Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

mailorder plants

Anyone who reads this blog regularly would know that I’ve been on a bit of a mail-order plant binge. Earlier this week the pair of Pseudolithos migiurtinus I ordered arrived. A couple days later another package arrived containing a Mirabilis jalapa and a new NOID species of plectranthus from Kenya. Amongst the new plants a small packet of tropical impatiens seeds also arrived, I. grandis and I. mengtszeana. I can’t wait! The best gifts are the gifts you give to yourself.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the trade of the Internet, the selection is vast and the customer service is superb. It’s strange to be a part of a global community in which all walks of life can meet together, discuss and trade ideas. A quick sign into paypal and a cactus can be flown in from Thailand. Connecting with specialized hobbyists from all over the world is a real asset, it skips the hopeless store clerks and connects you with the grower and/or collector. While the Internet is somewhat anonymous in nature it provides you with an amazing opportunity to connect directly with who you want to speak with.

While I spent much of the spring through summer visiting nurseries on the island, the internet’s ease of use and unsurpassed variety gives local businesses a run of their money. While it will still be a long while yet before you can order your pansies and petunias online, the search for the rare and the unusual might be best fulfilled in this medium.

The Latest Plant Order Feb 2012:
As per usual I like to do some research about the plants I’m acquiring and I figured I’d share the information with you.

Photo borrowed with admiration from The Vancouver Seed Bank

Sceletium tortuosum
Another South African mesemb that is by no means new in the botanical world. Cultivated in Europe for over 300 years, it forms a low growing succulent mound much like a delosperma. The main notes given for cultivation pertains to over-watering, and if in doubt, don’t. Over-watering creates weak growth and messes with the natural cycle of the plant. Recently this plant has been getting a lot of attention in the medical world for it’s possible anti depressant qualities. Hunters and shamens used to consume it to reduce stress and anxiety and create a feeling of euphoria.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Cactus Blog

Avonia quinaria

It’s becoming more and more apparent that South Africa is the motherland for strange and unusual plants. Avonia, a diminutive genus native to the Namaqualands of South Africa is another caudex forming succulent with lovely strange planty tentacles. Important cultural notes list that it needs a winter rest period and is deciduous so one shouldn’t be stressed when it looses it’s foliage in the winter. Avonia’s set seed on their own and don’t need a mate, so maybe I’ll be able to grow my own next season.

Photo borrowed with admiration from The Pacific Bulb Society

Boophane heamanthoides seedling
I’ve had my eye on acquiring one of these for quite some time now, but they don’t exactly show up everyday. Sacred succulents had some seedlings listed and I figured that might be the best way to give them a try. While it might not flower for a couple years I will get to see the whole developmental process while forgoing the impatient task of watching seeds sprout. The foliage alone is equally as interesting as the blooms, a wavy spur of tropical loveliness. It is said these are an old lived species indeed living well over 100 years old, if my children end up being plant nerds perhaps they’ll end up with this in their collection as a heirloom. The bulbs grow to an incredible size and is said best to grow in a mostly sand based medium in a deep but not necessarily wide pot. From seedling it might take up to 15 years to flower, but I suspect with my usual over caring it will speed along a bit faster. I’m all too excited to give this one a shot.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Cactus Art

Maihuenia poeppigii
A spiky mat forming succulent from Chile & Argentina. I first saw this on the Chiltern Seeds website, then again on Gerhard’s blog  Bamboo and More. What a strange specimen. Noted to be remarkably cold hardy (down to -20 if kept dry) Maihuenia grow at high elevations. If the temperature is sporadic consider treating it with a systemic fungicide to prevent possible rot. Apparently this can be grown much like sempervivums with very little soil whatsoever.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Raziel on mycotopia.net

Delosperma bosseranum
As I first began my journey into plant geektom delospermas always appealed to me. Hardy mesembs that grow in our outdoor gardens, it can’t get any better. This species of delosperma is a bit more unusual then your everyday delo and in time grows a tuberous caudex. Commonly known as the Madagascar Ice Plant it seems this specimen will be best suited for bonsai succulent pots. Plant as you would any other succulent in a well draining medium, be careful not to let dry out for any lengths of time.

It seems the Pseudolithos migiurtinus I ordered earlier this month have finally arrived.  I’m really starting to enjoy mail-order plant hunting. Unusual specimens from far out lands, quite often at a bargain you can’t find at home. I like supporting local business, but who’s growing Pseudolithos in town? Not me… Not yet…  After successfully ordering a Miracle fruit tree from Thailand a couple months ago, I thought it’d try it again with these little guys. So far so good, and this one even had free certification.

Getting plants in the mail is the most satisfying gift to yourself.

I’ve been reading about Pseudolithos for quite some time now and I’ve been biding my time to get my hands on one. This auction came up with a set of two for $15.00 US plus shipping. Seemed a bargain to me, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

They arrived in near immaculate condition, being in transit for over 3 weeks, these guys are a long way from home.

While these photos were taken in a bit of an excited rush, you get the gist of why these plants are so cool. Much like a lithops but totally unrelated, these plants look like living rocks. In time they send out the strangest stepalia-esk stinky flowers and look like eggs from mars. Cultural requirements can be a bit difficult to replicate, but I’m hoping for the best. They enjoy regular watering, but like to dry out in between, and lots of light and heat. Improper care will turn them into expensive mush. I’ve read they grow well under lights on a heating pad, so that’s where they ended up. I’ll update you all in a couple weeks once they get “plugged in”.

Ordering plants online is easy, and if you live in the same country as where the grower lives, even easier. One must be careful about ordering  plants on eBay as sometimes vendors pray on your lack of information. I’ll be nice today and not name any names, but there are lots of vendors selling “rare” plants that are actually pretty common. A couple vendors in particular have learned how to market their less then rare specimens into something much bigger and better. As I learn more about the sliding scale of rarity these plants hold it’s laughable to think people are paying what they do. Type in rare plants into eBay and you’ll get quite a list, little did you know they sell the same thing down the street for a fifth of the price. Rookie mistake Mr nobody. Before buying expensive rare plants on eBay, do your research, scour the Internet and learn more about what your buying. A lot of off the beaten path online mailorder nurseries will ship to you for a whole lot less. Make sure you don’t get caught up in the excitement of the auction, keep an eye out for a good deal, and bid late not early. I don’t like to let my intentions known until 30 seconds to closing.

To all my great plant geeks, a link to my latest favorite weird succulent vendor. Visit ccts-crazy‘s online store. But first! Hide your credit card…. :)

Today was a good day. As my time off work is quickly coming to an end I’ve found myself really appreciating the lazy dog days of December. After having a leisurely late breakfast, I spent much of the afternoon cleaning up my outdoor potting area. It’s amazing how messy the area has become, a year’s worth of frantic potting, failed seedlings, and nursery refugees can get out of hand. Why I bother to keep 400 4″ plastic pots is beyond me, maybe one day I’ll wake up from this insanity. After cleaning I rotated the compost heap and marveled in the successful process of turning food waste into black gold. Last year I threw a couple handfuls of large earthworms into the compost, this season they’ve multiplied into thousands. The center of the compost held a dense layer of wiggling worms, I have never seen more in all my life.

I know, gross, but look at all of them, and this was only one scoop.

“Quick! Honey! Grab me the camera, I’ve gotta photograph these worms!” . . . . . *blink* *blink*

In more exciting news, a plant package I had been expecting for some time now arrived at my door. As I wondered to the front of the house, I saw a post office truck parked outside, it seems he was in the process of writing me a parcel slip because I didn’t answer the door. Thrilled to have caught him before he left, I signed the the bill and grabbed my package frantically. I love receiving packages in the mail, and a plant package is even better. The order I speak of was from Absolute Cactus, a most excellent mail-order cacti and succulent nursery located in California. What’s better Diane at Absolute Cactus went through the trouble of hand-wrapping my plants for extra effect, with nice little envelopes with cultivation tips to boot. I love belated Christmas gifts.

Absolute Cactus plant order

Do I need a second Euphorbia obesa? No… Did I order one… Yes… Yes I did…

After seeking out some pots for these fine specimens (EI stealing them from bonsai’d horse chestnuts) they were potted up with fresh cacti soil, gravel and sand.

Although this Dudleya attenuata looks a bit worse for wear, I’m confident it will spring back to life. Harvested with permission from a cattle ranch in California, Dudleya attenuata are rare plants indeed. Often referred to live forever plants, this specimen is believed to be over 50 years old. Although this photo doesn’t do it justice, each echeveria-esk rosette comes out of a small woody caudex. Winter growing, Dudleyas are said to be tough plants. The one thing to keep in mind of course is not to over-water them, especially in their summer dormant period. This Dudleya had a large tap root underneath it’s caudex stem and I planted it in 50% gravel, 20% sand and 30% cacti soil, let’s see if it’s a recipe for success.

After all the excitement of my new plants this afternoon I went out for dinner at my girlfriend’s mother’s house. Salmon and scallop potatoes, and more presents, lucky me. Having just returned from a trip to South Africa, her mother and partner, got me a very nice Protea seed kit and book about Kirsten Bosch Botanical Gardens. I found this to be an incredibly thoughtful gift and I look forward to seeing if I can get them to grow.

Amazing Protea seed kit from a small South African Seed Company Fine Bush People

It’s quite a nice way to lay out seeds, and as a product it’s a real winner. They have the strangest fuzzy seeds, only time will tell if I can get them to grow. 6 new species of tender perennials to care for, ok, you guys can follow me home too.

Today was a good day.

If your looking for some great gift ideas for a gardener and/or plant geek, you’re in luck. Gardeners are great group of people to shop for because gardening as a hobby is so multifaceted and your options are practically endless. From tools to seeds, plants, clothing, outdoor decor, books and more, you’ll have plenty of choices to find the perfect gift for that special someone. Seeing as though it’s officially December (brrr…) and Christmas is right around the corner I thought I’d shoot out some ideas and make the process easier for you.

Seeds – From next seasons vegetables, everyday flowers and endangered exotics.  

Seeds are a great gift for a plant geek and no matter how long someone has been gardening, there’s always something they haven’t tried. The internet has no shortage of reputable seed companies that offer high quality seed at excellent prices.  While you might be able to find some interesting seeds at a hardware store or garden center, be sure to inquire how long they’ve been sitting there. Fresh seed is best, and often winter displays are last year’s stock. Below are a couple seed companies I’ve ordered from first hand with great results.

Chiltern Seeds
One of the most extensive, incredible seed companies I’ve seen yet. Located in the U.K they ship worldwide and have an amazing selection of seed from everyday garden plants to exotic. Packages arrived in lightning speed, nicely packaged with great instructions. They strive to sell only the freshest quality seed available.  The website is nicely setup making it easy for anyone to find what their looking for.

Stellar Seeds
A family run business local to B.C that specializes in certified organic seed. They have a great selection of fresh vegetable seeds for next years bumper crop of tomatoes. They also do a small run of annual & perennial everyday garden plants. Speedy delivery and quality products. Excellent little packages for the seeds as well. There website is as user friendly as you’d ever need, check them out.

J. L. Hudson, Seedsman
If your searching for something strange, you’ll definetly find it here. A non profit seed bank J.L Hudson has been in business for over 100 years. The website is simple but their selection is huge. When I ordered I was quite satisfied with the speed of delivery and quality of the contents.

Seed Starting Gear:
Now that we’ve ordered a bunch of great seeds why not go a step further and buy them some cool seed starting gear. A little money goes a long way in this department, most garden centers / hardware stores / and megamarts should carry what you’ll need.

Plastic seed starting domes($5.00-$10.00)
Seed starting soil ($5.00-$7.50)
Misting bottle and/or watering can ($2.00-$10.00)
Plant tags & markers ($2.00-$5.00)
Seed heating mat ($50.00-$100.00) BONUS POINTS
Full spectrum grow bulb ($12.00-$40.00+) BONUS POINTS

Why not combine the seeds and the gear in a small basket for an added effect.

This can be a tough one, as it all depends on what the person already has in stock. Really though we can almost always use fresh tools, so sneak around and get an idea what your gardener might be lusting after. Admittedly a rake is rarely a romantic gift, but if you’ve seen your gardener doing the lawn with 3 toothed rake, maybe it’s a good gift idea after-all. A spade or a shovel are also a useful addition to a gardener’s arsenal. You can never have enough spades, the average gardener looses theirs every 5 minutes. Add a brand new pair of Felco pruners and I’m sure they’ll be floored.

Another practical gift, but really if you’re still using a garbage bin with holes drilled in it to compost it might be time to update. Most gardeners would find this a great gift, and there are a lot of nice models out there available for less then $150.00. If you’re a crafty one you might go one step further and build a 3 zoned version out of wood. Bonus Points.

Plants  – Live Ones
While December is pretty much the worst time of year to buy a gardener their favorite thing, live plants, there are still some options available. First of all for instant effect the garden centers are covered in your usual winter blooming plants. Pointsettias, christmas cacti and florist cyclamen are out in full force. Although if you’d like to go for something a bit different the internet might be your savior. Many of the online mail-order retailers are still in full swing, and have some really incredible oddities to be found. Some companies I’ve ordered from with success:

Sacred Succulents 
An incredible company focused on conservation and appreciation of rare and endangered plants from exotic parts of the world. While the website doesn’t feature any photographs, read the description and copy and paste the name into google images for a better idea of what your buying. Specializing in many endangered species of cactus, sacred succulents sells cuttings, live specimens and seeds. A great resource for any would be plant nerd.

Paul Shirley Succulents 
Let me tell you I’ve spent a lot of time looking for weird plants online and it’s pretty hit and miss. Paul Shirley Succulents is a real gem, and offers cuttings from all sorts of strange plants. I ordered a package of stapelia (carrion flower) cuttings at the end of the summer and they’re all thriving. If you have a gardener in your life that that is always looking for something new I’m sure you’d find something here to wet their appetite. Specializing in stepelias, tropical impatiens, hoya, and rhipsalis cuttings, I could definitely spend some money here. Located in the Netherlands expect to wait up to 2 weeks for your package to arrive, but for the most part they arrived in great condition from half way across the world.

Absolutely Cactus
Another exciting mail-order cactus grower. Their cacti are grown from seed and cuttings focusing on preservation of rare and exotic cacti and succulents. New stock flows through regularily and your sure to see something interesting. The site is nicely setup with lots of photos to make things easier.

Still can’t find the right plant? Why not consider getting them a gift card at their favorite garden center. This way they can wait until the frost thaws and spring is in it’s full glory. An extra $100 worth of plants in spring, what a gift!

Private Life of Plants David Attenborough DVD
This series stands the test of time for being one of the most fascinating plant documentaries I’ve ever seen. Narrated by the soothing voice of David Attenborough, each episode is filled with stunning plant time lapses where vines and shrubs are brought up to our speed. If the visuals weren’t enough, each episode is actually quite factual and you’ll surely learn a thing or two. It would be hard not to love this series plant lover or otherwise.

What do you think?
What is the best gift for a gardener? What would you like to find under the Christmas Tree?

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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