Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

melianthus major

Over the winter months I met a local cacti collector who is in the midst of reducing the size of their collection. While spring plant sales are a lot of fun, nothing is more exciting then viewing and aquiring plants from a private collection. On Sunday I paid her a visit and she shared some really incredible specimens with me.

The latest plant hoarding: “I can’t stop.”


Sedum hintonii (syn. Sedum mocinianum), Echeveria van keppel, Rhasalis pilocarpa, A NOID Stepelia,  astrophytum senile, noid agave, Euphorbia obsesa, Euphorbia stellispina, and a 65-80 year old Echinopsis!

I had a really great visit, saw some great specimens, and left with this amazing lot. A great big thank you for sharing these old-growth beauties with me, I’m looking forward to having them in my care and watching them grow.

A closer look.


Notocactus sp. What an unusual form.


I have a nice collection of steplia growing in the basement, but they’re still young and unestablished. I’m hoping this one to be a bit more impressive this season.


A young noid agave, what can I say, they’re a personal favorite. Any ideas?


I have a hard time saying no to any Euphorbia obesas I come across.  So cool, I need more, 3 isn’t enough!


Another interesting Euphorbia, E. stellispina.


A 31 year old Astrophytum senile, half the size of a football. Gnarly and showing it’s age, it’s quite an incredible specimen. I’m only 27, this cactus has got me beat.


Also a small rooted cutting labeled Sedum hintonii.  Further reading online says that it might be Sedum mocinianum, the main difference being the way it flowers. We shall see. I’m extra pleased about this one.


Onto the most exciting plant find of all my plant hoarding, a 65-80+ year old white flowering echinopsis. I’m absolutely floored about this one. Gnarly but vigorous, this cacti is older then myself, my parents, and was around when my grandmother was a toddler. It could have lived through two world wars, and has seen nations rise and fall. What an amazing find, it’s got the strangest presence.


Even at this old age, it produces fresh pups. Looking deeper into it’s soil, it’s growing almost entirely in gravel and has only had one drink all winter. Hardened off, it now lives outside. I can’t help but to stare at it for the time being.


It’s base shows the wrinkles of an old man, it’s glochids dried up but still effective. Still on seemingly dead wood, the pups grow effortlessly. I can’t wait to see if it flowers this summer.

I’m a happy camper, and so are the plants in my garden. The long days at the nursery have taken their toll on me and I’ve been finding it hard to keep up with this writing. Alas with all these incredible plant events, I feel it’s my duty to share. Here’s a quick photo roll of some of the more interesting things happening in the garden.


I recently planted my echium out, the weather has been mild, and the tropicals are ready to escape their plastic home.


Another angel of the the exotic bed.


My Cardiocrinum giganteum has nearly doubled in size, you can almost see it grow. Looks like we’ll be seeing flowers shortly.


The Japanese azalea seem early this year, what a great pop of spring color!


I didn’t have much luck overwintering my last echium so this one escapes it’s pot and goes straight into the ground. No point in worrying about it’s potential overwintering indoors if it’s going to die anyway. You live here until you don’t. Let’s see a bloom spike!


Melianthus major has some incredible spring colors right now. If you haven’t grown this plant before and see one in a spring planting give it’s leaves a little brush. It’s strangely peanut butter scented.


The Mimulus dentatus (Coast Monkey Flower) planted underneath the scopolia carniolica worked out rather nicely.  I wonder if this combination has been done before… I love monkey flowers, you never loose with mimulus!

I looked down to see this great combination of spring folaige, knipofia, actea, impatiens and wasabia.


Jeffersonia diphylla & Sanguinaria canadensis.


The fresh growth on a Rhodocoma capensis (African restio) which seem to overwinter well here in Victoria.


A Lewisia succulent bowl I put together last spring, that actually still looks nice a year later. WIN!


On the topic of lewisia, here’s a rare white Lewisia in flower. Out of the 300-500 lewisia we grow at the nursery every year, I only ever see 1-3 white ones per season in the mix. This one accidently followed me home.


The Podophyllum peltatum (North American Mayapple) are growing at an incredible rate and this year I have 2 more shoots then last. Looks like a happy podo.


Another podophyllum started poking it’s head up recently, P. hexandrum (Himilayan May Apple). This one was underpreforming in it’s old spot and ended up in this terracotta pot for future traveling ease.


I might have convinced my boss to give me a couple of his Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’ seedlings. Excellent!


Androsace sempervivoides is budding and flowering


My girlfriend got cute with some saxifraga cuttings I rooted, it makes for a neat effect. Feng shui?


Abutilon megapotamicum has also returned to the garden. Suspect borderline hardy, I just didn’t have the heart to risk it. The greenhouse has treated it well this season.


A fury of spring stardust. Heuchera micrantha amongst other hybrid heuchera, cyclamen and hepaticas. The life of a plant collector ain’t so bad.

Thanks for stopping by. Almost through the busy season, wish me luck.

Autumn is finally upon us and summer is slowly saying goodbye. It seems like we waited forever for spring to come, and now the gardening season is nearly at it’s end. Although this will be the 26th autumn I will have experienced, it still seems to astonish me. Where did all the time go, nearly 300 days of gardening come and gone.

“I feel like a bit of a  living, breathing time machine, I blink and find myself in the future. The only problem is I can’t make it stop.”

I digress. The other day I found myself in my small greenhouse reflecting on such topics. By the time I get home, get showered and cleaned up, the sun has already faded from my back garden. I am greeted by a gentle spray of soft muted shadows and an almost instantanous calm. The garden has never looked more lush, full, and jungle like. While most gardeners live for spring’s firework display of flowering bulbs, primulas and other colorful lovelies I might be tempted to say I like late summer/autumn gardens more. The size of everything is so grandiose and developed, a 15 foot jerusalem artichoke grows more everyday. While my climate dictates that I should love plants happy in my zone, I often sway towards the tropics. These tropical tourists do much better in the heat of summer and autumn and really thrive this time of year. The only drawback to the late season garden is that is on it’s way out instead of it’s way in. Rather meaning that like a great movie you don’t want to end, it’s just matter of time before the tropical paradise fades away.

My girlfriend posing for scale under the giant jerusalem artichoke

As I sat there in the greenhouse, reflecting and generally gapping out at my cacti collection, the sun went down, and I found myself sitting in the dark at half past seven. I have been toying with the idea of  doing some night photography and this was the night that I made it happen. Plants are sometimes a difficult subject to capture. Greens on greens, deep shadows, and macro destroying breezes all stand in the way. There has been many the great plant moment that I wasn’t able to capture due to the limitations of technology. It turns out night photography of plants might be ideal, the evening offers far less distraction. I ran inside, grabbed my tripod and flashlight and off I went. Perfect black backdrops every time, it’s so simple it should have been more obvious. An hour must have passed as I looked like a total wierdo photographing plants in the dark with a flash light. My friends will NEVER understand, I’m afraid the new me is here to stay.

Now onto the photo shoot.
Night Photography of Plants: An Autumn Garden Tour.

 


Echeveria glauca always fascinates me.


Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ flowers are larger then most echeveria flowers. Amazing!


Euphorbia obesa looks quite alien under this setting.


This cacti is still a NOID for me (A little help!?), but I have two of them, both have spectacular blue green tattoos. I’ve been trying to photograph this one all season with no success. Night photography does a great job.


Melianthus major is a personal favorite. Peanut Butter scented leaves, spectacular blue green foliage. Easily hardy in Victoria, don’t get stressed about it dying down to the ground, it will come back. Mine survived -15 last winter and grew back completely by mid summer. A must have in next year’s garden if you don’t have one already.


The very last flowers of my Zaluzianskya capensis (Night Flowering Phlox). This plant has the most unusual lovely evening scent. A mix of almonds and baby powder, it’s flowers are closed during the day and open at night. For more information about this plant see this post.


Just another oddity hidden amongst the rest. So unusual.


With a clever lcd lighting system, a Tetrapanax papyrifer is converted into a  bizarre night light.


As always the Echium pininana is a glory hog and still holds a large pressence in the garden. What a dramatic shadow it creates. It’s top growing point has been doing unusual things the last couple weeks. Will it flower before frost? Only time will tell.


If not it’s off the greenhouse to seek refuge and warm thoughts.


A rather new addition to the garden, Beschorneria ‘Ding Dong’ otherwise known as false red yucca. Why I felt the inclination to buy more tender plants past August is beyond me. I love the agave like foliage, awaiting it’s bizarre flowers.


The Physalis alkekengi otherwise known as Chinese Lanterns is thriving. It took two years for me to get a specimen of my own. I snagged some seeds from a yard a couple years back. The plants were slow to develop in their first year but really leaped the second. These are the first lanterns I’ve got from these plants, it was worth the wait. Interesting flowers are few and far between this time of year, a welcome addition to the garden.


With autumn comes the first flush of Cyclamen hederifolium flowers. So. Nice!

There you have it. Thank you for joining me for a late night garden tour. Who says you need sunlight to appreciate a garden anyhow!?

Spring is in the air, the snow from last week has melted and the sun rises once again. We’re mostly in a planting stage right now at work, but there is the odd thing coming into perfection. Here’s a quick post highlighting some of the more exciting things going on at the greenhouse.


While my daffodils in the back garden are only half developed these daffs spent their spring in a greenhouse and have a bit of a head start. I mentioned in my last post that I was worried these might have been damaged by last weeks snow storm. While the extreme weather took a couple casualties (a couple flats of frost burn, a couple flats of bent flowers) the majority of the crop remains unharmed.  Dutch Master daffodils looking rather nice.


The cyclamen are looking incredible as of late, and it’s a real treat pulling them for orders. Every couple days a new color starts to bloom, everybody’s been talking about them at work, I think we have a winner. I’ve had a time lapse camera set up on them for the last 2 weeks, I’m excited to see the process sped up.


The greenhouse doesn’t exactly specialize in succulents but every once in a while they give it a go. These aeoniums have been growing for about a year now and started in 5″ last spring. Over the winter they were planted in 12″ pots and they really performed well.  If I had a greenhouse I’d have ten.


We grew thousands of fuschia baskets this year, and over the last couple of weeks we’ve been hanging them up.  This is an above the head muscle twisting exercise as the hooks are often less then cooperative. It can be fun if you blur your mind and enjoy swearing frustration all day. Life of a greenhouse worker.


Dianthus super trooper has been a spring staple at the greenhouses as long as I’ve worked there. This is an impressive crop with less casualties then usual. Shades of pink and apricote, white, red and orange. Although it’s sold mostly as an annual, dianthus super trooper is actually hardy through zones 6-9. The specimens I planted in the garden last year seem completely unscathed by our winter, which is pretty good in my books, we were down to -10 this year.


One of my favorite plants of all time overwintered at the greenhouse and started producing flowers. Melianthus major otherwise known as the peanut butter plant (if you crush it’s leafs and take a sniff you will smell peanut butter) is an amazing plant and I’m excited to see these flower spikes develop. For those of you who are not familar with this plant, I’ve included a picture of mine from this summer. The sad news being that my specimen wasn’t as fortunate to spend it’s winter in a heated greenhouse and has died to the ground, and I’m hoping it comes back once spring warms up.

Well that’s the end of this week’s tour, thanks for taking this walk around with me. Remember on these cold variable weathered days, spring is but a few months away, and the gardening season is starting up as we speak.

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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