Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Pleiospilos nelii

I love growing strange plants. The weirder the better.

When I first got my job at the nursery I started my garden with a modest 6pack of marigolds and a couple compost ready perennials. As I watched these seedlings flourish a spark flickered in my mind. The intricacy and beauty of nature was revealed to me; a slow unfolding miracle. I couldn’t look away. Years started to fly by, I became much more aware of the seasons and continued to watch things grow. I read books, surfed the web, trolled garden centers and nurseries; my appetite for new plants was insatiable. It was only a matter of time before I stumbled onto the large and impressive group of plants known as succulents. I started with sedums, moved into agaves and from there cacti, living rocks and caudiciforms.

A broad term in more ways than one, the word succulent describes all of these groups.  It refers to the plants ability to store water through special water-storing tissues. Through these special adaptations the plants have developed some pretty interesting ways to survive. This of course adds to their mystery and bizarre aesthetic appeal. Over the years I have become quite fascinated with this group of plants and admire their rarity, strangeness and story. This is what has brought me to becoming the collector I am today.

Let’s take a poke about the collection, and see if we spot anything interesting.

cactus collection
When your collection get’s bigger than your ability to properly display them, it’s time to upgrade. This winter a friend and I designed and built this custom cactus shelf. It’s the difference between hoarding and a collection, it displays the plants in a way each one can be recognized and appreciated. The project as whole cost us less then $200.00, I’m pleased with the effect.

Monstrose
As your collection grows it becomes more and more important to keep up with nomenclature and proper labeling.

Two headed cactus
Last year I acquired a rather generous amount of old-growth cacti from fellow Victoria collector. She had been growing cacti most of her adult life but for reasons undisclosed had to drastically reduce the size of her collection. Over the course of 2012 many the car load of cactus came into my possession and this will be our season together. This mammilaria NOID was tagged being repotted in 2003, it features two columns each with a split double head. It’s unusual to say the least.

echinocereus poselgeri
Another choice specimen I acquired from Linda was this Echinocereus poselgeri (formally known as Wilcoxia tuberosa).
Minute and delicate these cacti are known to have a mighty beautiful summer bloom. Time will tell.

cactus collection
On the left a couple oldgrowth echinopsis I managed to score during last year’s Victoria Garagellennium. On the right a 30 year old Euphorbia trigona I scooped up on craigslist. Seek and you shall find.

Echinopsis
I enjoy collecting cactus antiquities. These echinopis are guessed to be well over 30 years old. What a strange story they tell. The fact that someone has cared for this cactus for it’s entire existence, make it’s extra special as the years compound. That means it’s been watered, not overwatering, repotting and brought indoors and out for 30-50 years successful. That’s a lot of effort and care. Remarkable that I get the opportunity to further it’s trip alongside humanity. I wonder who will take it off my hands when I’m done appreciating it.

Clivia
I got this Clivia at The Victoria Horticulture Society a couple years ago. This is the first time it’s bloomed and they lasted more then 2 weeks. They’ve since faded, but more buds are on their way. I’m slowly growing fond of clivias. They’re pest free and dead easy to take care of. Plus they’ll survive in the shadiest part of your house and aren’t fussy about water either. Let them taste the outdoors in the summer and they’ll more than likely bloom for you in the autumn and early spring.

Euphorbia trigona
For the last little while my tillandsias (air plants) have found a home on this Euphorbia trigona. They seem to lend well to it’s good looks.

tillandsia
If they weren’t so expensive i’d have a lot more of these. Airplants are easy to grow and if you have never tried growing one before I suggest you give them a try. It’s as simple as finding a bright location and giving them an occasional soak. These plants naturally grow in the crooks of trees and can survive low nutrient situations. Soak them biweekly and they’ll thrive.

haworthias
Would anyone be able to I.D these haworthia for me?

haworthia
haworthia
haworthia

Euphorbia & mitrophyllum grande
It’s handy to know that Euphorbia obesa are dioecious, that being there are both male and female individuals needed to set seed. At the last Cactus and Succulent Plant Auction I got a mating pair. In time I  hope to get them into full production.

mitrophyllum grande
Mitrophyllum grande is one of my most favorite mesembs. I’m always scared I’m going to kill it, this one has survived the last two winters and seems healthy enough. They’re quite unusual to watch grow, splitting in the strangest ways.

sinningia leucotricha
A plant that’s hard not to love, Sinningia leucotricha. Not exactly a cactus relative being in the Gesneriaceae family, I suppose it’s it’s large underground tuber that appeals to the succulent geeks. This one is in the the realms of 10-12 years old. Each season around this time it produces new stems with flower buds and discards the old.  Last year it only put out one stem, this year I get two. I’m hoping to pollinate the flowers and get some seed, more people need to grow this plant.

sinningia leucotricha
sinningia leucotricha

Davallia trichomanoides
Davallia trichomanoides (Hare’s foot fern) is another oddball plant. As it spreads it grows taranchula-esk like rhizomes in which new fern fronds emerge. I’ve grown many of these and the trick to success is not to over-pot these little guys. They demand excellent drainage and should be considered more epiphyte then terrestrial.

euphorbia esculenta
Some people have a problem with growing plants under lights, but I think it’s a perfectly fine thing to do. I don’t have enough windows to grow all my plants windowsill adjacent and my greenhouse just isn’t consistently warm and dry enough. The only option, let there be light. Euphorbia esculenta has continued to grow throughout the winter.

sceletium tortuosum
Sceletium tortuosum and Echeveria minima. Soon to bloom.

Sedum hintonii
Sedum hintonii is blooming. This unusual tropical sedum is native to Mexico and is apparently quite rare.
I’m going to gather some seed and take a hand at propagating it.

Sedum hintonii
The only other time I’ve seen it is at the University of California Botanical Gardens. Note my cutting is not from this source.

Pseudolithos Migiurtinus
For those who were wondering my Pseudolithos migiurtinus is still alive.  I’ve heard they don’t like to be too dry, or too wet. My trick thus far has been biweekly water, but no more then a shot glass at a time. It’s healthy thus far with this treatment, but isn’t growing too quickly either.

Crassula mesembryanthemoides
A Crassula mesembryanthemopsis is also in bloom; forming seed heads. This specimen is still young, I can’t wait until it’s bigger. So strange.

stepelia sp
I don’t think I’ve figured out stepelias yet. I know they like a little winter water as they start growing mid January but they also don’t like it too wet. Most of my varieties were grown from cuttings shipped in from the UK. None have flowered yet but I’m hoping this year is the one.

pleiospilos nelii
Baby split rocks, some of the lone survivors of a rather bad infestation of seedling fungus gnat attack. Gardening is never without it’s challenges.

Echium
Long live the echium.

Get your hands dirty and get gardening. Spring is here!

We woke up Sunday morning bright and early, grabbed some greasy drive-through breakfast, and off we went. While it may seem like a bit of a feat to drive 3 hours to visit a nursery, Valley Succulents was well worth the effort. Truly the only nursery of it’s kind on Vancouver Island (and maybe the mainland as well) Valley Succulents is a small nursery that specializes in strange and unusual cacti and succulents.


The drive was a breeze and a real pleasure on a cloudy Sunday in June. 


Having seen nearly 250km of roadside blue flowering lupins, we decided to pull over and take a closer look and gather a couple specimens. 


I’m unsure of if these lupins are native, garden escape or some sort  of wildflower distribution. Either way they were an incredible sight at this time of year.


The lupins could be spotted in the ditches from Victoria all the way to Courtney, over a million lupins in bloom. Makes you feel a bit silly for buying a Russell hybrid at the garden center up the hill. 

A couple hours later and many kilometers behind us, we took the turn off into Courtney through to Comox and eventually arrived at Valley Succulents. An inconspicuous little nursery, upon arrival we were greeted by the owner & grower, Jamey Lauinger. Here is an individual I could relate with. After a quick introduction and a small exchange of words it was apparent that you were speaking with true hobbyist and plant madman. The nursery is small, but packed full of the strange and the unusual. In fact, I’ve never seen such an amazing variety of cacti and succulents. Jamey brings the exotic to the Arctic isle. Cacti nurseries may be common place in the warmer parts of the United states, but they are virtually non-existent in Canada. “Agaves, euphorbias and trichocereus oh my”. Even though I had just finished a successful plant hoarding mission the day before, I couldn’t help but to load up on many well sought after treasures.


Upon arrival

His variety was great in all realms of succulent, mesemb and cacti. Might I add that his sedums, agave and opuntia selection is unsurpassed by any other nursery on the island. Bonus points for keeping prices low and sometimes borderline bargain. I found specimens that you can’t find anywhere else but online & out of country. It was nice to skip the song and dance of customs and borders, Jamey brings it to you local, high quality and affordable. Whether your’re a plant geek or novice, it’s worth picking his brain. Jamey is a resource and a wealth of information. It was refreshing to speak with someone who was so obviously passionate about what they were doing.


A carpenter by trade, Jamey built his 1500ft greenhouse last year and has only recently opened the doors to the public as of May 5th, 2012.


The greenhouse is beautifully constructed and is a lovely place to find oneself on a Sunday afternoon.


Trichocereus standing tall.


Many of the tables had flood beds so the succulents could be watered from below. I dream of integrating these into my greenhouse someday…


Cute Sedum rubrotinctum terracotta pots.


Even though the space is small, he packs a lot in. Make sure to take an extra close look, there’s so much to see.


I love Pleiospilos nelii!


An exotic Euphorbia albipollinifera was a must have.


A Trichocereus lobivia in bud.


Fuzzy cacti!


I’ve recently become obsessed with terrestrial bromeliads, this Hechtia argentea charmed it’s way into my collection.


Epithelantha micromeris has such a perfect sphere shape it’s hard to believe it’s real.


Hands down the best agave selection on the island.


Lobivia atrovirens


Echeveria hybrid


Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’


Valley Succulents doubles as a botanical garden in it’s diversity.


I love being able to share the fascinating world of plants with my girlfriend, it’s nice to know someone close to me can appreciate the same madness. “Which one of you are coming home with us!?”.


Astrophytum myriostigma


The latest plant haul, how could I resist. I know, I know, where all this going to go?

In conclusion, Valley Succulents is an incredible new nursery that is well worth the long trip up island. A perfect day-trip for the botanically inclined, give yourself an excuse to go for a Sunday drive and support this madman so he continues to grow more outrageous and exotic cacti and succulents. I for one was pleased with my adventure and hope to travel up there again in the near future. Affordable, local and exotic.

Visit his website @ www.ValleySucculents.com 


By appointment. Phone: 250.465.1338 

2210 Anderton Road  Comox, BC V9M 4B1

Regular Hours 
Fridays – 12pm-5pm
Saturdays – 1pm-5pm
Sundays – 9am-4pm

A couple nights ago I found myself sitting in my small greenhouse appreciating my cacti collection. It’s a great place for the cacti to live, they enjoy the extra heat and seem to thrive in this environment. While the rest of my garden gets generously watered the cacti house is on a much more moderate watering regime. Behind a wall of towering scarlet runner beans, the greenhouse is a good place to take a moment out and contemplate one’s life. I’ve always been attracted to close quarters and this is a bit a small sanctuary for me, an obscure sense of privacy is obtained in a city bustling with life. While hopelessly gapping out, I found myself in the golden hour and quickly ran to grab my camera. For all you cacti and succulent fans, here’s a small peak into some of my collection.

I recently found this cacti pot at a flea market for 3 bucks. While the pot has 3 different specimens, none impressed me more then this small spike ball. So far a NOID for me, it looks somewhat like a euphorbia. Either way a nice score. 

A closer look, the needles gather water in the most unusual way.

Echeveria glauca, the first echeveria to really grab my interests, pre gardener.

The very first time I spotted one of these in flower I was smitten. This was long before I knew anything about plants, but I remember it grabbing me. It seemed so unusual, out of a hallucination or willy wonka movie. These succulents are almost anti gravityin their ability to repel water miraculously. They’re covered in a light white dust that mixes with water and creates a strange gel. I’m still unsure why they have this powder but asthetically it enhances the color of these fine plants. With that in mind I suspect it helps the plant in one way or another and shouldn’t be wiped off. Look with your eyes not your hands. A drop of water in the crown of the echeveria makes for a cheap crystal ball.


Ok just one more photo, incredible!

Upon closer inspection Agave bovicornuta has a menacing look. War scars tattoo it’s large succulent leaves, while it’s crown thorns say “No Touch”


A closer look: looks like a chainsaw blade.


Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus) is flowering again. I found this one in Feburary and it was in bud then, I’m happy to see another set of blooms in the same year. It’s loving life outside.

A closer look at it’s neon orange flowers. For more information on this plant, see a post earlier this year, Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus)

Pleiospilos nelii otherwise known as Split Rock was aquired late spring. Since then it has completed discarded it’s old fleshy body and replaced it with these new ones. It’s essentially the same size but fresh, quite strange. 

It has the strangest spotted patterns, nature is the most intricate artist. I know a pointilist that get’s hand cramps doing this kind of work.

Echeveria runyonii has similar flowers to Echeveria glauca but super sized. Outstanding.

Graptoveria paraguayense ‘Fred Ives’ has been reliably beautiful all year round, aquired from a friend last year.

As far as giant African succulents go, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is a must have. It’s doubtful I’ll ever see it flower, but regardless it has a worthwhile presence in the garden.

Euphorbia obesa also known as (baseball plant), I’ve wanted one for what seems forever. This specimen followed me home one day on an accidental nursery tour. A choice succulent.


Looking up from my greenhouse I’m pleased to see Disocactus flagelliformis (rat tail cactus) loving life in a characteristally unusual hang spot. 


After visiting the hot south I feel a bit ridiculous collecting cacti and succulents in the way I do. When you visit a tropical cacti garden and see them at truly enormous statures it makes you feel a bit silly for nursing them along in small containers. Of course this is the beauty of being a gardener in the 21st century, one has never had more access to species then right now. If I want to hang a cacti in a maple tree, then that’s my prerogative. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

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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