowdrops are in mass. It’s truly a magical time of year. Sometimes I pretend I love summer the most but really there nothing better then the transition from winter to spring. If you had never visited my garden in the summer and looked at it now you’d barely recognize it. It’s like moving day or something, everything’s packed up and mostly hidden. From here on out starts the slow (but surprisingly fast) process of unpacking and expanding. My love of plants does not so much lie in their stationary aesthetic but the way they’re constantly changing, growing and impressing.

Snowdrops in mass, a blanket of white drooping bells.

Snowdrops in mass, a blanket of white drooping bells.

I worked 6 days at the nursery this week and you’d think that would be enough. Today we went to a couple plant stores, a stroll in the gardens at Government House and then some home gardening until it got dark. I was feeling a bit burnt out last autumn but I’m back in full force. I just can’t get enough of this stuff and feel very fortunate to have found something that makes me this happy.

Forget the Prozac, get in the garden. Spring has sprung at Government House. 


A rather healthy looking specimen of Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ @ Government House, Victoria

Hellebores Everywhere!

Hellebores Everywhere!

This patch was particularly perfect.

This patch was particularly perfect.

I always try to visit Government House during the early spring but I've never seen these before. They're almost beating the snowdrops in their bloom time. It's hard to tell in this photo but they have a slight green hue. A different form of Iris reticulata? What do you think?

What are these beautiful early flowering iris? A different form of Iris reticulata? It’s hard to tell but they have a slight green hue to them. Impressive is an understatement.

There's a sophistication in snowdrops. Simple but elegant.

There’s a sophistication in snowdrops. Simple but elegant.

Winter acconite, Eranthis

Winter acconite, Eranthis

Cyclamen coum in full spring bloom

Cyclamen coum in full spring bloom

I've only recently learnt about this plant; Garrya elliptica and ever since I've been noticing them all around town. Well, 2 so far, but still I find it weird that I only notice them now that I've read about them. I'm easily smitten by plants that do their performance in the depths of winter. This one looked relatively new in the planting. For a large more incredible specimen check out the one near City Hall in Centennial Square.

I only recently learned about this plant; Garrya elliptica . Now that I know they exist I seem to be spotting them all around town .Well not exactly everywhere actually, but 2 so far. I’m easily smitten by plants that do their performance in the depths of winter. This one looked relatively new in the planting. For a large more incredible specimen check out the one near City Hall in Centennial Square. What strange hanging catkins.

Last but not least the Echium pininana at Government House are still looking great. Even better amidst hellebores and spring flowering bulbs.

Last but not least the Echium pininana at Government House are still looking great. What an unlikely pairing with hellebores and spring bulbs. The joys of gardening.

All 4 show little to no signs of winter damage. I can't tell which but one of these comes from my crop from last summer.

All 4 show little to no signs of winter damage. I can’t tell which but one of these comes from my very own crop of echiums.

Until next time…

All I’ve got to say is WOW.

A couple of days ago I decided to go for a walk at Government House to see what was in bloom. While the usual winter grimness was prevalent there was still a lot of  things to see. Spent hygrangea blooms clung to naked branches, a larch in the corner loomed bear. Cyclamen leaves were tucked this way and that and the trees above were loaded with the most vibrant scarlet berries. A cotoneaster perhaps? I strolled on.

Just before leaving I turned around to look at the entrance of Government House when I noticed an explosion of yellow and lush green foliage. Mahonia x media, in full bloom, resembling slow motion fireworks. What a sight!

This intentional/accident hybrid,  is a cross mix between M. lomariifolia and M. japonica. While M. lomariifolia is relatively tender, japonica is hardy well below -15 and passed it toughness onto it’s offspring. Here in Victoria it’s fool proof hardy and in time grows to staggering sizes. As seen in the photo above, Mahonia x media can grow upwards to 15ft once established.

Mahonia x media starts flowering late November and keeps going well into January. After the blooms are spent the bush is covered in interesting blue/grey berries then in spring sends out a red flush of new foliage. The foliage of course being equally as attractive as the blooms, is holly like but larger. As a potted specimen growth will be a tad slower, but the plant thrives non the less. Depending on how it’s looking mine gets moved throughout the garden and seems to enjoy sun to part shade. Overall not a fussy plant being quite drought tolerent and almost fully pest resistant. Minus it’s soft spring flush of leaves, Mahonia is prickly enough to discourage deer as well.

Fresh foliage underway May 2011

While I tend to avoid a lot of shrubs due to size restrictions, Mahonia x media proves to cooperate even if you have limited space. Pot bound you shouldn’t be overwhelmed by it’s spring growth. All hesitation aside, if you get the chance to grow this plant don’t think twice. Hands down the most beautiful plant outside right now and it does most of the work for you. Best bought on impulse in October/November just starting to bud, a late buy for it’s foliage alone will suffice.

True hybrid propagation done through cuttings, mahonia can also grow from seed but with some variation.

It was worth a trip to Government House after-all, and if you haven’t been there before, take a stroll today. It’s free, and quickly becoming my most favorite public garden in Victoria. Incredible.

The perfect time to buy a Mahonia, mid October/November in bud

Spent hydrangea blooms

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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