Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Jerusalem artichoke

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

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.

 

 

~The weather was so mild today I found myself doing some clean up in the front garden. Old pots with fried annuals, spent lavender blooms, and acanthus just to name a few. I know it’s only January but I had a moment where it almost felt like spring.  It’s tough living up here in the Artic Canada where ice covers the land for 11.5 months of the year, who knew you could grow tomatoes outside the igloo. In all seriousness though, it was 12 degrees Celsius this afternoon, absolutely dreadful out *wink*. ~

Seeing as though it’s a fresh year, and spring is right around the corner (and to the left, right, down some stairs and in the basement). It’s time to recognize the show stopping plants of 2011. I’d love to list them from 1-10 as to say which one was the best, or my favorite, but it’s not as simple as that. One can’t compare a raspberry bush to a patch of broccoli no more then you can compare petunias to miscanthus grass. They’re all my favorite, where one grows fat, one grows tall, another brightly colored, or one finely detailed. Nature is an amazing thing.

The Stupid Garden Plants 2011 Plant Awards.

‘The Eternal Sunset Award’ for longest flowering plant : 


Abutilon megapotamicum:
A no brainer year round semi hardy exotic flowering abutilon. I first potted this plant up in early May and it flowered all the way until frost, better then that, it’s still flowering at this moment in the greenhouse. Native to Brazil, and other parts of South America it’s flowers resemble Chinese lanterns and are a prefered treat by local hummingbirds. Placed at a high vantage point or hanging basket trailing abutilon will impress, and intrigue.


Runner up: Hoya Carnosa
A couple years ago I took a cutting of this from a 15 year old specimen at my parent’s house . It was slow to root, but once it got started it grew vigorously and did most of it’s climbing and trellis work by itself. Flowering from April until September, my 3 year old hoya vine bloomed sporadically, sometimes with 10+ bloom clusters at once, all dripping with nectar and leaving a sweet smell in the air. Although not nearly as fool proof as the abutilon with a little technique and luck, these plants will surely impress. Hoyas bloom best in root bound pots, so over-potting them is not recommended. I also allow my vine to travel wherever it would like, and doing so seems to encourage almost continuous growth. Thirdly my hoya is located near a 12hr cycle grow bulb, and I suspect this to be a big part of it’s never ending blooms. Show me the light!

‘The Jurassic Foliage Award’ for plants of excellent leaf structure, grandeur and presence :


Tetrapanax papyrifer
Long before I could identify a Tetrapanax, I was astonished by their leaves and prehistoric look. In the heat of August and September my Tetrapanax really took off and I’d often find myself shocked by how quickly the leaves went from bud to beyond dinner plate size. Endemic to Taiwan Tetrapanx papyrifer is the only species in it’s genus and is commonly known as a rice paper plant. With such amazing tropical foliage you’d almost surely think it to be tender, but Tetrapanax is exceptionally hardy, down to zone 6a (-23.3 °C (-10 °F). If your a fan of Fatsias, Tetrapanax will blow you away. A light fuzz graces it’s branches and leaves, and even though it goes deciduous after a frost, the spent leaves are so foreign and large you’ll want to leave them lying about. A must have for anyone wanting to recreate a tropical paradise in their northern garden.


RUNNER UP: Echium pininana
You guessed it, echium wins the runner up for impressive foliage and presence. If you’re lucky enough to get this echium to it’s second year you’ll be shocked by the speed of it’s growth.  Large fuzzy leaves burst forth and add an impressive display of tropical foliage to your garden. If you’re lucky it holds promise of a towering  bloom unmatched elsewhere in the botanical world. If only grown for it’s foliage alone, you won’t be disappointed. Among all other plants in my garden the echium stood out, and it’s is beyond photogenic. It’s a showstopper and even your non planty friends will surely notice it listening in on all of your conversations. It’s only drawback is it’s somewhat severe tenderness, hating cold weather and dying from even moderate frosts. Best overwintered in a heated greenhouse, by the third year it would surely win the award for most amazing bloom.

‘The Up In The Clouds Award’ for the most impressive tall plants in the garden:


Alcea ‘Peaches and Dreams’
Somewhat of a cottage garden staple, hollyhocks are a great plant for adding verticality to your garden. This cultivar in particular is readily available at garden centers and in my opinion outshines the rest. Double blooms worthy of being sowed onto a clowns costume start late summer and continue into October. Although it’s flowering cycle is a little more temporary then some, at it’s peak, it is truly a thing of beauty. A great Alcea is a stunning addition to one’s garden but might take some patience for it to reach it’s true potential. For the three years it’s been planted, it’s third year was it’s “piese de resistance” and grew a whopping 15ft or more. Yielding multiple branches of  strangest fluffy grapefruit puff balls, I’ll end this one with one word. Wow.


A shot of the towering alcea shoot out amongst the scarlet runners.


Runner up: Helianthus tuberosus (jerusalem artichoke)
One must give credit when credit is due, and the jerusalem artichoke is an underestimated mindblower. Grown properly, this large member of the sunflower family will outclimb the rest, mine growing a whopping 18+ ft from a golf ball sized tuber. It’s speed and vigor will amaze and astonish, and even without it’s flowers it’s impressive height adds an additional tropical element to your paradise. In mid October when almost everything else is welcoming winter, helianthus tuberosus blooms a small spray of sunflowers. A welcome touch of color at that time of year. The only drawback is that it grows so tall that you can’t possible get a close look at it’s blooms. In mid November the plant will subside to frost and you can reap the benefits of the treasure below. Large sweetly flavored tubers are created and make an excellent starch for those winter months. They say once you grow Jerusalem artichokes you’ll probably have them for the rest of your life as you almost always miss a piece in the soil. Try them in 2012.

‘The Fleeting Moment Award’ for the most temporarily beautiful :


Puya mirabilis
I was lucky enough to purchase a P. mirabilis the day before it flowered. With seven flower buds ready each flower opened for a single day and worked it’s way up the branch until they were finished. Acquired on a Sunday, the blooms were spent exactly a week later. Due to it’s temporary nature it demanded the attention of it’s grower. It was either pay attention or miss it’s dance, it’s flowers were as unique as they were bizarre. A terrestrial bromeliad, it’s foliage doesn’t hint at it’s hidden beauty, an unlikely surprise, worthy of respect in a northern garden such as this. One of the most magical and ethereal of all the plants in my collection.


RUNNER UP: Passiflora jamesonii
I’ve always been a fan of passion flowers, but this one really takes the cake. As a vine, it was absolutely voracious, sometimes growing a foot or more a week and over 12ft in each direction by the end of the season. With some much vegetative growth, blooms didn’t exactly seem imminent, but on one calm afternoon I noticed a single bud forming. As I’m somewhat new to growing this species, I might surmise that it’s lack of blooms was due to a cultural mistake, but I suspect it just wasn’t hot enough here in Victoria. Regardless I watched the bud develop for what felt like a month and when it finally did open, it was only for a day. A flower that truly shows the impermanence of beauty, I was glad to have made the effort to witness it.

More awards to follow…

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.