Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Sinningia leucotricha

What a season to be gardening on the west coast. Non-stop sunshine and fair weather made for one extremely busy May. We spent many the late eve racking up beautiful plants and sending them out throughout Victoria, Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Make hay while the sun shines. Grow beautiful plants and find them new homes. Such is the life of a nurseryman. What seemed like forever was over in an instance. My sense of time has been on the fast forward as of late. A rumbling succession of spring flowers have emerged this season. From one leaf grows two and then three, as days get longer and warmer the plants truly come to life. A jungle grows up almost overnight. Having setup the bones of this garden many years ago this season provided a remarkably effortless astonishing display.

Some notable plant news in my garden.

-This season one of my echiums flowered.

-My tetrapanax grew a few more feet and at it’s base many offsets have poked their heads. Dreams of a rice paper plant forest becoming more possible each day.

-Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’ assumed dead last season (didn’t poke up once) appeared this year full force with 10-15 heads.

-Cardiocrinium Lily blooming right now. 12 cream shaded trumpets standing over 10ft tall in the garden. During afternoon dabbled shade flickers an intoxicating smell comes in waves.

-Front succulent bed thriving. Agave parryi spent the winter outdoors.

-New vegetable beds out front. Just planted a Ketchup and Fries tomato potato plant. I’ve been eating zero mile greens for months.

Life has been grand. Now for some photos. April through May in my garden & greenhouse. Annual flowers IMG_0645 Growing plants industrially is not for the faint of heart. It’s a staggering thought to be handling literally millions of plants per year. Each one with their own special requirements. The natural programming to thrive given the opportunity. A little bit of this a little bit of that. Not too much water, but not too little. Just right. AND. presto. another perfect plant.

Do you like plants? Do you know what a petunia is?  Oh good. Think you could go down to the lower houses and gather me up. Say 2500-3000 of them. I need them by Sunday, but no later than Monday. Flat after flat of visual feast.

A hard thing to fully conceptualize but I sometimes stand back and wonder. Where do all these begonias end up to grow? Probably down the street, some a few towns away. In mountain gardens and beachside villas. Apartments. Mansions. Hospitals. Grocery Stores. Police Stations and your grandma’s window sill. I’m a cog in a complex system of the plant industry. Where do your begonias come from? Greenhousehanging basketsgreenhouse productionGreenhouse Primula bulleyanaFull GreenhouseAquilegia Icelandic poppiesLupin May is a crazy time of year for us. Some weeks tend to feel like that movie ‘GroundHog Day’ with Bill Murray . We work from sunrise to sunset, day after day. It has it’s challenges but is a satisfying meditation to endure. As people escape the clutches of winter they go absolutely plant crazy here in Victoria B.C. It really is an awesome event. The scavenger hunt begins and people rush out to find their old favorites and the rare and new. I really do love the job. After a long day in the sun, we often have dinner out in the garden. A lush coolness is in the air. A great place to unwind and relax the mind, body and soul. corokia little prince corokia little prince flowers Corokia ‘Little Prince’ Bedroom garden A view from the bedroom. manfreda manfreda flower spike Manfreda is flowering. So far over 7ft tall. Gardenview agave victoriae-reginae Agave victoriae-reginae Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’ Tetrapanax canopy xerophyllum tenax xerophyllum tenax Xerophyllum tenax ‘Bear Grass’ Echium flowers First echium blooms. sinningia leucotricha Sinningia leucotricha agave attenuata Agave attenuata

A word to the wise that our annual plant hoarder’s plant sale will be happening Sunday June 21st  (Father’s Day) @ Cook & Fairfield. A fantastic array of plants from near and far. Color & annuals, perennials and oddities, vegetables and herbs. A fine assortment of amazing plants. For the person just getting started or the gardener who has everything. Show up early for the best selection. 1 Tetrapanax will be available via silent auction. Come check out my outdoor succulent garden and swap a plant story or two. My plants are orphans and need new homes. See you there! 🙂

Plant sale

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

Long live the echium.

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

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.