Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

winter care


The weather is finally starting to shift. During a 90 day run of sunshine and cloud free days, I had almost forgotten about the cold and the rain. Of course It didn’t take more than a day of monsoon precipitation to refresh my memory. As I looked up at angry clouds they opened up and gave me a big wet kiss. It’s been raining steady ever since, like a flip of the switch summer is over and we’re suddenly midway through fall. October is a busy month for us on the edge gardeners, so many plants to bring in. I think many of you could agree.

Collecting plants from all over the world doesn’t come without it’s shortcomings. I’ve been quite busy sorting plants into hardiness, rarity and importance. Some plants go to the greenhouse, some into the basement under the grow light and others scattered throughout the house on windowsills. While ideally I’d bring all my plants to the greenhouse for winter storage, it’s still a work in progress. Having built it on the wettest piece of land we could negotiate we still have to work out some drainage issues. During rain like this the floor is a small series of rivers, an environment not exactly suitable for a cactus collection. Castor beans & bananas sure, but anything that needs absolute dryness is a no go.

Luckily a couple weeks ago I sensed the change in weather and got a head-start on the migration. I spent my Thanksgiving weekend washing down cacti, slowly but surely jigsawing them indoors. After what seemed like a hundred potted plants, one by one, I was exasperated.  Why did I do this to myself.  A few deep breathes, a calming of the mind, I simply keep reminding myself nothing amazing comes easy. For the many gifts of the plant collection, the juice is worth the squeeze. I should only feel so fortunate to have the resources at my disposal to continue such a grandiose collection. After 10 hours of cleaning and sorting, the majority of the cacti had made it’s way inside. Truth be told it looks pretty good too. The plants love being outside for the summer and when brought indoors present themselves as living art pieces in a man-made world.

With so many many plants in such a tight vicinity I’ve been keeping an extra eye out for pests. “Damn you dreaded mealy bug.” On tired bored evenings it’s not a strange sight to see me wondering about with a shot glass of vodka and a paintbrush, disintegrating mealy bugs before they become a problem. Once introduced to a collection it is unlikely you’ll ever be free of them again. Thoughts of a systemic insecticide crossed my mind but I don’t want to kill the beneficial insects in my collection. Upon closer observation it seems almost every potted succulent has a little spider protector living nearby. These little garden spiders have grown on me over the last couple years and I respect their choice to take refuge in and around my plants. If we work together perhaps the mealy bugs will be defeated once in for all, only time will tell.

My Stapelia collection, a personal favorite of hungry fuzzy white insects. 

At work things have slowed to a snails pace, orders are few and far between and the list of chores gets smaller and more importantly more mundane. Not that there isn’t work to be done, but now is the season for cleaning, cutting back and putting away. The rain thundered down as I cut back 4″ rumex sanguinea today. The tip, drip, drop of the rain on the greenhouse plastic reminds me of summers camping in the back orchard. For a seeker of peace, there really isn’t a better gig.

Over the past week this Ophthalmophyllum has been flowering. The bud appeared very quickly and within a week began to open. For the past 5 days it’s opened and closed mid-day, a lovely autumn curiosity.

Upon finishing my winter migration of my cacti collection I got a call I had been tentatively expecting. A fellow cactus friend of mine has sold her house and is downgrading her collection. We spent a Sunday afternoon loading up my car with many of her prized plants to live on in my care. Ah, let’s just add another 50 plants to the collection, it will be fine right?

Why do I do this to myself. The juice is worth the squeeze.

Still working on a large post about the Huntington Botanical Gardens, stay tuned and stay warm.

Whew, I’ve been a busy boy the last couple weeks. I’ve been doing a little “renovating” on a huge garden out in saanich. This garden is no joke, it must be a  5th of the size of beacon hill park and certainly bigger then Abkhazi gardens. The garden has been neglected for far too long, over grown then zapped from frost which pretty much equal a total mess. The “resident caretaker” says he’s too busy doing this and that to get the job done by himself, but we’re certainly making progress to prove him wrong. It seems a real shame to let something so beautiful be devalued by neglect.

It’s been so long that the weeds are oldgrowth, morning glory is everywhere, and blackberry roots run deep. Had the caretaker done his daily duty, I imagine it wouldn’t take more then a day or two a week to keep everything in check. Months of neglect have made it a bit of an overwelming task, iris’s and crocosmia are not only finished for the season, but melted right into the ground. It’s a mess.

On the bright side, it’s a great opportunity to put my skills to the test. My back hurts everyday but the days move quickly and I we’re making amazing progress. After years of living and breathing plants and gardening all of a sudden it just clicked. I know my stuff better then I thought, in your everyday Victoria garden I’m starting to be able to id the majority of the plant life. It’s like cracking a tough math problem, it suddenly makes sense.

I wish I had taken more before and after photos of the areas we’ve restored, or I might have created a nice resume for myself.

An example of the carnage, this once beautiful azalea bush is strangled by frost damaged morning glory, which in time melts through everything underneith it.

My girlfriend hard at work putting this very sleepy, cranky, garden to bed for the winter.

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.