Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

hellebore winter moonbeam

Spring is upon us and busy days are the norm. After a long day at the nursery it’s always a pleasure to take a rest in the garden with a cold beer in hand. Even though I work with plants all day everyday, I still find sanctuary in my garden whenever I get the chance to take it in. The air is cool and fresh, all the abundance of life soothing. It’s interesting watching a garden develop over the years. While it almost never stays the same, a few old standbys inevitably show up right on cue. The stranger the collection, the stranger the visitors. A rare or strange plant need not be difficult to grow, some come back year to year almost as easily as any other garden perennial. During my Sunday in the garden I took a moment to photograph a few of my favorite strange visitors. Let’s take a look shall we?

Spring garden
Spring lushness

Primula and pulmonaria
Primulas and pulmonaria reliably show up every spring right on cue.

arisarum griffithii
This will be the third season these Arisaema griffithii have popped up for me. It’s hard to get bored of their incredible patterns and markings. Put side to side they make quite an unusual duo. It’s hard to believe these are easy plants to grow, requiring little no special treatment, completely hardy in our climate here in Victoria.

Arisaema griffithii
When I first received the bulbs in the mail I would have never guessed they’d end up being two different colors. This one is quite dark.

Arisaema griffithii
While the other is quite light in comparison. Often referred to as cobra lilies you can easily see why. They look like a cobra ready to attack.

podophyllum hexandrum
I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with podophyllums but I am. Their unusual emergence in spring intrigued me from the get go. Podophyllum hexandrum waking up from it’s winter sleep.

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Although Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’ has remained evergreen all winter, now that spring is upon us it’s been putting out a succession of new leaves. Photos don’t do this plant justice, it’s a real gem in the garden.

sanguinaria canadensis & Jeffersonia diphylla
Sanguinaria canadensis & Jeffersonia diphylla all leafed out now. Their previous similarities aren’t as apparent at this point.

Saxifraga umbrosa
All of the saxifraga in the garden have started to flower, Saxifraga umbrosa is just starting up. For those seeking alpine treasures take a deep look into the genus saxifraga, you could spend a lifetime exploring their unusual diversity.

Hellebore 'Winter Moonbeam'
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’d probably notice me talking about the same plants year by year. The truth it they never cease to amaze me, it’s hard to not give recognition to incredible plants. Here we have Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ and Euphorbia polychroma.

Spring tulip
I have a smattering of tulips throughout the garden, at their freshest their absolutely vibrant. The color almost glows, I was worried it would overload my camera. Incredible!

dicentra canadensis
A less commonly cultivated bleeding heart; Dicentra cucullaria is also doing it’s thing this time of year. Much smaller and delicate than the common dicentra spectabilis, it’s little flowers and fern like foliage are pleasant indeed.

Lewisia tweedyi
Something a little different from your everyday Lewisia cotyledon;  Lewisia tweedyi is in full spring bloom. From what I’ve read they are somewhat susceptible to winter rot so these stayed bone dry all winter long. About a month ago I started watering them again and in a matter of weeks this plant went from a dryed up susk to this beautiful pristine wonder.

Gardeners. We’re a lucky bunch.
Thanks for joining me on this week’s tour.

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.


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.