Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

saxifraga Triumph

Things have certainly been ripping along, I’m in absolute awe of all the new growth in the garden. After many tireless hours, and inconceivable levels of plant hoarding, the garden is full, established and brimming with life. The last week was an absolute zoo at the nursery which involved many late nights, and even a little Saturday catch up. Truth be told I feel a bit silly complaining about work when essentially I’m paid to do one big plant scavenger hunt, sun shining high, birds singing. Still as the long weeks add up my body aches a little more. Anyone who knows the dance of overtime knows there’s very little time to do much else. Living and breathing the plant scene right now, there’s a buzz in town and I’m enjoying the energy. My spirits remain high and I’m proud to have the job I have today.

A lot has been popping in the back garden, and I thought it might be time to do a bit more sharing.

The late April garden tour:

The Cardiocrinum giganteum has grown more then a foot since I got it a couple week’s back, it’s a fun plant to watch grow. Large glossy leaves and a promise of a tall flower stalk that will be the gem of the garden.

It’s main stock is a sight to be seen. It’s circumference and speed of growth is unreal.

Tetrapanax papyrifer has been enjoying the spring weather, rewarding me with a new leaf every couple weeks. If you haven’t tried this plant yet, keep your eyes peeled, the garden wouldn’t be the same without it. Low maintenance, undemanding and pest free, I haven’t had a thread of trouble growing Tetrapanax in Victoria. Extra bonus points that it’s almost completely hardy around here, it didn’t even loose it’s leaves this winter.

A meconopsis bud has been brewing the last couple days. Everyone tells me these plants are difficult and short lived, but so far this specimen hasn’t given me any problems whatsoever. A potted specimen I bring out into the main display in spring, and retire in the late summer. Himalayan poppy’s are unusual and beautiful, a great addition to the the perennial border.

Jeffersonia diphylla (Twin Leaf) & Sanguinaria canadensis (Blood Root) make an attractive unlikely pair. Both emerge into spring in the strangest way, flowering before the leaves even unravel. I enjoy the delicateness of the foliage and their lush greens are pleasant to say the least. Should you be keen to see a jeffersonia in bloom, don’t blink or you might miss it. This one came and went within the matter of 8 hours, I came home to a spent bloom having saw the bud only that morning.
All things pass.

I love the exotic blooms of this under cultivated hardy succulent, Chiastophyllum oppositifolium (kee-as-toh-FILL-um, op-po-sit-ee-FOH-lee-um). I have two of these at the moment, one in the garden and one in a 1 gallon pot, and the one in the pot is doing significantly better. For the best results extra drainage and perhaps some light winter protection will help encourage spring blooms. Furthermore I think chiastophyllum might be resiliant enough to be planted in rock walls and other vertical, well drained plantings. A must have, this is only the beginning of the long vibrant garland-like strands of flowers.

A perfectly grown Gentiana acaulis we aquired from Joe Keller at the VIRAGS Show and Sale has started to open and is a daily wonder. The flowers open and close with the sunlight, perhaps to protect it’s softer parts from winter moisture and cold temperatures.

Upon closer inspection this gentian’s flower is a real work of art. Out of this world beautiful, a perfect landing pad for a busy bumble bee. The dots inside are actually protruded bumps and the flower is comprised of a hard plastic-like casing and frilly soft petals when in full bloom. What an amazing shade of blue.

The rhodohypoxis are planted at the base of a eucalyptus tree and grow happily symbiotically. The thirsty tree above keeps the potrootbound and dry, preventing rot and also making it tough for city rats and squirrels to eat the delicious bulbs below. These have popped up for the last 3 seasons with no special care at all.

What can I say, I have a sweet spot for hardy primulas. Primula sieboldii lends well to the collection.

This primula auricula has been under performing for the last couple seasons and has been recently potted in a terracotta. A couple weeks later these blooms are my reward.

This Saxifraga ‘Triumph’ looks it’s best at this time of year. Cool weather growing, it seems to have migrated at least a foot from where I originally planted it. Now it drapes itself down the bordering rocks and looks quite naturalized. Even without it’s flowers it’s worth having in the garden. Bonus points that once spring moves into full swing you’re rewarded with a bumper crop of red tricolor blooms, I can’t complain.

The definition of springtime.

Proper gardening is all about timing. Plant something at the right time, and it won’t just “live” it will thrive. Bellis ‘English Daisies’ are a great short lived, cold weather perennial. For the best value buy them as 6pack annuals in fall, plant them and forget them until spring. The winter gives them ample time to get established and this is how they’ll look from February until June.

I have more then 10 different types of daffodils in the garden and yet they’re often left undocumented. I thought it was overdue that  I include a shot as they are the true harbingers of spring.

These Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Blue Bells) were here before I started the garden and will likely be here after I leave this garden. Truthfully I’ve loved them since the first day I saw them. Exotic flowers that grow like weeds, I’m impressed, I really am.

I often enjoy looking at the garden lengthwise and seeing the mix of colors all interwoven like a tapestry.

Once the flower stalks of Darmera peltata begin to unfurl, they move at an incredible rate. What perfect little capsules.

You don’t need to go to outer space to see something weird. Just. Go. Outside.

The shiny leaves of newly emerged Rodgersia. This specimen is thriving in the deep dry shade of a large clump of bamboo.

Something that might be new to some of you, Matthiola arborescens otherwise known as a tree stock. Much like your traditional annual stock, but supersized. Silver foliage and nicely scented flowers, I’m excited to see how this develops this season. A late find last season, this overwintered just fine in my coldframe in the back.

My podophyllum peltatum (North American May Apple) started to emerge at the end of last week. While podophyllums are somewhat new to me in the grande scheme of things I certainly enjoy growing them. Hosta-like in their developed foliage, there emergence in spring is miraculous and entertaining to watch. Another plant that needs a daily glance, this podophyllum moves quick once it gets started.

I’ve got two Arisaema griffithii in bloom at the moment, one dark one light. You always win with hardy exotics.

At The Nursery

A quick shot of the new greenhouse we built this winter. Is that an Echium pininana out front you ask? Why yes it is! Sadly it’s not the same one as I so proudly boasted about last season, that one died while being overwintered in the greenhouse. I should have said something earlier but I was still mourning. This season I’m taking it a step further, I’ve already got about 20 seedlings on the go, we will see one of these bloom somehow!

Amidst all the fury of greenhouse madness I was able to take 30 minutes to snap a couple nice shots. I love fresh crops of euphorbia, the contrast of foliage is amazing.

A field of rosemary and lavender.

6 pack fiberous begonias, the bane of the nurseryman. King of the frustrating crops, begonias can be a pain in the A$$. For the moment this season’s look phenomenal. Only time will tell.

I can’t help but to smile looking at these large crops of different colored heucheras.

Last but not least: The Latest Plant Hoarding

While buzzing about a garden center on a sales call, I noticed this amazing specimen of Jatropha podagrica. Strangely enough I had been eyeing one of these up on Tropiflora a couple months previous but changed my mind when I saw the  $80 dollars for shipping and phyto tickets. There’s a small crop of these circulating Victoria’s garden centers right now, if you want an interesting developed caudiciform I suggust you go for an adventure right now. Not cheap, but barely expensive, I saw a couple at Gardenworks Blenkinsop and Marigold Nursery Saanich. They’re in short supply and won’t last long, you need one of these.

Amazing neon orange blooms.

Thanks for coming along for a tour. Enjoy the spring weather!


The connection between plants and people is a interesting thing.

No matter how we want to look at it, we depend on these green leafed obscurities indefinitely. From day one our relationship was intertwined, people wouldn’t be people without the grass between their toes. Plants create the air we breathe, the shelter we live in and the food we eat. They inspire and delight, relax and heal.  There is nothing else on this planet we need more then plants, yet the majority of the populous is none the the wiser. I entered the horticulture trade nearly five years ago clueless and uninspired, intrigued I dared look further. I started with a couple cool house plants from across the street, then a tomato or two and then a patch of marigolds that I thought looked awfully nice. In time the marigolds lost their charm and were replaced with other more exotic plants. I got my first banana tree, a couple cool Terra Nova hybrids, and any other sick or sad plant from work that I couldn’t bare see go in the compost. Over the years many plant refugees followed me home and transformed a barren lot of garbage and tall grass into a real work of botanical art. Still I felt the urge to go further. Ebay, online mail-order and seed companies became the local haunt. I joined a plant club, I met the pros and still I want to learn more. I went from a modest windowsill of five potted plants, to a house so full of greenery that people walk by and wonder who the crazy plant person is.

The busy time has struck at the nursery and this will be my fifth season to experience this jolt of electricity. Lets start work at eight and go until it’s done, plants from dawn until dusk. What started out as a curiosity has become a full blown obsession, like a gambler or drunk I seek out my latest fix. There is no better time then then a drive into the country looking for strange and unusual plants. Such well crafted art that grows just add water, sign me up. Never satiated but always amazed, the life of a plant addict is a strange one indeed.

Lately I find much of my time is spent watering, from there on caring, for a collection much bigger then any rational person would endure. I’m a perfectionist at heart and nothing seems more fruitless then letting a plant die and/or under perform due to neglect. Why did you even bother if only to forget. The tendency to strive for perfection leads to an unintentional commitment and eventual all consuming lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if I’ve worked 60 hours at the nursery, I still find myself dreaming about my next plant find on the drive home. After the many years of collecting and tending to the gardens, there’s more outside then I know how to appreciate. Frantically I try to record the happenings in hope of giving it all more meaning. My eyes are wide open now and I see what an amazing treasure the world has to offer, if only we pay attention. A seed the size of a grain of sand can grow into a tree as tall as the heavens, the sheer miraculousness of it all is so awe inspiring I don’t know how to put it into words. It sounds self indulgent to say that an amazing event isn’t amazing unless appreciated by man, but as a person, I feel it’s the least I can do. While the flower most definitely opens to impress it’s pollinators, I can’t help but to feel like it’s my duty to be there for it’s short appearance.  It’s a self perpetuating cycle I’m afraid I can’t get away from.

I wish I could be writing more as of late, because it’s now that the plants and the garden are truly looking their best. Nearly everyday something new is happening out there, a slow process becomes magnified if viewed from a different perspective. As a plant geek I have so much I want to share with you all, but at the same time I have to be there to experience it as well. Planting, photographing and observing is only half the work, organizing it all and documenting it into written word is another bag of tricks. This week I went to a great spring bash at my boss’s house who has an incredible garden full of botanical treasures. The next hungover morning I head off to the Victoria Alpine Society Spring Show and Sale and saw a lot of incredible alpine specimens. My prostanthera at the greenhouse is a big cloud of purple amazing and today I received a fresh package of strange and unusual plants from California. If there was more time in the day I would break these all down into interesting little articles, but I’m afraid my time is up. Posts may be sporadic during this busy time, don’t forget about me, rest well in knowing that I’m doing planty things, thinking of you all.

Saxifraga ‘Triumph’

Umm.. Wow.

oplopanax horridus waking up in the spring

Not exactly rare or strange, Dicentra spectabilis was one of the first in my collection and still remains a pleasant surprise year after year.

Asarum proboscideum

Lewisia cotyledon budding up.

I keep these horse chestnut bonsai for the spring display alone. I love watching them unfurl at this time of year.

A dark leaved primula is looking quite nice.

Androsace sempervivoides is offsetting and flowering.

The hepatica nobilis has stopped flowering but is now unfurling it’s spring leaves. Equally as delightful.

Tulips glow a fiery orange

A couple new additions to the collection.

Lewisia tweedyi

The ever so strange Lewisia glandulosa, care of the amazing plant guru, Joe Keller.

I’ve wanted one of these for a while now, won this in a silent auction, Sophora prostrata ‘Little Baby’

A 15 year old Salix ‘Boydii’

Thanks for reading. 

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.