Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

plant collecting

Originally I wanted to write a post marking the beginning of spring plant hoarding, but then I realized, who am I kidding. I started months ago, or never stopped, every months means more plants in my collection. I love growing new plants, the fascination never ceases to please. New species and new varieties,  plants are a dangerous subject matter for the collecting type. I’d love to boast about discretion but this is something I know very little about. I’d love to say that I at least keep it to one of each, but then I’d also be lying. Really, what self respecting plant geek could pass up an in flower Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ for $10.00. Even if they already had one at home, I think not, “this one’s coming home with Nat.” While one might suggest caution for fear of one’s wallet being emptied I argue that plants are one of the best things you could treat yourself to, surely a better investment then a burger and a beer. Assuming you don’t murder your newly collected plant, they often maintain their value, if not increase as they mature. Tis the life of a king to witness plants bloom from far away lands, I care not for high definition graphics, but more about the crisp beautiful simplicity of an unfurling leaf. Plant collecting is indeed a pleasure.

A white form of Arisaema griffithii. I bought two corms last year but only one bloomed last season. This one came up white, while it’s brother is rich dark chocolate. A pleasant surprise that I don’t think was necessarily intentional when they were packaging the corms. I’ll count this one as a win. 

I love where plant hoarding has taken me, and in time my plant identification has made it even more fun. Often the strangest and the rarest go unlabeled, most exotic nurseries have some gems tucked away for a keen eye. A seemingly dull plain leafy looking plant could be much more amazing if you know the story behind it. Treasure lies for those in the know, make an effort to know your nurseryman for the best selection in town. Be a good customer, support your local nurseries and express a sincere interest. The majority of people running nurseries are in it for the same reason as you are, because they love plants. Given a chance many will share a wealth of information, a resource that should be utilized when the opportunity presents itself. There’s no shame in not knowing the growing conditions of a certain plant, spare yourself the trial and error and ask for some suggestions from someone who’s been there, done that.

The strange leafless blooms of darmera peltata

All rants aside, I’ve been working a lot lately and in turn, have felt an exaggerated need to treat myself with new planty goodness. A quick peak into my latest lack of discretion.

As weather gets more accommodating, now begins the long migration of plants from the greenhouse, to my garden.  A little old mixed in with the new.

Why do plant bloggers love posting pictures of their cars loaded with plants? I know what you’re thinking, did I really need 10 more trachycarpus fortunei. The answer is, yes.

I’m a little embarressed in that I had only intended in taking a peak. Oh well…

I found a very good deal on an exceptionally root-bound pot of Asparagus meyeri, otherwise known as a foxtail fern. Had to give this one a try.

A Tropaeolum tuberosum I started as a peanut sized tuber under lights this winter has grown into a large sprawling vine in only a couple months. A bizarre edible crop, this hardy nasturtium produces tubers said to have a strong peppery taste. I’ll let you know as things progress.

An extremely well established unidentified exotic ginger.

I visited at the right time to witness this Azara lanceolata in full wondrous flower. Another Chilean oddity, this strange tree grows on wet marshy hillsides and produces these amazing vanilla scented flowers. Another reminder to visit your local nurseries frequently so you can see their selection of plants at different times of the year.

The flowers of Azara lanceolata are reminiscent of an acasia tree, but almost more delicate. Even though I don’t have a strong sense of smell, the aroma is intoxicating.

While I’ve only recently learned it’s name, this plant has been on my wish list long before I knew much at all. I first spotted it at a botanical garden in Gottingen, Germany, this Phytolacca americana intrigues me. Known as a weed to some, our northern climate keeps these at bay, pink hued flowers that eventually mature into an ornamental pillar of black berries. So Strange.

Last but not least, I need a little help here.

Is this a Drimia maritima (syn. Urginea maritima)? The nursery had a small stock of them but no one has a solid ID.

If it is, I’ve been trying to seek one of these out for almost 2 years now, often being thwarted by it’s lack of availability and heavy cost of shipping. If it’s not what I think it is, either way I’m thrill, it’s a beautiful plant. After this photo I repotted it and exposed the bulb, lined it with beach rocks in a nice new ceramic pot, it’s a show worthy piece. More photos as soon as I can.

This wasn’t all that I collected this day, but it is as much as I’m willing to document at the moment. The others, while amazing finds, aren’t photogenic quite yet, and will be saved for another day.

Thanks for joining me.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Syn Dicentra spectabilis)

Arisaema griffithii still creeping out the joint.

Ornamental strawberry? What’s the point. Fragaria x ananassa ‘Pink Panda’

Maybe really neat. Fragaria x ananassa ‘Pink Panda’

The shade of a bamboo patch.

Echium pininana round two.

And if that doesn’t work out, I’ve got about 20 of each variety popping. One of these seedlings has got to make me proud.


Hello plant people

I hope you’ve been enjoying the spring weather, even if it’s a bit rainy here and there, I’m glad to have the light evenings, and so does the garden. This weekend I made it to Saltspring Island to visit my parents, and wouldn’t you have guessed it, I made time to visit a couple nurseries while I was there. If you haven’t been to Fraser Thimble Farms before, make sure you make time for a visit next time you’re on the island. While I’ve often taken this stop somewhat for granted, Fraser Thimble is coveted throughout Canada and even the USA for it’s amazing selection of rare, native and strange plants. I love visiting in spring, there’s so much to see, and at this time of year it’s worth visiting every couple weeks if you have a chance. I put my discretion shield on full blast but was quickly defeated and left with much more then I expected to. It’s spring after-all, the most dangerous time for a plant hoarder to venture into strange and unusual nurseries/ I didn’t stand a chance. But how could you, with such an incredible variety of the weird plants. A quick look at this week’s bounty.

I’ve been lusting after Cardiocrinum giganteum from the very first moment I heard about them. A cold hardy lily that can grow and flower up to 10 feet tall, how could anyone resist. It often takes up to 7 years or longer for the bulb to reach flowering size,  after blooming the main bulb dies but it’s offsets take it’s place. In time if you get an established community of these bulbs, blooms could be a frequent event. The foliage is remincient of giant cabbage, or even a philodendrom, for it’s foliage alone this plant has merit in the garden.

Richard at Fraser Thimble suspects this specimen to be around 9 years old. Considering it’s size this early in the season, we think it’ll flower this year. A tip from the grower suggests regular feeding during it’s growing season to encourage offset formation. This one already has a couple pups and looks healthy and vigorous, it had to come home with me. Prices range all over the map for Cardiocrinum giganteum and availability is limited. If you ever encounter a good deal one these, don’t pass it up.

Once you collected one Farfugium you’ll need to have more. I’ve had my eye on this Farfugium japonicum ‘aureomaculatum’  for some time now, and this one’s electric tie dyed leaves never cease to amaze me. Established clumps look like a lightning bolt bush. Once grouped into the genus ligularia the insignificant daisy like flowers are similar but farfugium has it’s own distinct look. Enjoys a constantly moist well drained medium and wilts, but survives full sun and drought amazingly well. For best results a little dappled shade would go a long way. Stunning!

An impulse buy on the way out, this giant foot ball sized Colocasia esculenta. I’ve always admired the large Colocasias you see in grandiose botanical gardens, this large root promises such a dream.

Planted in a large pot with good drainage, this one lives in my cold frame in the back. I’m excited to see what comes of it. Grower suggests to leave dry from October until April of every year, these large tubers are more prone to rot then smaller varieties and will benefit from a dry dormant period. I’ll keep you updated!

A Crinum powellii bulb for $7.50 also snagged me at the cash register. Although you see these growing in Victoria Crinums are practically unavailable at garden centers in the area. This one promises to be a real beaut.

A strange shrub from China, Helwingia chinensis also grabbed my attention at the very last moment. I know very little about it, but look forward to seeing what it has to offer.

Spring is here… What a relief.

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.