Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

A quick stumble around my favorite garden blogs reveals a slight undertone of the winter blues. As we hit January the days are slowly but surely getting brighter but like it or not, we still have a little more winter to go. Stuck in gardener’s purgatory, it’s a tough month to get inspired. Defying rationality I chose to grow exotic plants in Canada; a hobby that is a bit defeating at this time of year.

I visit the greenhouse a couple times a week and no matter how much time I put in, there is always more work to do. Rot and mildew seem to be persistent and a new generation of baby slugs have been eating the tips off many of my precious plants. The work of a plant geek is never done. Grim as things may be, there is definitely more success than failure. Only a couple more months until things start to thrive again.

A quick greenhouse tour.


A full field of Sonchus canariensis I grew from seed last spring. With such a high germination rate I didn’t have the heart to kill my seedlings. So now I have about 50 of them in 2 gallon pots. Not without their challenges, they’re holding in there and should be quite amazing come spring.


Another Canary Island oddity these Sonchus are also known as dandelion trees because their blooms resemble the famous weed. Still I think they’re quite charming and I just love their fern-like foliage. These are some vigorous plants; they keep growing even in the depths of winter.


Some of my most favorite plants. Urginea maritima, Agave victoriae-reginae, Ornithogalum longibracteatum (Pregnant Onion), Haemanthus albiflos, Begonia luxurian &  Aechmea fasciata.


I can’t help but to love Agave victoriae-reginae. What incredible natural symmatry!


Begonia luxurians is holding in there and so far doesn’t seem to mind the less than tropical temperatures.


Mangave bloodspot continues to thrive and expand.




A small field of echium wildpretii. I don’t know why echiums fascinate me so much, but they’re surely on my top 10.


One thing we can grow well at the greenhouse is echeverias! They look best when they reach dinner plate size, gorgeous!

With all this talk of winter anxiousness I’ve booked myself a flight south. On Friday I take off for two weeks in Cabo San Lucas, in search of beaches, tequila and cacti! Stay warm my friends, wishing you the best!

-N

There I said it, summer is over.

The garden is as big as it’s ever going to get, my Castor beans, jerusalem artichokes and Tetrapanax are all breaking personal records. Growing tropical plants in the north is an exercise best saved for the insane (and broken backed). Sitting in the garden, enjoying an evening beverage it’s hard to believe I’m even in Victoria anymore. For a small garden I really have crammed in just about as many oddities as physically possible. I have plants from all continents sans Antarctica. Ranging from Europe to South America, coming from as far as the Himilayan Mountians, to the Canary Islands, Mexican deserts and beyond. In times that I’m not traveling on a plane I can travel through the story of the plants.

For those of you who are new to my plant rantings, let me just say, “Hello, My name is Nat, and I’m a plant hoarder”. Seriously though, some might call it a problem, but I’d like to think of it as a gift. My theory is as long as one’s plant collection is in good order, that being healthy and/or well organized, it’s not hoarding, but a botanical Ark. The purpose of this ark mostly being selfish of course. Who else really appreciates the effort put into a garden more than it’s creator and caretaker himself. It’s a plant lab for research and a playground for mental relaxation.

While I’d love to dream that my plants will live on when I’m gone, I’m afraid they’d mostly be lost without me. Agaves and cacti won’t soon be taking over the streets of Victoria, a guy can dream can’t he. Still hopeless or not I do my part and carry on the tradition in which we as people cultivate the plants that intrigue us. Hopefully passing them on and furthering their proliferation into the homes and lives of people wide and far. Be it to inspire or teach, or simply pass on a cutting that’s difficult to acquire. Call me the crazy plant man, let’s talk plants.


I’m hoping to create a tetrapanax forest in time. 

Truth be told I’ve not been writing as much as I’d like to be, but times have gotten busy. The fall chrysanthemum season kept my schedule full and my back on the verge of collapse. After a long road-trip in search of cacti and succulents, the everyday chore of watering an incredibly thirsty garden, and let’s not forget the nursery work. I was exhausted. Let’s rephrase that I’am exhausted, and for a moment I had contemplated if i had burnt out gardening all together. Certainly not, just a momentary lapse in energy. I’ll keep the coffee brewed, the plants strange and spirits high. Now for the annual migration of tropical plants to the greenhouse. A good rule of thumb for exotic gardeners on the west-coast of B.C is to have your tender plants in by October 31st just to be safe. That means only 30 days to move roughly 300+ plants indoors, I better get to stretching. I need staff, this one man botanical garden is lot of work.

Now before I start the process of the garden deconstruction I still need to do some proper photography. Why else do I grow such climatically fragile plant life if not to admire them at their largest and lushest time of year. Let’s take a look at what’s looking good this October 2012.


As mentioned earlier my castor beans have never looked better. This green Ricinus communis was grown from seed purchased in Germany, many many years ago. To think the budding young botanist at the time had no idea he would take it this far. A certain sentimental shout out goes to the plants that were there at the start, and this one was probably my first successful seed project. Out of a whole pack I only ended up with two and they’ve followed me this far. Now, how to get a 12 foot castor bean to the greenhouse in a VW Golf, I’ll make it work.


A tabletop of succulents, a highlight of some of my favorites which rotates as things come into flower and/or fade. Some notable appearances such as a lush, spiky Pachypodium lamerei, a neon flowered jatropha podagrica and an ever so strange Lophocereus schottii x monstrose.


Jatropha podagrica has bloomed almost all summer.


A large Pleiospilos bolusii has been blooming.


Old Aloinopsis schooneesii grow large underground tubers that can later be exposed for an interesting effect. Mostly a winter grower, A. schooneesii doesn’t mind a little summer water. Still looking forward to some flowers in the dark days. This one is staged rather nicely.


The smallest of the echeveria genus, E. minima is slow growing, stays dwarf in size and takes it’s time to offset. An interesting species to say the least.


I love the ribs on this Stenocactus sp.


Because it’s always a good time to take a photo of my favorite intergeneric oddity, Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.


Echeveria gibbiflora ´Carunculata´


A nice mix of succulents & bromeliads. Take notice of the second year dichondra repens to the left, it’s out of control, and incredible!


Crassula gollum is looking good this year.


Last photo of succulents I promise, my Trichocereus pachanoi seems to have developed a zit.


The cyclamen are out in full force. I can’t get enough of these reliable autumn beauties.  It looks so ethereal, practically unreal.


Cyclamen hederifolium


The twisted leaves of Begonia ‘Escargot’ add to the surrealism.


You’d think I’d be tired of chrysanthemums by now but really, they’re popular for a reason. A great hit of color in a month where blooms are at their fewest.


This westcoast (Blechnum spicant ) deer fern is thriving.  Crested saxifraga pour out of a broken ceramic. The yuccas, an unexpected surprise, former garden residents that refuse to leave. I dug this patch out last autumn, but here they are again. I’d sooner take yucca then pop weed I suppose, I mean, who wouldn’t!


I know people have mixed feelings about ornamental cabbage & kale, but I for one enjoy them. A nice touch of color.


This Sinningia leucotricha has enjoyed it’s time outdoors. For a past post on this one, click here.


Euphorbia leuconeura & autumn colchicums make a lovely unlikely pair.


Zauschneria californica is native to California but hardy 3000kms north in Victoria. I’ll count this one as a win. Easy to grow, blooms late summer until frost.


Speaking of hardy obscurities, Leucosidea sericea is a tree from South Africa reported to be quite hardy. This one gets to live outside this season, as a test.


What is it about the cooling temperatures of late September & October that make the colors of flowers just that much more rich in color.  Desfontainia spinosa often has candy corn colored blooms, at this time of year, bright orange.


At first glance it looks like the blooms of an orchid, but that’s not the case. A lowly toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta surprises you with these mindblowing blooms, late summer until frost. A flower that require you to take a closer look, Tricyrtis are well worth growing for fall interest.


A new vine to me, Manettia bicolor (candy corn vine).


An update on my Begonia luxurians. It’s grown from a 4″ cutting to this in one season. No pests, dare I say spider mite resistant, partial shade with regular water.


While there might not be a Passiflora caerulea flower open everyday, there has been one every month (sometimes as many as 8-10 open at once) since the very start of the growing season. Hardy for me last season, this one is a winner.


Click Here to download a high res image for your computer background

This is the biggest echium pininana I’ve ever seen, literally wider then my car and over 6 ft tall. I saw plenty of echiums on my drive south but none this lush. This one is planted out and will brave the winter storms, probably to it’s demise. Luckily if this one doesn’t work out I’ve got another 30 or so at the greenhouse, I will see one of these bloom. Someday.

Thanks for joining me on this tour.

Hello Plant People

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere, lost in the beauty of the sunny backyard garden. Too much work, a whole lot of plants, and life goes on.

Funny how an absent of writing seems to come off as missing an old friend, I love sharing stories of my plant insanity, and hope some of you are still stopping by. While June certainly had more rain clouds then sun rays, it’s moisture was well received by my water hungry garden. Although the “gardener” got a few extra days off this June, July looks like it’s going to be a hot one. Starting today is a 10 day predicted forecast of cooking summer weather, we might even see a couple days in the 30′s (In Victoria, I know, I know). My giant Echium, Tetrapanax and Ensete false banana have instantly responded to the heat, growing like something out of Little Shop of Horrors. The colorful display of spring flowers has faded and in it’s place comes a whole new wave of tropical blooms. There is still plenty of summertime curiosities to peruse and fascinate, yet another time I’m thankful for being such a plant lunatic. So much to see…

Let’s take a closer look.


The tropical border is looking lush and exotic. My Achilles heel is a large garden made up of potted specimens. A nightmare to water, but satisifying in it’s ability to be reorganized as things look their best, and fade out for the season.

Let’s look at what’s been blooming the last couple weeks.


An old standby, Echeveria glauca is blooming early this year. The first succulent to really grab my attention, it’s lost it’s initial wow factor but still manages to win my respect for introducing me to a such a lovely genera of plants.


Aloe aristata is the first Aloe in my collection to yield blooms. We dug this one out of the Mary’s garden down on Cedar Hill Road, reliably hardy in Victoria if you keep the winter wet off it. Native to the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, these can be found growing up to 7500 feet above sea level in their natural habitat. Hardy succulents intrigue me.


Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean Glory Vine) overwintered just fine in a pot placed outdoors, it’s rate of growth is almost scary. A heavy seed setter, if you grow this plant for one season you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share. Bonus points that it flowers on it’s first year from seed. Plant it where it has plenty of space to climb, it breaks easily when moved and is best left to climb on it’s own.


What I suspect to be Phytolacca polyandra otherwise known as Chinese Poke Weed. I first saw this genus in Germany, and have loved it ever since. Can’t wait for the unusual berries.


You’ve got to love the intricacy of it’s flowers.


A plant gifted to me last fall by the lovely people at Scentsational Plants, Arthropodium strictum (Tasmanian Chocolate Lily) was another winter success story.  It’s been flowering for the last couple weeks with these strange off center miniature blooms.


Close up strangeness.


Standing at almost 5 ft tall, Allium giganteum was worth the trouble.


When I first saw these little white berries appear I thought my Ugni molinae (Chilean Guava) was setting an early set of fruit. I should have known that they weren’t berries but flowers, it sets it’s fruit around the end of October. Get it together plant geek!


A weed to some, the yearly return of Linaria purpurea (Toad Flax) is always welcome sight. Amazing sprays of self seeding, non obstrusive, electric purple flowers. Yes please, introduce this ditch weed into my garden any day. This plant predates my garden and plant knowledge, it’s earned it’s space whether I like it or not.


Speaking of Linarias, I recently ordered some seeds from Chilterns and this Linaria aeruginea ‘Neon Lights’ was one of them. Mixed seed in various colors, only two specimens survived due to unintentional neglect. Unsure of if it’s perennial or annual, if it seeds anything like it’s releatives, I shouldn’t have a problem keeping it in the garden.


Arisaema triphyllum never ceases to fascinate and lasts much longer then the A. griffithii I have. We all need more Jack in the pulpits in the garden.


A new plant to me, Corydalis sempervirens has minute tropical looking flowers. What sold me more then that was it’s light green, almost powdered delicate foliage. It’s shade of green is unmatched in the garden.


The Lupinus arboreus I found as a seedling on dry waterside cliff doesn’t owe me anything. Out of all the plants in my garden this spring, this plant was acquired beyond the garden center and outflowered everything and anything in the garden. Naturally a shrub, I’ve been standardizing it into a tree with great results. Burning bush is an understatement.


Lovely lupin flowers.


Desfontatia spinosa flowers remind me of candy corn. Underneith a Lewisia glandulosa teases me with plenty of buds, but I’ve yet to see a single one flower.


Another old resident of the garden is campanula persicifolia, this one in particular I suspect to be a hybrid between the white and the blue varieties in my garden. Has anyone else see a spotted campanula flower?


A potted Hymnocalis festalis (Puruvian Daffodil) is a finely crafted work of natural art. What a wispy design of white frilled loveliness. If you happen to come across one of these, do stop and smell the roses, they have an alluring perfume.


Shocked and amazed.


I probably have over 10 species of saxifraga growing in my garden, and Saxifraga stolonifera wins first place for it’s flowers. Almost like a red stemmed orchid without the prestige and hype.


Take a closer look will you.


Obscure blooms of the South American, Bomarea edulis.  This plant probably wouldn’t sell out in Garden Centers but I enjoy it’s far off tale. Tuber ordered from Sacred Succulents.


Penstemon x mexicali ‘Sunburst Ruby’ lends well to a tropical garden. It’s reds stand out amongst all the green foliage of early summer, late spring.


Mitraria coccinea is a firestorm of orange tangelo colored flowers.


On the edge or hardy? I’m still not quite decided, this one made it through just fine in the coldframe.


Verbascum bombyciferum’s phallic flower droops and hangs in a different position every evening. A great drought resistant self seeding biannual for adding height and architecture. It reminds me of a blazing candelabra.


Another side fascination I’ve had this year is collecting exotic bulbs. Aztec Lily, Sprekelia formosissima in it’s full glory wondrous glory. The very first day the flower opened I took a deep breathe in and got to smell it’s short lived perfume. Smells like citrus mixed with strawberries, the aroma was intoxicating. I went for a second smell with no return, perhaps it only produces it in small supply.


For anyone having read mylast couple posts, I may come off as a broken record with pictures of my Cardiocrinum giganteum. Still I can’t help but to feel it deserves further documentation, standing at 12+ ft tall, stury and unstaked, this is one impressive lily.


9 years for the bulb to get to flowering size, 5 days of rain to knock them all off. I took this photo the day before the storm. Cardiocrinum giganteum is so classically beautiful, a true testament to the beauty and perfection of nature.


Even during heavy winds this Cardiocrinum giganteum barely moved an inch. Check out the base of it’s stalk.


12 feet and counting = happy plant geek.


I’m still not sure if I’ve properly identified this plant, but I suspect it to be Acacia koa. This strange acacia has two types of leaves coming off one branch. The reason for this morphology is unknown to me, but it has both flat leaves and small mimosa like leaves. I’ve never seen anything like it.


A closer look.


It’s always a good time for a photo of Mangave ‘Bloodspot’


Not rare, but totally everyday. I’m proud of my soft cushion planting of Saxifraga ‘Triumph’. It’s so fluffy!


I love when groundcovers start to merge, which one will remain victorious.


A nice way to justify breaking a fresh terracotta, put some succulents in it and act like you did it on purpose.


Buddha likes the saxifraga too.


The eyes of a gentle soul. Tobius the Cat.

Wishing you all a Sunny Weekend! Thanks for joining me on this tour.

Spring is in the air and you can feel the garden buzz in and around town. People are finally ready to leave their houses again and get their hands dirty. While I’ve been trying my best to show some discretion with my plant hoarding, the medatation seems fruitless and it’s a loosing battle. Like a nervous itch I leave the house in search of strange and wonderful rare plants. There I was camera and tripod in hand aimlessly wondering about Brentwood Bay Nurseries. While it’s still early in the season there was plenty to see. Large agaves, strange perennials and a rainbow of succulents unsurpassed anywhere on Vancouver Island. The rain clouds had passed and I ended up loosing track of time. It was an excellent place to blow a Saturday afternoon and check out some really cool succulents in the process. The lighting was just right and I think I walked away with some pretty good photos. Let’s take a little walk around shall we?


The view at the main tropical house.


The Calla lilies were already in bloom.


An interesting climbing Solanum was also blooming that afternoon.


Apparently somebodies been snagging agave pups. Shame on you!


Another rather nice Agave specimen.


Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ is still on my wish list.


I just couldn’t help slipping in a photo of these Euphorbia myrsinites, what an amazing texture.

They were also kind enough to let me wonder around back and snap some photos in their succulent propagation house.


There were many Aeoniums.


Standing proud on a sunny day


A long way from their home way out on the Canary Islands.


They had a couple large specimens of Crassula sarcocaulis. These make excellent bonsai specimens and are great plants for beginners. While I’ve often dreamed of being a bonsai master, I’m afraid I just don’t have the time to properly care for them. This species is a bit more forgiving, and lends well to selective pruning.


Interesting peeling skin.


The blooms of a large Lampranthus bicolor drew me over in a hurry.


The echeveria were looking incredible. This one had a menacing look to it.


Fresh flower buds spiraling out.


Orange flowering echeveria.


A field of Crassula gollum. It looks like coral.



This almost seems aquatic.


Look at how the water sits on the leaves, early aqueduct inspiration?


Tropical Sedum


Rainbow haworthia?


Faucaria in bloom


One of these Euphorbia mammillaris variegata might have followed me home.


For some reason these succulent euphorbias remind me of medusa. Notice the sideways barbs on the spines to make sure it teaches you a proper lesson if you choose to get too close.


I also might have  convinced them to let me buy this little seed grown Yucca brevifolia (Joshua Tree). For a better idea of what it’ll turn into check out this wiki link

Another successful plant adventure. Be sure to have your own this upcoming sunny weekend. Visit Brentwood Bay Nursery for the strange and the exotic.
1395 Benvenuto Avenue  Brentwood Bay, BC V0S 1A0 (250) 652-1507

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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