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. 

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.

Hello everybody

I hope everyone had a nice Easter weekend, I for one had an excellent time. For the first time in quite a while I had three days to myself to unwind from the woes of busy time at the greenhouse. A friend of mine visited me from Vancouver and good times ensued. The weekend consisted of numorous bbq’s, sunshine, and some well overdo garden lounging. Weather has been touch and go this month, but this weekend was the exception. Stunning sunshine graced our tired bones, for the first time this season I could rock a t-shirt in style. Oh how I love the warm days of spring, it makes you feel so good.

I’ve been watching my garden a lot lately. It seems that no matter how busy, how long, and how tired the day is, I always make time for a quick garden walk around to see how things are progressing. In all honesty the day wouldn’t be complete without at least a 5-10 minute walk around, I’d just feel ripped off if I didn’t make the time for such things. Slow motion fireworks going unnoticed, I love watching the subtle changes happening every moment. It’s been tough making time to organize all the photos into the highlights, there certainly is no shortage of visual euphoria going around. With much diligence I summed it down to 30 or so pictures in hopes of sharing the wonder going on in the back. Here we go, my April 2011 garden tour.

With all the magic going on right now I must admit, Corydalis ‘Purple Leaf’ (a Terra Nova hybrid) is really taking the center stage. I planted this late last season and it started to bud early April. In no time the first blooms appeared and seemingly overnight the whole plant erupted in flowers. It flowers neon blue with white accents and has dark red/brown leafs. This is certainly one for the books.

Behind we can also see an Erysimum I found on a nearby beach and it’s flowering prolifically. I have a couple wall flowers from the greenhouse and they don’t even begin to match up against these wild beauties. Perhaps having naturalized on the beach has made them tougher then their greenhouse counterparts. I have three beach Erysimums and all of them are about 5 times as big and dramatically more flowered then the hybrids grown in artificial circumstances. Nature is a mysterious mistress.

Corydalis ‘Purple Leaf’ : Upon closer inspection: Absolutely Beautiful!

It’s really nice being able to identify plants in various stages of growth, you never know what you’ll find growing in a ditch, beach side or cliff. It was about a tenth the size, and out of bloom but it was most definetly a wallflower. Here is another amazing Erysimum I found on a beach nearby.

On my last garden tour I was thrilled to see the first Sophora buds opening. Now they’re in full bloom and each stalk has a small cluster of these beautiful somewhat tropical yellow flowers. So far they don’t seem to be getting pollinated, perhaps you need more then one to make that happen? I’d like to see the strange beans that develop on these trees, only time will tell.

While Bellis Daisies are generally sold as annuals here in Victoria they should be considered true perennials. I have various clumps of Bellis growing throughout the garden and if they’re planted in the right spot they naturalize quite nicely. I feel as though the look even better the second year. Shades of red, pink and white are a refreshing hit of color in the early weeks of spring. With luck they’ll self seed and you may see the odd patch show up in your lawn or in some other unsuspecting place. Once temperatures start to heat up their fireworks displays tends to calm down and they look a bit ratty, but still well worth keeping for once it cools off again in fall you should see another wave of color. Dead head to keep them looking fresh, and to prevent seeding if you don’t want any more then you’ve got.

Bellis Daisies and Tulipa Tarda enjoy a sunny Friday morning.

Tulipa tarda is native to Turkey and opens and closes to the light of the sun. This is of course why I rarely get to see them in their full glory as when I get home everyday they’re already in the shade and closed up tight. I bought these tulips from Botanus last season and so far I’m impressed. Considered a species tulip, these tulips are more likely to self sow and in turn are more likely to naturalize then your regular hybrid tulip.

There’s various varieties of daffodil popping up everywhere in the garden. I seem to always forget where I plant them in turn and up with a little surprise in spring. Reliable spring color.

Mini daffodil with a voodoo tiki.

A greenhouse grown Saxifraga ‘Neon Rose’ blooms prolifically.

Primula x ‘Garryarde Guinevere’, flower buds formed at the start of April and are in now in full display. I found a small specimen of this in an old overrun garden bed at my parents house. It did very little the first year I had it but on it’s second season it seems to be doing quite well. Hybrid primulas rock!

My girlfriend’s raspberry bed is doing exceptionally well this year. It all started with 2 runners taken from a mother plant I found growing in the garden before I took control of the garden. The mother plant was from a friend of a friend of mine, of which her raspberry canes grow 6 feet tall and have hundreds of berries on them. Mine never did as well, but this year might be different. They sure spread easy enough, makes you feel like a fool for buying potted raspberry plants.

All of the ajuga in my garden has started to bud. This reletively easy to grow ground cover is a real gem in early spring. Plant one 4″ pot in your garden and you’ll have it for the rest of your life, ajuga is an easy plant to grow and spreads vigorously. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s invasive as the suckers come up easily if you don’t want them. Still if you want to cover an area in sun to partial shade, bad soil included, ajuga will be your friend. This variety in particular is called Burgundy Glow and it’s a personal favorite of mine. At the greenhouse we grow a couple other varieties, all of which are worth growing.

Vinca ‘Periwinkle’ is considered a weed to some, invasive to others, and beautiful, in the right circumstance. For the moment I’m enjoying this small planting of Vinca, if only I could keep it under control, we shall see.

Strange Fungi that appeared a week ago and is sticking around for the long haul. Sometimes the most interesting things in your garden show up on their own.

Thymus Elfin Minimus is an interesting diminutive groundcover. Tight compact thyme that forms an interesting tight habit. Slow growing for the most part, established plantings end up creating their own close up interest. I love the effect of this mini thyme overhanging these rocks.

When I first started this garden there were all these ugly cement fence posts. Over the years I’ve been training sedums, mosses and any other easy to grow alpine plant to hide the utilitarianism. This one has been in the works for a couple years now and you can barely see the cement pad at all. Sagina flowering moss, coral carpet sedum, native mosses, excellent!

So my Melianthus major (peanut butter plant) didn’t die in last years freeze fest, but it certainly got slowed down. Here is the first slow growing shoot of my peanut butter plant. Last time this year it was about 15 times as big. What a shame.

My Meconopsis blue poppy has come back this year in a pop and looks quite happy. It’s even got two sets of flower pops growing at a surprisingly fast rate. Some complain saying this is a tough plant to grow, but so far it’s been pretty easy for me. More updates when in bloom!

Dicentra spectabilis is a real spring favorite for me. I think everyone should have a couple bleeding hearts in their garden, they’re easy to grow, consistent, and just straight up unusual. I’ve had this one for three years in a pot and it has put out a mind blowing show every season, as for bang for you money, Dicentra spectablis is a real crowd pleaser.

Right out of Alice in Wonderland.

I found a water pump at a garage sale last year for 5 dollars. From August until mid October I really enjoyed the gentle hum of rolling water, it’s quite serene. Around the end of the season the pump got gunked up and permanently stopped working. Last weekend I got fed up with the silence and ran out to buy a brand new one. A worthy investment to say the least, the sound of water in the garden really completes the vibe.

Have a box full of old toy dinosaurs your kids grew out of? What better place to put them in then the garden. Here we have a sedum patch where these dinosaurs can be released into their natural habitat. I find sedums and succulents give the dinosaurs scale, while some might see it as tacky, it still makes me smile.

My deciduous bonsai collection is waking up for the season. I’m contemplating potting them up to relieve watering guilt later in the season. I can’t very well just let them die, but keeping small trees is a laborious task, a lot of careful watering, and if you forget for one day, they drop their leaves for the season and look like crap. I will have to think about this one.

I’ve trying to photograph this area of my garden for some time now with no real success. Sure this picture is ok, but to see it in person is the real money shot. Black Currant heuchera mixed with cyclamen are a great combination. Contrasting foliage fighting for dominance, I love it!

Fritillaria lanceolata better known as a Chocolate lily made an appearance this year. I tossed some seeds around last year and was rewarded with a couple of these interesting flowers.

Saxifraga Triumph in full bud just about to bloom. I planted this last season and it’s done really good.

Euphorbia wulfenii in flower is a real jaw dropper. I love euphorbias in all shapes and forms, so as of late wulfenii has been slowly becoming my favorite. Upon closer inspection their flowers are flowers, within flowers, within flowers. Amazing

Another great thing about spring is that it’s the start of BBQ season. We just got an old coal BBQ and after a couple test drives, I’m convinced, coal rules. Delicious!

There we have it, a long overdue summary of what’s going on in the garden. It really became a bit of a novel, there is so much going on out there right now, and I tried to sum it down. As I do the daily walk around I see so many buds swelling up, May is going to be a real show stopper, I can’t wait. Life is all too busy at the greenhouse right now, but I’m happy to come home to the serenity of my backyard garden. It’s the little things in life really. Happy spring time everybody, get your garden on!

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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