Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Tetrapanax papyrifer

Hello dear plant people.

The days are getting shorter, the weather a tad bit cool. Can you believe it’s already mid October. It’s been such beautiful season, count 2014 a win for the gardeners of this west coast island. Where have I been you ask? Oh you know. Hands busy in the garden and greenhouse. Trying to focus on family life, watching the daily evolution of the young one. If I had ever thought I was busy in the past, this year is breaking records.

To say I’m reaping what I’ve sowed in an understatement. I’m always surprised by the botanical curiosities popping up in the garden. Having collected my plants at all times of the year, there’s almost always something interesting happening out back.

Tetrapanax offset
The Tetrapanax has had a successful season; it was so happy it created this offset this spring. Looks like I got two now. Hardy tropical foliage, always a head turner. I only need another 98 for the forest I’d like to plant one day.

Tetrapanax Flowering
At well over 10 feet tall, this Tetrapanax starting doing something unusual late in the season. With anywhere from 20-30 more frost free days do you think it will make it to flower?

desfontainia spinosa
No this isn’t a holly ( Ilex aquifolium ); it’s something much stranger. Desfontainia spinosa is a long way from home, appearing naturally from Costa Rica and further south. I’ve had mine for a number of years and it has modest growth at best. In summer it has some remarkable candy corn flowers. Pictured above, it’s Inca guardian.

Alpine Pots
Some plants lend well to small pots. As the days go on terms like drought tolerant and alpine are extra appealing.

helwingia chinensis
Helwingia chinensis is showing some great fall color.

Jerusalem artichoke
Standing nearly 20feet tall these jerusalem artichoke flowers are a welcome touch of gold on a glum rainy day.

Androsace
Rarely a flower, these saffron crocus come up every October. Charming foliage among rock jasmine; androsace.

Dragon Wing Begonia
Working at a greenhouse facility that predominately works with annuals; it’s hard not to have a few follow me home. If you’ve never grown dragon wing begonias their worth a try for sure. They grow vigorously and are almost never without flowers. Large shiny foliage right up until frost. A remarkable plant.

Perilla magilla
Looks like a coleus to me; think again. It’s Perilla ‘Magilla’ and I planted this mid summer. As the garden started to cool off from spring blooms; coleus and this Perilla really help liven things up. I have had zero trouble keep this looking good. An annual sure, but incredible it is indeed.

Coleus Oxford St
My favorite of the new Coleus varieties we grew this season. This ones seems to be the best branching and maintains it’s shape well. What incredible gold fringed leaves. The botanist who came up with this hybrid must be pleased.

Viola Sorbet Fire
Trialing some new cultivars from Ball Seed; Viola Sorbet Fire.

Viola peach melba and lemon ice
You know I ship 1000′s of flats of pansies and violas each season. After a while you get tired of seeing the same colors each year. I’m happy we’ve added a couple new ones to our list. Viola Lemon Ice and Viola Peach Melba.

Echium pininana
The next generation of Echium pininana; let’s hope for a mild winter.

Echium pininana
Speaking of echiums, I’ve never had more of them growing. Pictured above is where I placed the carcass of last season’s 15 foot bloom. I guess there is a high rate of germination.

echiums in seed tray
I’ve collected a few to grow on for friends. Still in my to top 3 all time plant favorites.

Echium Wood
Echium wood.

Cacti display
With wet weather on it’s way I spent the weekend moving in some 100 potted cacti and succulents. What a meditation.

Ornithogalum dubium
Unusual autumn blooming Ornithogalum dubium.

It’s all in the details. Time to stop and smell the roses. The world is full of astonishing things. If only one is to open their eyes and pay attention.

 

 

As I walk around my garden I feel an odd conflicted thought. Out of no where everything seems to be breaking dormancy, did spring show up without letting me know? While this winter has been significantly more forgiving then the last, February hit us pretty hard with bad weather. Now in the first week of March it’s as if the plants have already forgotten, the first buds have come and gone and everything is laying out the red carpet for spring. Daffodils, crocus and iris reticulata have been doing their yearly dance, pulmonaria are in bloom and the difference between sunshine and rain need only wait 15 minutes. Even though it was sleeting last week I’m happy to say spring has hit on the west coast. Some might warn that I’m jinxing it a bit, but I feel confident that we’ve made it through the worst of it. Even my textrapanex is letting me know it’s spring, it’s growing tip having survived our winter suddenly threw the switch and began to open. The last couple days has had the most pleasant warm wind blowing, day or night the temperature seems relatively the same (8-10C).

Truth be told the more I become hopelessly entwined with plants, the more aware I am of nature as a whole. The more I identify with this natural world, the less I seem to connect with people that don’t. This is where the website has helped alot, and it’s the strangest medium for connecting with like minded people. Out from the shadowed gardens of the city comes a small collective of plant crazed, excellent people. Furthermore the website has allowed me to meet people from all over the world, share some insight, trade some seeds, and maybe even a plant or two. Somehow sharing my botanical experiences via this blog enhances gardening as a whole. Afterall how much fun would it be to keep all this wonder to myself, I write this blog for you, the plant people. I digress

To successfully have a garden with 12 months of interesting plants, one needs to have at least 5-10 plants for each month of the year. No matter how you look at it, that means for a garden to truly shine you’re going to need at least 120 plants out in the back. I don’t think everyone needs to go as far as I do (I can’t help myself), but if you’re going to do something, do it right. The year is still young and I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by what’s going on outside. Let’s take a look shall we?


My Tetrapanax papyrifer did remarkably well this winter. I think a low of -6C wasn’t enough to fry it’s growing tip, and this bud remained pristine the entirety of the winter. As this is the first year I’ve grown this plant, I find it fascinating that this bud could survive such brutal conditions intact and then open in the spring.


Another gardening on the edge success story is this Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’. Planted from a 2″ annual pot early last spring, it’s quickly made a complete circle around this large ceramic pot I have outdoors. Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ survived -6 w/snow with occasional protection from a sheet on the coldest nights.


My potted Wasabia japonica has overwintered just fine in the deep shade of a bamboo clump. Grown in water or above ground, the trick to this plant is protecting it from the heat of summer. For those of you with year long high temperatures, this plant is probably best admired from afar. As I think back to that faithful day when I ran around the back garden trying to save my poor heat stroked Wasabia. Growing it in water will make it slightly more forgiving, but a hot day will make it faint almost instantaneously. Don’t be scared to put it in deepest shade you have to save it’s life, that was the key to success after almost 2 weeks of watching it slowly die.


It’s elegant heartshaped leaves have an exotic lily pad look, what’s better is they’re deliciously edible and compliment a sandwich just right. “Oh that’s just a bit of organic wasabia leaf on your ham and cheese, no big deal”.


Not only is my Wasabia surviving, it’s thriving, it turns out late February / early May is the time this plant truly shines. The cool wet weather of March provides perfect conditions for the plant to produce flowers. Perhaps we’ll need to collect some seeds later in the season. If you’d like to learn more about Wasabia plants, click here for an interesting article on Dave’s Garden.


I almost lost this Tropaeolum speciosum to a insidious attack of spider mites last season. The plant thrived in the spring but in time became infested and I didn’t realize until too late. Luckily I caught it in time and saved it from almost certain demise, delaying it’s blooms until the next year. I’m still waiting patiently.


A late season score, Lavatera arborea variegata seems to be doing just fine. Growing anywhere between 5-20 feet, this biannual has some of the most amazing variegated leaves. I enjoy growing mallows and this one is certainly living up to my expectations. Classified as a biannual, growers on dave’s garden comment that you can keep the plant alive by removing the seed pods before they mature. This specimen stands at roughly 4 feet tall, with a 1 inch trunk in as little time as a year from seed.


My seed grown Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean Glory Vine) survived it’s cold sleep under the eve of the house. Recently it started to show signs of life, pushing through the straw protection I gave it for it’s winter sleep. Truly a borderline zone 8, the mild winter was kind to it.


Lamprocapnos spectabilis (syn. Dicentra spectabilis) although common place still seems a worthy addition to the garden. A true harbinger of spring, I have 3 varieties poking up at the moment, this one in particular being one of the first 10 plants I acquired at the start of my plant hoarding career.


Every garden needs a buddha, maybe even two or three. I like knick knacks.


I’m happy to have a Hepatica nobilis in my collection, it is definitely the star of the garden right now. The flowers began to appear a couple weeks ago and are the most intense purple/blue. The buds are formed mid season, and open the following year. After it’s done flowering a cushion of fresh foliage will appear which is equally as pleasing.


Similar to an anemone blanda is looks, Hepatica nobilis flowers last a lot longer and stay open rain or shine. Lovely!


A yearlong delight and personally the nicest hellebore I’ve ever seen, Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ is at the peak of it’s beauty right now. Sunny two toned evergreen leaves, and more flowers then ever. On it’s second season in the garden, this one is really earning it’s spot.


So nice!


As I have a love hate relationship with Vinca, this Vinca minor was planted by my girlfriend in an inconspicuous spot. So far it’s remained quite behaved, and this year’s flowers look pretty impressive.


A couple slips of Bergenia cordifolia I took home from a gardening gig, rooted up nicely over the winter and have started to flower this spring. Not my most favorite plant, but it is a welcome touch of color this time of year.


I put this container together last spring and time has really been kind to it. An accidental success, I’m pleased with the plant combination.


Primula marginata has just started to bloom.


I love this combination.


Say hello to the reliable blooms of euphorbia wulfenii.


Euphorbias are a must have in any garden I create from here on out. These planted from 5″ pots 3 years ago, are certainly drawing some attention. Amazing!


Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ in mid flower.


Speaking of euphorbias, for those of you not in the know, euphorbia griffithii is completely hardy but dies down to the ground every season. Wouldn’t you know as I saw my most favorite euphorbia dry up and disappear last fall I was nervous it has succumb to my haphazard treatment of it. This spring my worries were for nothing, up came 4 new growing tips, huzzah.


Rather subtle in it’s coloring, this helleborus orientalis holds itself with a dignified elegance.


Spring bulbs emerging into spring.


The weirdest thing in my garden at this time of year, Asarum splendens has beautiful dark leaves with an unusual spotted pattern.


What’s stranger is it’s ground level stepelia-esk flowers. It seems an unlikely place for a bloom, I suppose it’s pollinators are of the bug variety, beatles ants and such.


A closer look shows a menacing bloom indeed.


In other plant related news, my amaryllis red lion bloomed for it’s second season. Sure it’s a commercial grade, everyday plant, but with good reason, the flowers are bigger then my hand. Wow!


Last but not least, my Clivia miniata is blooming. Being a plant collector sure has it’s advantages some days. A touch of the tropics.

Thanks for coming along for the tour, as usual, it’s been a pleasure.

-Nat

~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…

I recently installed some incandescent Christmas lights in an effort to keep frost off my small backyard greenhouse. I’m amazed by how much heat these little bulbs give off and I really didn’t expect them to look this good either. The greenhouse ends up looking like a giant lantern and glows in the illumination of the Christmas lights. The oranges and reds of autumn really stand out in the yellow glow of these lights. As I stood outside yesterday evening admiring their glow, I found myself in one of those excellent photography moments. I ran and grabbed the camera, the air was cold and calm and i began snap photos. It was a magical 20 minutes, and I’m quite pleased with the results. I think these are some of the best plant photos I’ve taken to date. The night is kind to a plant photographer, there is less background noise and high contrast. If there was ever a time for night photography, November would be it.

Nighttime Garden Photoshoot: November 2011


Mimosa & Acer


It’s only now in November that my Acer ‘ Blood Good’ has began it’s transition to pure fire scarlet.


Billardiera longiflora is a dainty little vine from Australia, which so far proves to be hardy here in Victoria. In mid spring it has little indiscreet flowers and in late summer these cute little purple “peppers” appear. An interesting specimen for the collection.


Acer ‘Blood Good’ stretches into the darkness.


My Tetrapanax papyrifer remains untouched by the lights frosts we’ve been having. It looks majestic under such lighting.


The last remaining Physalis alkekengi fruits hanging like miniature jack o lanterns.


The Acacia pravissima stands along side the Dahlia imperialis awaiting the oncoming winter.


It took all season for this hardy fuchsia ‘Herald’ to leap into action, now it’s less then a week away from getting frosted.


Mahonia media is loving the November weather.


Considering this is a winter flowering plant, it’s flowers are as tropical looking as it gets. I love Mahonia!


This photo takes the cake for extreme foliage. Left To Right, Fatsia, Tetrapanax, Mahonia, Acer


I’ve went a little overboard this winter with the straw, everything’s tucked in for the winter.


I’m just a plant geek, with a greenhouse and a dream.

Autumn is finally upon us and summer is slowly saying goodbye. It seems like we waited forever for spring to come, and now the gardening season is nearly at it’s end. Although this will be the 26th autumn I will have experienced, it still seems to astonish me. Where did all the time go, nearly 300 days of gardening come and gone.

“I feel like a bit of a  living, breathing time machine, I blink and find myself in the future. The only problem is I can’t make it stop.”

I digress. The other day I found myself in my small greenhouse reflecting on such topics. By the time I get home, get showered and cleaned up, the sun has already faded from my back garden. I am greeted by a gentle spray of soft muted shadows and an almost instantanous calm. The garden has never looked more lush, full, and jungle like. While most gardeners live for spring’s firework display of flowering bulbs, primulas and other colorful lovelies I might be tempted to say I like late summer/autumn gardens more. The size of everything is so grandiose and developed, a 15 foot jerusalem artichoke grows more everyday. While my climate dictates that I should love plants happy in my zone, I often sway towards the tropics. These tropical tourists do much better in the heat of summer and autumn and really thrive this time of year. The only drawback to the late season garden is that is on it’s way out instead of it’s way in. Rather meaning that like a great movie you don’t want to end, it’s just matter of time before the tropical paradise fades away.

My girlfriend posing for scale under the giant jerusalem artichoke

As I sat there in the greenhouse, reflecting and generally gapping out at my cacti collection, the sun went down, and I found myself sitting in the dark at half past seven. I have been toying with the idea of  doing some night photography and this was the night that I made it happen. Plants are sometimes a difficult subject to capture. Greens on greens, deep shadows, and macro destroying breezes all stand in the way. There has been many the great plant moment that I wasn’t able to capture due to the limitations of technology. It turns out night photography of plants might be ideal, the evening offers far less distraction. I ran inside, grabbed my tripod and flashlight and off I went. Perfect black backdrops every time, it’s so simple it should have been more obvious. An hour must have passed as I looked like a total wierdo photographing plants in the dark with a flash light. My friends will NEVER understand, I’m afraid the new me is here to stay.

Now onto the photo shoot.
Night Photography of Plants: An Autumn Garden Tour.

 


Echeveria glauca always fascinates me.


Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ flowers are larger then most echeveria flowers. Amazing!


Euphorbia obesa looks quite alien under this setting.


This cacti is still a NOID for me (A little help!?), but I have two of them, both have spectacular blue green tattoos. I’ve been trying to photograph this one all season with no success. Night photography does a great job.


Melianthus major is a personal favorite. Peanut Butter scented leaves, spectacular blue green foliage. Easily hardy in Victoria, don’t get stressed about it dying down to the ground, it will come back. Mine survived -15 last winter and grew back completely by mid summer. A must have in next year’s garden if you don’t have one already.


The very last flowers of my Zaluzianskya capensis (Night Flowering Phlox). This plant has the most unusual lovely evening scent. A mix of almonds and baby powder, it’s flowers are closed during the day and open at night. For more information about this plant see this post.


Just another oddity hidden amongst the rest. So unusual.


With a clever lcd lighting system, a Tetrapanax papyrifer is converted into a  bizarre night light.


As always the Echium pininana is a glory hog and still holds a large pressence in the garden. What a dramatic shadow it creates. It’s top growing point has been doing unusual things the last couple weeks. Will it flower before frost? Only time will tell.


If not it’s off the greenhouse to seek refuge and warm thoughts.


A rather new addition to the garden, Beschorneria ‘Ding Dong’ otherwise known as false red yucca. Why I felt the inclination to buy more tender plants past August is beyond me. I love the agave like foliage, awaiting it’s bizarre flowers.


The Physalis alkekengi otherwise known as Chinese Lanterns is thriving. It took two years for me to get a specimen of my own. I snagged some seeds from a yard a couple years back. The plants were slow to develop in their first year but really leaped the second. These are the first lanterns I’ve got from these plants, it was worth the wait. Interesting flowers are few and far between this time of year, a welcome addition to the garden.


With autumn comes the first flush of Cyclamen hederifolium flowers. So. Nice!

There you have it. Thank you for joining me for a late night garden tour. Who says you need sunlight to appreciate a garden anyhow!?

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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