Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

puya mirabilis

After potting up my new palm trees yesterday I found myself in a fury of greenhouse rearranging. This winter we were in such a hurry to get the greenhouse done that when we actually did move in, everything was haphazardly placed this way and that. Yesterday I made the time to organize things properly, it was nice to clear out the junk and keep things tidy. Plants are certainly a demanding hobby, overwintered tropicals need a quick inspection once in a while. Dead leaves, minor rot, and impractical placement all need to be considered. Bugs are more likely than not, and a quick spray of trounce is good even as a precaution. If you’re even a bit OCD about cleaning, this practice will most likely be pleasant and it’s a good meditation for a Sunday afternoon. As the hours went on, nature forgot I was even there, and a murder of crows landed nearby. The valley still supports an amazing amount of wildlife, their songs could be heard carried in the wind. I love silence, it gives me space to think, it’s my favorite kind of music.  A dying tread in a humming world of technology, moments spent in the garden have made me much more aware of this fact.

In a blink of an eye a couple hours had passed. I’m often amazed by the work that can be achieved in only a couple hours. From disaster to masterpiece the place had certainly taken on a new look. I grouped the succulents and dormant dry pots in one area, actively growing tropicals in another, and utilitarian nurserystock adjacent. I love organizing and consolidating, and oddly this is what I do for a living. The greenhouses must have brainwashed me…


Abutilon ‘Souvenir de Bonn’ flowering in January.

Just as I was considering leaving, the lighting seemed just right and out came my camera and tripod. This was the first real photo-shoot I’ve had at our new greenhouse, and I was mesmerized by all of the points of interest. A flowering Senacio cristobalensis, an unusually early Iris reticulata, and a tropical Buddleia macrostachya in bud and bloom. A big smile rested on my face as I stood there in the pre twilight of the hour before nightfall. Tis the best time of day to photograph plants and flowers, and very well anything and everything at all.  The shadows are forgiving, the lighting honest and true. What a dream it is to have a heated greenhouse in the winter. I hadn’t realized what a gift it really was, this will surely help me get further with my plant studies.

Up close and personal with a Senacio cristobalensis


You’ve gotta love the whimsical leaves of the Senecio cristobalensis. Straight out of a Dr. Suess book, this border-line hardy perennial will add a touch of magic to your garden with little effort on your part.


An emerging node, it’s leaves are even cuter when they first appear. These amazing purple tinted fuzzy trees grow up to 8-10 feet in one season. I’ve read that if they’re properly mulched they’ll grow back in spring after frost. Of course all rumor aside I couldn’t dare sacrifice this one to the elements, as I wanted to see it’s winter flowers.


Right on schedule this plant put out multiple plumes of these strange senacio flowers. While Senacio’s come in pretty much every shape and size, they’re flowers are all remarkably similar. Old granddad Senacio from a million years before must be proud.


As expected the flowers are identical to other senacios I’ve witnessed bloom. The only difference being the color in which they’re tinted. Senecio cristobalensis is the most remarkable shade of vibrant yellow. The flowers coated with enough pollen for an army of bees. Too bad none seem to be buzzing about this early in the season.


A slightly fuzzy close up. A boring flower from affar, interesting upon a closer look.

Off topic, topic specific plant science breakdown!?


A plant that looks nothing like Senacio cristobalensis but is most definetly a relative, Senecio articulatus in bloom mid summer 2011.


Significantly different from either of them, Senecio rowleyanus otherwise known as string of pearls is also a strange distant relative. How about that for wierd plant science!?

Back to the topic at hand!


Buddleia macrostachya began flowering this week. I’ve watched the blooms form since I first recieved it mid November. The horticultural mastermind Lynda from Happy Valley Lavender Farm gifted it to me when we first built our greenhouse. The tag says Royal Roads 2007, it seems this one has been around for a while now. A quick look online has very little information about it, but sources say it’s from China. The hardiness is subject to opinion and it seems to enjoy the shelter of the greenhouse. Any info someone might have on it would be much appreciated, an exotic addition to collection none the less.


Eccremocarpus scaber seedlings amongst plectranthus cuttings.


A lineup of agaves, echeverias and aloes.


I have no idea how these bulbs found their way into my agave pot. Tis the simple pleasure of working at a nursery, sometimes the compost you take home has extra goodies in it. My garden at home has anemone blanda all over the place for this very reason. While I tend to get tired of these iris reticulatas, it’s always a tell tale sign that spring is just around the corner.


My Agave geminiflora is certainly enjoying it’s winter home in the greenhouse. It hasn’t stopped growing since I got it, I love it aquatic appearance.


There seems to be no shortage of brugmansia’s this year. A friend and I have been growing quite a collection. Inquire if you’d be interested in trying one this summer, we have lovely 5 ft tall year and a half specimens.


Flowering mid summer Puya mirabilis’s seed pods are still developing. I intend on trying to grow a small army of these from seed, and after nearly six months I still wait patiently for them to mature.

Here we come to the end of my greenhouse tour. Think warm thoughts, spring is only a couple months away. Counting the days, minutes, and seconds! :) For those that made it this far through the post, an extra gift to you today. Check out this site, it seems like an interesting enough idea. Free Plants by Mail

~The weather was so mild today I found myself doing some clean up in the front garden. Old pots with fried annuals, spent lavender blooms, and acanthus just to name a few. I know it’s only January but I had a moment where it almost felt like spring.  It’s tough living up here in the Artic Canada where ice covers the land for 11.5 months of the year, who knew you could grow tomatoes outside the igloo. In all seriousness though, it was 12 degrees Celsius this afternoon, absolutely dreadful out *wink*. ~

Seeing as though it’s a fresh year, and spring is right around the corner (and to the left, right, down some stairs and in the basement). It’s time to recognize the show stopping plants of 2011. I’d love to list them from 1-10 as to say which one was the best, or my favorite, but it’s not as simple as that. One can’t compare a raspberry bush to a patch of broccoli no more then you can compare petunias to miscanthus grass. They’re all my favorite, where one grows fat, one grows tall, another brightly colored, or one finely detailed. Nature is an amazing thing.

The Stupid Garden Plants 2011 Plant Awards.

‘The Eternal Sunset Award’ for longest flowering plant : 


Abutilon megapotamicum:
A no brainer year round semi hardy exotic flowering abutilon. I first potted this plant up in early May and it flowered all the way until frost, better then that, it’s still flowering at this moment in the greenhouse. Native to Brazil, and other parts of South America it’s flowers resemble Chinese lanterns and are a prefered treat by local hummingbirds. Placed at a high vantage point or hanging basket trailing abutilon will impress, and intrigue.


Runner up: Hoya Carnosa
A couple years ago I took a cutting of this from a 15 year old specimen at my parent’s house . It was slow to root, but once it got started it grew vigorously and did most of it’s climbing and trellis work by itself. Flowering from April until September, my 3 year old hoya vine bloomed sporadically, sometimes with 10+ bloom clusters at once, all dripping with nectar and leaving a sweet smell in the air. Although not nearly as fool proof as the abutilon with a little technique and luck, these plants will surely impress. Hoyas bloom best in root bound pots, so over-potting them is not recommended. I also allow my vine to travel wherever it would like, and doing so seems to encourage almost continuous growth. Thirdly my hoya is located near a 12hr cycle grow bulb, and I suspect this to be a big part of it’s never ending blooms. Show me the light!

‘The Jurassic Foliage Award’ for plants of excellent leaf structure, grandeur and presence :


Tetrapanax papyrifer
Long before I could identify a Tetrapanax, I was astonished by their leaves and prehistoric look. In the heat of August and September my Tetrapanax really took off and I’d often find myself shocked by how quickly the leaves went from bud to beyond dinner plate size. Endemic to Taiwan Tetrapanx papyrifer is the only species in it’s genus and is commonly known as a rice paper plant. With such amazing tropical foliage you’d almost surely think it to be tender, but Tetrapanax is exceptionally hardy, down to zone 6a (-23.3 °C (-10 °F). If your a fan of Fatsias, Tetrapanax will blow you away. A light fuzz graces it’s branches and leaves, and even though it goes deciduous after a frost, the spent leaves are so foreign and large you’ll want to leave them lying about. A must have for anyone wanting to recreate a tropical paradise in their northern garden.


RUNNER UP: Echium pininana
You guessed it, echium wins the runner up for impressive foliage and presence. If you’re lucky enough to get this echium to it’s second year you’ll be shocked by the speed of it’s growth.  Large fuzzy leaves burst forth and add an impressive display of tropical foliage to your garden. If you’re lucky it holds promise of a towering  bloom unmatched elsewhere in the botanical world. If only grown for it’s foliage alone, you won’t be disappointed. Among all other plants in my garden the echium stood out, and it’s is beyond photogenic. It’s a showstopper and even your non planty friends will surely notice it listening in on all of your conversations. It’s only drawback is it’s somewhat severe tenderness, hating cold weather and dying from even moderate frosts. Best overwintered in a heated greenhouse, by the third year it would surely win the award for most amazing bloom.

‘The Up In The Clouds Award’ for the most impressive tall plants in the garden:


Alcea ‘Peaches and Dreams’
Somewhat of a cottage garden staple, hollyhocks are a great plant for adding verticality to your garden. This cultivar in particular is readily available at garden centers and in my opinion outshines the rest. Double blooms worthy of being sowed onto a clowns costume start late summer and continue into October. Although it’s flowering cycle is a little more temporary then some, at it’s peak, it is truly a thing of beauty. A great Alcea is a stunning addition to one’s garden but might take some patience for it to reach it’s true potential. For the three years it’s been planted, it’s third year was it’s “piese de resistance” and grew a whopping 15ft or more. Yielding multiple branches of  strangest fluffy grapefruit puff balls, I’ll end this one with one word. Wow.


A shot of the towering alcea shoot out amongst the scarlet runners.


Runner up: Helianthus tuberosus (jerusalem artichoke)
One must give credit when credit is due, and the jerusalem artichoke is an underestimated mindblower. Grown properly, this large member of the sunflower family will outclimb the rest, mine growing a whopping 18+ ft from a golf ball sized tuber. It’s speed and vigor will amaze and astonish, and even without it’s flowers it’s impressive height adds an additional tropical element to your paradise. In mid October when almost everything else is welcoming winter, helianthus tuberosus blooms a small spray of sunflowers. A welcome touch of color at that time of year. The only drawback is that it grows so tall that you can’t possible get a close look at it’s blooms. In mid November the plant will subside to frost and you can reap the benefits of the treasure below. Large sweetly flavored tubers are created and make an excellent starch for those winter months. They say once you grow Jerusalem artichokes you’ll probably have them for the rest of your life as you almost always miss a piece in the soil. Try them in 2012.

‘The Fleeting Moment Award’ for the most temporarily beautiful :


Puya mirabilis
I was lucky enough to purchase a P. mirabilis the day before it flowered. With seven flower buds ready each flower opened for a single day and worked it’s way up the branch until they were finished. Acquired on a Sunday, the blooms were spent exactly a week later. Due to it’s temporary nature it demanded the attention of it’s grower. It was either pay attention or miss it’s dance, it’s flowers were as unique as they were bizarre. A terrestrial bromeliad, it’s foliage doesn’t hint at it’s hidden beauty, an unlikely surprise, worthy of respect in a northern garden such as this. One of the most magical and ethereal of all the plants in my collection.


RUNNER UP: Passiflora jamesonii
I’ve always been a fan of passion flowers, but this one really takes the cake. As a vine, it was absolutely voracious, sometimes growing a foot or more a week and over 12ft in each direction by the end of the season. With some much vegetative growth, blooms didn’t exactly seem imminent, but on one calm afternoon I noticed a single bud forming. As I’m somewhat new to growing this species, I might surmise that it’s lack of blooms was due to a cultural mistake, but I suspect it just wasn’t hot enough here in Victoria. Regardless I watched the bud develop for what felt like a month and when it finally did open, it was only for a day. A flower that truly shows the impermanence of beauty, I was glad to have made the effort to witness it.

More awards to follow…

The Puya mirabilis that began flowering last Sunday is already on it’s last bloom. While three posts seems a bit overkill on the subject I still feel it’s worth documenting as it’s display of blooms seems a rare occurrence up north. Although these flowers were somewhat subtle in their attraction, each flower lasting no more then 30hrs once open, the experience was worthwhile. The short amount of time adds to it’s obsurity and encourages one to  “stop and smell the roses” and appreciate the show on display.

“PUYA MIRABILIS IN TOWN FOR 1 WEEK ONLY, VICTORIA B.C.”

These plants will be the end of me, but for now, MORE PHOTOS!

Excited to try my hand at growing puya from fresh seeds. More plant science to come.

As luck has had it, the Puya mirabilis that I found yesterday bloomed it’s very first day in the back grotto. The timing is uncanny and it seems like a gift to a rather impatient person. This plant has won me over, what unusual green blooms it has. Simply Amazing!

There I was lounging about on a beautiful Saturday morning when I thought to myself. “I need a new plant”

Of course the truth is that I DO NOT need anymore new plants this year, but how can one resist. Like a nervous itch, this is the new trend in my life, packing my backyard with as many borderline hardy and totally tender useless BEAUTIFUL needy plants as possible.  There’s something more exotic about tropicals and/or non-natives. After working at a nursery for nearly half a decade I need something more “exotic” then a leucanthemum, stonecrop or god DAMN petunia! GOD DAMN STUPID PETUNIAS… I digress,  off I went to find the latest and the greatest.

Stopping at a couple of my usual nursery haunts (Elk Lake, Garden Works etc) nothing really jumped out at me. One needs to be reletively selective at this point of the crippling plant collecting game. Eventually I found myself at Brentwood Bay Nurseries, a nursery that is quickly becoming a personal favorite. They’re definetly #1 on the island for succulents and if you have a keen eye you’ll probably spot one or two plants you’ve never seen before. Walking into the nursery I visited the hot house, saw the usual great selection of succulents, and then spotted this amazing Puya Mirabilis just about to bloom. On my last visit I had noticed this strange specimen, and having read up on these rare bromliads earlier in the year, I made note of it. If we were more south I’m sure you’d see more plants like this, but up in Victoria you don’t come by Puyas very often. The fact that this one was in perfect bud, just about to pop, seems to good to be true. The price was right (it just so happened to be 25% off succulents) and I found my latest specimen.

Puya mirabilis, which in Latin mirablilis means “amazing, wondrous or remarkable”. While the plant’s foliage is relatively non exciting, looking much like a patch of scratchy saw grass, the blooms are known to be quite beautiful.  P. mirabilis is native to Argentina and Bolivia and is a long way of from home in my back garden. While many bromiliads grow in trees, Puyas for the most part are terrestrial and grow in ground. P. mirabilis can handle light frosts but in wet cold climates you’d be wise to bring it indoors during the winter. Many people report that you can water P. mirabilis like you would any other plant during it’s growing season but to be on the safe side I would recommend allowing it to dry between waterings.  Like overwintering many tropical plants decreasing water significantly in the winter would probably be a good idea.  Sun to part shade, if grown from seed it will take up to three years to flower. Propagation is from seed or rooting an offshoot, I’ll try my hand at splitting this pot once it has finished flowering.

Some scientists suspect some Puyas to be semi carnivorous in the fact that small animals often get caught in their spines, decay and thus nourish the plant below. While the thorn size varies from species to species, you can see that a large patch of P. mirabilis would be a real pain to weed close quarters. In Chili some people refer to Puyas as “sheep killers” although I think this dwarf Puya would have difficulty catching anything that big. Perhaps it could help with the mouse problem we have around here, a win win eh Mr Puya Plant.

Looks to be like growing barbwire. A welcome addition to the collection.

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.
Social Media:

Be My Fan On Facebook



Follow Me On
Twitter




Subscribe to My
RSS Feed


Enjoy what you've read? Proceeds go to raising seedlings
Tip Jar