Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

plant hoarding

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.

The Castor Bean Plant, Ricinus communis, what a fascinating plant. I wouldn’t exactly call this “rare” but it certainly isn’t wide spread up here in Victoria, B.C. The Victoria Parks department have a knack for using strange tropicals but other then that I haven’t encountered any amateur gardeners using it in their borders. Being an avid nursery junkie, it’s also quite rare to see these for sale in the stores. The Castor Bean has gorgeous tropical foliage and unusual spiky poisonous seed pods. I’ve been in love with this plant since the first day I spotted it at a botanical garden in Gottingen, Germany. Shortly after seeing it at the gardens I spotted a small package of seeds at a German garden center and “accidently” smuggled them back to Canada.

The original Castor Bean that sparked my interests in Gottingen, Germany.

The Castor Bean plant is native to Africa but can be found throughout the world due to human admiration. Ricinus communis dies at the first sign of frost but in the southern states, Mexico and beyond the plant tends to naturalize easily and sometimes even become a invasive nuisance. Ever clear a patch of 40 foot castor beans out of your ditch, oh what a life that would be. Due it’s deadly nature it’s no surprise to me to learn that it’s in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) and is related other menacing plants. Besides being cultivated for it’s striking good looks, Ricinus communis is also grown for it’s versatile Castor Oil. It seems to be used for everything from folk medicine (laxatives etc) to adhesives, inks and dyes. Fascinating!

Castor Beans are easily grown from seed.

I’ve had very few problems with this plant.  The spider mites seem to enjoy it but by no means kills it, only slows it down. Another time I spotted some little green cabbage catapillars on them, but I suspect they wouldn’t be long for this world. Due to the fact that the entire plant carries high levels Ricin (A deadly poisonous chemical read more here) pests generally stay clear of this plant. Castor beans like regular watering and fertilization and will do best in full sun.

How to Over Winter Your Castor Bean
I would say the main cause of death to these plants in Victoria would be frost. In a panic last October I searched the internet seeking advice on how to overwinter these mindblowing specimens. At the time my stock was rather small and I considered bringing them indoors. Having had entirely too much to bring inside already I opted to take a different route and brought them into the greenhouses at work. While they lost all of their leaves, come mid March/April they started to flush out again and this year they were even more incredible. I still have the original 2 specimens that I grew from the seeds from Germany (1 red leafed and 1 green leafed) and both are loving life. Castor beans DO NOT have to be considered annuals in the north, just make sure to keep them in a greenhouse with plenty of sun, no frost, and lowered watering.  Any stories of keeping them alive in a basement would also be interesting to hear, contact me and share a tale.

Needless to say, Ricinus communis is a great plant to add the collection and it will be a very sad day when the frost finally claims these beauties. My current specimen 2 years later is nearly 8 feet tall and in full bud, hopefully I’ll get some of those wacked out seeds I saw so many years ago.

Castor bean flower.

Unusual Castor Bean Planting?
Look at how similar these plants look. Fatsia japonica, Tetrapanax papyriferus & Ricinus Comunis. Your homework today is to create a mind blowing planting of the three, and take a photo to share with the world. Due date, next season! :)

A quick garden tour for those curious as to what’s blooming, and generally looking incredible right now.

I have a love hate for Polemonium boreale, of which I acquired my first specimen a couple years ago. The plant starts off looking like a fern in early spring and as thing’s get hotter sends up these spikes of purple flowers. Polemonium self seed rather easily and situate themselves in the strangest places. I wouldn’t worry about them being invasive, they come out easily if you don’t like, but in time you’ll have no shortage of seedlings to pass off to friends and family. This specimen in particular surprised me, looking quite photogenic at the time I took the photograph. I prefer them in spring as foliage plant, but this photo gives a close look into their interesting little flowers.

Sedum album (coral carpet sedum) is flowering all over my garden. I originally found this specimen in a crack of pavement down by Dallas Road Beach. From 1 strand of sedum beads I’ve spread this plant all over my garden and Victoria (plant sales). This sedum is vigorous and practically idiot proof. The sedums have been flowering for a couple weeks now and now it’s Sedum album’s turn. What interesting little flower heads it has.

My girlfriend and I dug up this Onopordum acanthium last season and this one is starting to flower. Well over 6 feet tall this potted specimen reaches towards the sky. I like tall fast growing plant species, in a garden where much of the interest is a foot level, it’s nice to have things grow taller then myself. These add great architecture to the garden and are as bizarre as they are practical. Being a biannual this specimen will die, but not before leaving me 1000 seeds to replicate it’s good looks. Great natural deer fences, Onopordum are a tough plant indeed.

This Abutilon pictum Thompsonii (variegated flowering maple) has been flowering since I got it at the UVIC Annual Plant Sale in early May. Although Abutilon are commonly referred to as flowering maples, they aren’t a part of the Acer family at all. Abutilon pictum is native to Brazil.

One of the latest plant hoarding must haves, Desfontainia spinosa is an interesting cusp hardy perennial native to the Andes in South America.  I first saw this plant at Abkhazi Garden a couple of years ago and it blew me away. I recently spotted this specimen for sale and I had to have it.  While it looks like a relative to a holly tree (Ilex), it’s something much stranger. Desfontainia spinosa is the only species in it’s genus, and holds magical powers beyond it’s spiky demeanor. After a little research it turns out Desfontainia is a mild psychedelic. A tea can be made from it’s leaves that can be drunk to produce wild visions, some medicine men of the Andes say they “go crazy” under it’s influence.  Needless to say I won’t be trying it anytime soon, but I’ve always enjoyed the lore and tales magical plants have to offer. If anyone knows anything else about this plant I’d love to learn more. Wild stuff eh?

Another plant hoarding moment, I aquired this Tetrapanax papyriferus last week after many years of admiration in selective gardens throughout Victoria. They all might have come from one grower on the island, and it’s interesting to have finally tracked one down. I will go into further detail on this plant at a later date, for the moment let me just say I love it.

Just another photogenic moment with a Pulmonaria and a Salvia hotlips.

This patch of Digitalis ‘Suttons Apricot’ was planted last season and spent most of it’s time concentrating on leaf growth and root development. This year the real fireworks came out with over 5 stalks of mind blowing pink blooms. This stalk in particular is over 6 feet tall and has lasted more then 3 weeks. Incredible!

I found this tree lupin on a beach in the winter of 2009 and is really making it’s debut this summer. What seems like endless flowers and amazing leaf structure, I grew this 6 foot tall specimen from a seedling no bigger then a can of coke. After a rainstorm the leaves hold water like little diamonds, there are so many reasons this is a great plant to grow.

I found this Dianthus barbatus in my garden well before I knew anything about gardening. At the time, it looks almost weed like, but it had a  couple characteristics that made me double think composting it. After 2 years of novice gardening it bloomed, and every since it’s only got bigger and more impressive. A closer look at the flowers reveals almost orchid like markings.

Farfugium crispata is increidbly photogenic, oddly aquired at a Thrifty Foods grocer Store. You never know where you’re going to find the latest plant strangeness. I’ll go further into this another day.

We recently harvested our purple sprouting broccoli and made a delicious chicken stir fry. Funny how it took 3-4 months to create enough broccoli for one meal, vegetable gardening is still not my main fortay. I can make every flower in my garden bloom like clockwork but getting a decent head of broccoli proved a challenge. We will try again in the fall.

Yes my Hoya carnosa is still flower, 2 and a half months later, and still more buds shows up everyday. This plant has outdone itself and has earned my eternal admiration and respect.

The buds of the Hoya drip a sweet syrup nectar to encourage polinators. It has a sweet scent and taste. The hummingbirds would love this plant if it was outside, tis a shame inside it only gets pollinated visited by the odd house fly.

Until next time, thank you for coming for the tour. Happy Canada Day!

Everyday I tell myself to slow down on the whole plant collecting thing. The house is getting full up, the garden is at maximum capacity and people must be getting bored of me rambling on about the latest weird plant I’ve found. There I am tossing Latin names around, identifying this and that. Some days I find myself contemplating the perfect potting mix for my latest find and I think to myself “is this who I’ve become?”. I tend my crops, weed, fertilize, water and admire daily. I have never encountered such an all absorbing totally fascinating hobby such as this. It seems so endless. There seems to be an infinite amount of strange and wonderful plants out there, all with their own life cycles, unique traits and quiet secrets. Plant collecting is the ultimate game of observation. It reconnects man with nature and helps bring back the true reality of the space we live in. As modern technology persists, the Internet, iphones, and wordpress blogs keep mankind in a stasis of entertainment and digital reality. To step away from it all now and again, sit back in a garden and just admire the magic of the world we live in, this is where gardening truly shines. I digress

Today through much guilt and weakness of character I found a couple stray plants that needed to come home with me. Poor little guys.

Acacia pravissima ‘Ovens Wattle’

I know I know, I need more borderline tender plants like I do a kick in the shins, but still this interesting Acacia sold me instantly.  This strange specimen tree is native to Australia and in the right conditions gets covered in a carpet of fluffy yellow flowers. With or without blooms I really liked the bizarre tropical look of this plant. I have read stories of people successfully growing it year round in Portland Oregon so I think I might have a chance. More information on this one to come.

FindMePlants.co.uk lists the plants weaknesses as “Invasive top growth; Spiny plant – can scratch young children and gardeners!” This poor plant has a bed rep. Whats so wrong with discouraging children from fooling around in the back garden, this sounds like a selling point to me. The plant isn’t actually as prickly as they make it sound, it’s a friendly plant, honest.

Gloriosa superba (Glory Lily Vine)

While delivering to Garden Works the other week I noticed a shipment of these come in along side some Hercules calla lilies. By the design of the flower I knew them to be some sort of lily, but what lily that might be I wasn’t quite sure. What an amazing bloom these have. The Glory Lily Vine wasn’t exactly cheap, but I had been daydreaming about it for a week now and when you work like a crazy person you gotta treat yourself to this kind of thing.

Gloriosa superba is native to the tropical regions of Africa and Asia and is definitely a long way from home living up here in Victoria. Still as May rolls further into early summer Victoria has a mild enough climate for these plants to survive. Hopefully even thrive. As summer rolls on I will update you on my success with this plant.

This plant is incredibly photogenic, the flowers would be great inspiration for some artwork. I would love to do a painting of these sometime.

Breathe Taking.

Last but not least, with much contemplation I also let a small jewel orchid follow me home.

Macodes petola (Jewel Orchid)

Another must have. I had never seen a jewel orchid before last week and now they might be one of my favorite plants of all time. Unlike most orchids jewel orchids are grown for their amazing foliage and not their flowers. While their flowers are still quite beautiful and fragrant, they don’t compete with the gold dusted foliage underneath them. The display at garden works had three varieties of jewel orchid and Macodes petola took the cake. Upon further research it turns out to be the rarer of the group, apparently I chose well. I must have stood there for 15 minutes today, comparing the whole table until this one  shined through. From what I can gather from the Internet, jewel orchids can be easy to grow as long as you give them what they’re looking for. That being high humidity, warm temperatures and a shady / filtered light spot to hang out. Most recommend up to 80% humidity for reliable success of these plants and that is why I planted mine in a terrarium earlier today. First I laid out gravel, then bark and perlite, then sphagnum. I think the plant is going to be right at home.

The whole leaf has an iridescence to them, and in the sunshine they glow with flakes of gold. It’s really quite remarkable.

A close up of the leaves.

You would think after over 70 hours at the greenhouse in the last two weeks I would be overdosed on plants. Apparently it only feeds the addiction, there is so much to see. Thank you for checking out the latest plant hoarding. Stay tuned for more detailed descriptions of the plants in this post.

Get out there and garden. Sprinkle some seeds, or compost a sandwich. Most of all, have fun.


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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