Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

primula denticulata

A belated Happy New Years to all of my favorite plant friends. Here we are in 2015, a year full of promise and good things to come. This winter has been unseasonably pleasant, our little city on the southern point of Vancouver Island has nary seen a drop of snow all season. I’ve been in a t-shirt since early February, what a beautiful time to be alive.

What have I been doing you ask and why haven’t I been updating my plant musings? Let’s just say between family, the greenhouse and a large succulent collection. Most moments are quickly used up.

Life is a pleasure and a delight; I’m thoroughly enjoying fatherhood. My son shows interest in his first spring conscious as a walking and talking sponge for sensation. He runs about the garden, running his hand through the leaves and different textures. He squeals and squeaks with fresh observations. Stumbles and trolls throughout my backyard jungle. I now have a co-pilot in my exploration of local gardens.

Here as we enter spring, the temperatures rise and the days lengthen. Life is emerging all around, my garden slowly begins to wake up and unravel. As the plants awaken I’m also uplifted by the bright days of spring. It’s an inspiring time of year and one can’t help but get lost in the garden as the sun sets yet another day. Much tidying, propagating and organizing. If my garden was Broadway it’d be saying. Showtime!

So having been on a creative hiatus for a bit it’s hard to nail down just what I want to say here. Perhaps just to say hello and I’m alive and well. For the moment I will start off with a mishmash of photos from my latest botanical endeavors. Yes, Here we go. Let’s start off at my life at the greenhouses.

January Greenhouse
Since the start of 2015 we’ve has some awesome weeks of sunshine. Above a morning snapshot of greenhouses at sunrise.

Hellebore 'Camelot'
Hellebore ‘Camelot’ flowering in unison.

Primula polyanthus
From late December right through to February it was Primula polyanthus from morning until night.

Sunshine Greenhouses
It’s a funny thing working outside everyday. Cold and bitter, hot and humid. From January through December we work in all forms of weather and end up changing clothing every 15 minutes as a cloud passes by or the sun shines high.

Fuchsia baskets
To produce plants at an industrial level takes more than just good planning it takes the bronze to get the job done. You like fuchsia baskets? Now do it thousand times. I’ve always prefered this type of exertion to the gym.

Hanging baskets
I love the stretching infinity. Baskets upon baskets, in all directions.

Hanging Cool Wave Pansies
A house full of hanging Cool Wave pansies at their perfect stage of bloom. When the house is shut tight the subtle scent is multiplied and enchanting. I have a poor sense of smell but it’s permiates none the less. It smell fresh & aromatic. Incredible.

Spring baskets
My associate watering some spring baskets in.

Sprawling Greenhouses
At this time of year we start to make use of every last inch of space. Successions of spring bedding crops are planted and laid out. Marigolds, lobelia, snap dragons, petunias and so much more. Each day brings us closer to true spring.We will work from dawn until dusk to move large volumes of plants across the island and beyond. Maybe some of these will be planted outside your window one day.

Sunset at the greenhouse
Sunset @ greenhouse
With all the grandeur and excitement of life it often feels like there isn’t enough hours in a day. A time traveler in a modest sense, time flies when you’re having fun.

Daffodils
narcissus
The harbinger of spring, Daffodil ‘Tete a Tete’ in full bloom.

Primula deticulata

Primula denticulata
Primula denticulata

Arabis 'Spring Charm'
Arabis ‘Spring Charm’.

Armeria juniperifolia
Armeria juniperifolia.

pulsatilla vulgaris
Pulsatilla vulgaris.

Our back greenhouse
I’ve been sorting our plant laboratory for the last few months trying to make sense of what to do with all these crazy plants. An army of aeoniums for an upcoming project lay on the right side, a table of on oddities on the left. I’m in the midst of downsizing some of my personal collection. For those who live locally and are looking for some true botanical gems, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

aeonium atropurpureum flowers
aeonium atropurpureum flowers
Speaking of aeoniums. This Aeonium atropurpureum has begun to flower.

Echiums
An small gathering of echiums. I wonder what gardens these will find their way into.

Mangave
A beautiful mangave specimen.

aeonium tabuliforme
Aeonium tabuliforme
A few flats of Aeonium tabuliforme I grew from seed last year. They’re just starting to look right and show off their fibonacci sprial.

dicksonia fibrosa
Dicksonia fibrosa with spanish moss.

garrya elliptica
Walking through Finnarty Gardens at the UVIC Campus we came across this amazing Garrya elliptica tree in bloom.

garrya elliptica
garrya elliptica

Daffodils
Cherry blossoms, daffodils and young life.

Government House Gardens
We’ve been frequenting the great gardens of Victoria. If you haven’t made it to Government House yet this season, it’s time to pour a warm drink and take off for a jaunt.

Hellebores
Ethereal hellebores.

Primula 'Wanda Hybrid'
Primula Wanda Hybrid.

backyard jungle
Back at home things are coming up nicely.

anemone nemorosa
Anemone nemorosa is awesome.

fritillaria
Fritillaria.

Dodecatheon
Dodecatheon and Salix boydii.

Primula miniature
Miniature primula.

corydalis George Baker
My latest acquisition from Fraser Thimble Gardens Corydalis ‘George Baker’. A fleeting ephemeral moment of spring.

Dinosaurs
Dinosuars run amok.

Frosted cyclamen
Frosted cyclamen

Garden nymph
A garden nymph getting into my sedum pot.

Sunset
Beautiful Vancouver Island. I love you.

Until next time plant people. Wishing you great success with your springtime and garden. Ciao

Ah weekends, they always disappear so fast! Life has been good as of late, 2012 has a lot of promise. I don’t exactly know when it happened but spring is upon us. Sure we still might get one more snowfall before it’s all said and done, but the bulbs are on their way and so is everything else. Green buds cling loosely to bare branches, a quick walk about the garden shows a world of activity. I’ve really been enjoying my job as of late, the houses are filling up fast and the green visuals are incredible. It’s a beautiful place to work and there is no finer place to be then a greenhouse full of flowers. I work with a good group people with a twisted sense of humor. The ridiculous jokes and fake animosity helps the day move smoothly. Having our “private” greenhouse in the back is a real luxury and it’s great to overwinter the collection with ease. Every Thursday I do a walk about the nursery and update our plant availability list. At the end of the walk I do a quick buzz about with my camera and get photos to update the website. While their first destination is the nursery’s website, it seems a shame not to share them with you guys as well. Things are certainly looking nice this time of year.


We’re finally on the last couple greenhouses of primulas, the last two Fridays I have spent 8 hours straight cleaning these pesky things.  Somebodies got to do it right?


A premium variety we sell, Primula belarina ‘Buttercup’ is something a bit different.  Reliably hardy and surprisingly prolific when overwintered outdoors. The one I have at home looks equally as luscious.


A semi hardy noid variety we sell, similar to the florist variety of cyclamen are right on schedule.


Recently planted seed geraniums. Oh just 1500 some flats or something, no big deal.


Lavenders on their way.


Saxifraga ‘Peter Pan’ has always been a favorite from the start. A cushion forming hardy perennial, in it’s prime it is incredible. I love the lush rosettes.


Saxifraga ‘Triumph’ is my favorite of the two, it migrates a bit in the garden but is mostly well behaved.  The flowers are less abundant then S. ‘Peter Pan’ but are taller and more interesting.


Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ emerging for the season. I actually prefer the look of this plant earlier in the season then later.  In full bloom the flowers are absolutely covered in bees.


95% of the hardy primulas are still asleep, the two of these poked their heads up early to brighten the day. Primula denticulata


The tulips are looking good this year.


The true harbingers of spring: Iris reticulata are out in full force.


What a show!


So photogenic. “Amazing, incredible, more, more, you’re a god!”


Narcissus ‘Dutch Master’.

As per usual my weekend was spent satiating my plant obsession. I met a new plant friend, an orchid grower/collector here in town. We drank coffee, ate pastries and traded some seeds. The next day was spent doing a little nursery hopping and accidentally adding another 8 new plants to my collection. It’s a tough life we plant collectors(HOARDERS) live, a tough life indeed.

As spring comes into season my garden begins to wake from it’s winter nap. I’m happy to be outside without a winter parka again, it’s so much more  enjoyable to garden in such attire. There is an amazing amount of action going on in the back and I’ve never been more aware of the seasons then now. March feels early but that’s not what the garden says. Here’s the latest on what’s happening in my garden.


Sophora microphylla. I bought this small tree specimen at Silver Sage Nursery near Shawnigan Lake mid summer last year. It’s leaves were reminiscent of a mimosa tree and sold me instantly. It was a happy little tree for the rest of year and when winter started to peak it’s ugly head I placed it in my cold greenhouse and hoped for the best. I kept the plant relatively dry and as winter dragged on further it lost the majority of it’s leaves, I was worried it had died. Still it’s flower buds which had formed mid summer hung lifeless, giving me an odd sense of hope. As March rolled around the buds started to swell and eventually opened. I was happy to know it had survived the winter as Carrie at Silver Sage Nursery told me that the tree was semi tender and she had lost a couple the year before in a freak cold snap.


There are over 30 species of sophora located in temperate to subtropical regions of both hemispheres. Sophora Microphylla is endemic to New Zealand and is widely distributed throughout the country in lowland forests and along riverbeds. Sophora otherwise known as Kowhai are often regarded as New Zealand’s national flower. If your looking for an interesting bonsai specimen, I highly reccomend you try Sophora microphylla.

Ahem.. Moving on…


The often underappreciated Bellis Daisy is a true perennial often sold as an annual in 6 packs. They thrive in the cool spring months from february-mid April and display stunning vibrant double flowers. Mine have come back 2 years in a row and are a happy addition to the back garden. As the weather gets warmer they stop flowering and go somewhat dormant until fall. Varieties come in red, pink and white.


Anemone blanda. These dainty little spring flowers are a real gem. They appear out of nowhere and pop up everywhere once established. They open and close with the sun and easily coexist with other garden plants. Here this anemone grows out of a patch of lamium with no problem at all.


A couple of heucheras coexist with my cyclamen patch.  Here we have Heuchera ‘Black Currant’ with a patch of cyclamen hederifolium. A great example of contrasting leaves.


This Arum italicum grows amongst the cyclamen with ease, another great foliage combo.


The Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ flowers are straightening up and opening . They have a strange boldness to them, they stand proud and strong.


A closeup of the flowers shows a delicate form, I love the macro on this new camera.


A closeup of a raindrop in the center of a Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Another reason to get a camera with a good macro feature.


My girlfriend gave me a thimble of these sedum a year ago and a half ago and this is what it has turned into. I suspect it to be Sedum hispanicum, otherwise known as blue carpet sedum. Either way it’s an interesting planting that does well in this rocky well drained area.


A couple years ago when I first started this garden there was an ugly cement fence post. I quickly got tired of the utilitarian look of it all and I started to cover it with moss that I found around and about.  Now sedums grow amongst the moss and self seeded snap dragons have made themselves a home. The poor elephant lost it’s trunk, but still stands amongst the shrubbery.


The day lilies (hemerocallis spp) have sprung up quickly this spring. These were plundered from the greenhouse compost having sat dry in a box for over a week. They seem happy overcrowded in this wooden box.


Cheater alert, saxifraga neon rose bought from a nursery (obviously with a headstart greenhouse grown) fully in bud ready to amaze.


This lichen grows back on the same boulder every year, thriving in the cool months when moisture is high and temperatures are moderate. If anyone knowns the specific species please don’t hesitate to let me know. A worthy centerpiece to the garden.


A trial hellebore at the nursery, Hellebore “Moonbeam” is a choice specimen hellebore. Pleasent white/pink flowers with amazing dark variegated foliage.


Primula denticulata is truly the primula to mark the start of spring. As the weather warms up the crowns burst into tufts of purple drumsticks.


Another Silver Sage Nursery score, Hepatica nobilis is a stunning spring flower that doesn’t quit. Although the foliage on mine is a bit fried, the flowers just keep coming. Carrie told me it took 18 weeks for the seeds to germinate, and for 8 bucks it seemed like a deal. It’s buds were formed in the summer and it didn’t flower until now. I’m always happy to see more early spring color.


Oddly enough this is one of my very first garden plants. I got this patch of chives from the greenhouse on my first year there. It’s moved a couple times, been cut down numerous times and once again flushes out in spring. Excellent!


Now lastly I hate to admit it but this is what a rotting fox tail lily looks like. I tried mixing in sand but it was obviously too moist in the container for this guy to thrive. It originally popped up with two spring flushes, the first rotted, and now this one. The conditions that it needed just weren’t right and every once in a while even a green thumb fails. Of course it is only through failure that we learn, and you best believe the next fox tail lily I get won’t see the same fate.

This ends this month’s tour of the garden. A little longer then last month but it is spring afterall.

While doing my weekly availability walk about I snapped some photos of the greenhouses via snowstorm. It’s an interesting place to be in this kind of weather, little pockets of plant sanctum, these plants are certainly happier then their brothers and sisters living on the outside.


Snow covered greenhouses.


Unlikely color, this flat of primula denticulatas seems reletively unscathed by the freezing temperatures. While most of the plants in this unheated greenhouse look a bit chilled and shrunken, these stand tall and proud.


In an effort to make more room for upcoming crops we recently moved our bulb crop outdoors. How ironic that literally a day later the weather freaks out and the entire crop is buried in a foot of snow. While I’m pretty sure daffodils can handy a deep freeze or two, they might have been better off with the protection of a greenhouse. Hind sight is a bitch.


A big problem this time of year is rot due to the moist conditions found in the greenhouses. Air circulation is key, and to aid this fact we often leave a bit of the side walls up to keep the air moving. Here the snow has stacked taller then the open vent and sprayed throughout the greenhouse. These plants can handle the cold temperatures, so it’s no worries there. All disaster aside, it’s a neat effect.


It’s night and day when you finally walk into one of our heated greenhouses, like entering a tropical paradise you’re greeted by pleasing temperatures and a lush atmosphere. Here the first Gold erysimum are just starting to open.


Shots like this are somewhat remincient of echers work, I love the effect of well spaced pots. (*hum* I just said that wow…)

“Another Day, Another Dollar Wanna Play? Give me a holler. Let’s get faded on the bottle and forget about tomorrow.”
- Josh Martinez

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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