Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

winter greenhouse

After potting up my new palm trees yesterday I found myself in a fury of greenhouse rearranging. This winter we were in such a hurry to get the greenhouse done that when we actually did move in, everything was haphazardly placed this way and that. Yesterday I made the time to organize things properly, it was nice to clear out the junk and keep things tidy. Plants are certainly a demanding hobby, overwintered tropicals need a quick inspection once in a while. Dead leaves, minor rot, and impractical placement all need to be considered. Bugs are more likely than not, and a quick spray of trounce is good even as a precaution. If you’re even a bit OCD about cleaning, this practice will most likely be pleasant and it’s a good meditation for a Sunday afternoon. As the hours went on, nature forgot I was even there, and a murder of crows landed nearby. The valley still supports an amazing amount of wildlife, their songs could be heard carried in the wind. I love silence, it gives me space to think, it’s my favorite kind of music.  A dying tread in a humming world of technology, moments spent in the garden have made me much more aware of this fact.

In a blink of an eye a couple hours had passed. I’m often amazed by the work that can be achieved in only a couple hours. From disaster to masterpiece the place had certainly taken on a new look. I grouped the succulents and dormant dry pots in one area, actively growing tropicals in another, and utilitarian nurserystock adjacent. I love organizing and consolidating, and oddly this is what I do for a living. The greenhouses must have brainwashed me…


Abutilon ‘Souvenir de Bonn’ flowering in January.

Just as I was considering leaving, the lighting seemed just right and out came my camera and tripod. This was the first real photo-shoot I’ve had at our new greenhouse, and I was mesmerized by all of the points of interest. A flowering Senacio cristobalensis, an unusually early Iris reticulata, and a tropical Buddleia macrostachya in bud and bloom. A big smile rested on my face as I stood there in the pre twilight of the hour before nightfall. Tis the best time of day to photograph plants and flowers, and very well anything and everything at all.  The shadows are forgiving, the lighting honest and true. What a dream it is to have a heated greenhouse in the winter. I hadn’t realized what a gift it really was, this will surely help me get further with my plant studies.

Up close and personal with a Senacio cristobalensis


You’ve gotta love the whimsical leaves of the Senecio cristobalensis. Straight out of a Dr. Suess book, this border-line hardy perennial will add a touch of magic to your garden with little effort on your part.


An emerging node, it’s leaves are even cuter when they first appear. These amazing purple tinted fuzzy trees grow up to 8-10 feet in one season. I’ve read that if they’re properly mulched they’ll grow back in spring after frost. Of course all rumor aside I couldn’t dare sacrifice this one to the elements, as I wanted to see it’s winter flowers.


Right on schedule this plant put out multiple plumes of these strange senacio flowers. While Senacio’s come in pretty much every shape and size, they’re flowers are all remarkably similar. Old granddad Senacio from a million years before must be proud.


As expected the flowers are identical to other senacios I’ve witnessed bloom. The only difference being the color in which they’re tinted. Senecio cristobalensis is the most remarkable shade of vibrant yellow. The flowers coated with enough pollen for an army of bees. Too bad none seem to be buzzing about this early in the season.


A slightly fuzzy close up. A boring flower from affar, interesting upon a closer look.

Off topic, topic specific plant science breakdown!?


A plant that looks nothing like Senacio cristobalensis but is most definetly a relative, Senecio articulatus in bloom mid summer 2011.


Significantly different from either of them, Senecio rowleyanus otherwise known as string of pearls is also a strange distant relative. How about that for wierd plant science!?

Back to the topic at hand!


Buddleia macrostachya began flowering this week. I’ve watched the blooms form since I first recieved it mid November. The horticultural mastermind Lynda from Happy Valley Lavender Farm gifted it to me when we first built our greenhouse. The tag says Royal Roads 2007, it seems this one has been around for a while now. A quick look online has very little information about it, but sources say it’s from China. The hardiness is subject to opinion and it seems to enjoy the shelter of the greenhouse. Any info someone might have on it would be much appreciated, an exotic addition to collection none the less.


Eccremocarpus scaber seedlings amongst plectranthus cuttings.


A lineup of agaves, echeverias and aloes.


I have no idea how these bulbs found their way into my agave pot. Tis the simple pleasure of working at a nursery, sometimes the compost you take home has extra goodies in it. My garden at home has anemone blanda all over the place for this very reason. While I tend to get tired of these iris reticulatas, it’s always a tell tale sign that spring is just around the corner.


My Agave geminiflora is certainly enjoying it’s winter home in the greenhouse. It hasn’t stopped growing since I got it, I love it aquatic appearance.


There seems to be no shortage of brugmansia’s this year. A friend and I have been growing quite a collection. Inquire if you’d be interested in trying one this summer, we have lovely 5 ft tall year and a half specimens.


Flowering mid summer Puya mirabilis’s seed pods are still developing. I intend on trying to grow a small army of these from seed, and after nearly six months I still wait patiently for them to mature.

Here we come to the end of my greenhouse tour. Think warm thoughts, spring is only a couple months away. Counting the days, minutes, and seconds! :) For those that made it this far through the post, an extra gift to you today. Check out this site, it seems like an interesting enough idea. Free Plants by Mail

As some of you may already know a couple friend’s and I have been working on a greenhouse at the nursery. We recently got a push to get things finished quickly as space is running low in the main house and the spot where my tropicals were living needs to be freed up by Monday. We put a good effort in Saturday morning and I was really blown away by how much we accomplished. The main structure is now whole, and we even got it skinned. Now all that remains is the finishing touches, a second layer of plastic and the doors in the front. By next weekend we should hopefully have it ready for the plants, of which have now been transferred to racks and have been moved to another non permanent location.


It doesn’t look much right now but soon it will be filled with many tropical oddities. 

I can’t tell you enough how much I love greenhouses, what a treat it is to walk around a lush growing area at this time of year. Dianthus, cyclamen and primulas are almost ready for the first hit of spring. Next thing you know I’ll be pulling racks of Danova mix primulas, dead heading, dead heading and more dead heading. Thus is the life of a nurseryman. Having worked with this company for almost 5 years now I must say we’ve really pulled it together. While things were certainly fine when I first  arrived, as the years go on one notices the recipe for success is much more fine tuned. Our fearless leaders do a great job and I’m pretty proud to be apart of it all. Everything’s looking so nice lately.

A quick December Greenhouse walk around:


Earlier this year I was reading about different techniques for taking cuttings of Dahlia imperialis. One person suggested cutting off a 1ft cutting with a growth node and to lay it down on it side. 1-2 months later it looks like the cutting is a success, new growth has started and I’m pretty sure this will be a viable cutting. Meanwhile the other cutting in which I cut the top growing tip and plopped it in the soil, is also growing quite happily. The conclusion? Dahlia imperialis cuttings are extremely easy to get going, and next year I’ll do a lot more.


Sadly my Echium pininana isn’t looking any healthier even though it lives in the warmest house on the property. Still trying have faith that it will bounce back come spring. “It’s just a little wilty, it’s still good, it’s still good!”


Succulents and tropical foliage. It was nice to spend some time with the plants today.


Sometime’s I wonder why I do this to myself. Then I quickly snap out of it, I love them!


Hamming it up with my refugee tropicals.


We’ve been blessed with gorgeous sunshine for almost two weeks now. If December was like this every year I wouldn’t be so eager to escape to the tropics.


Some people fight for the corner office, I think my view is better.


Greenhouse 1 of 6, primulas. *Shutters*


So many Dianthus super troopers. Looks like a healthy crop!


Probably one of my most favorite crops we grow at the greenhouse, florist cyclamen (cyclamen persicum cultivars)

Thanks for joining me on my tour.


Filmed on an iphone, makes for a squished video.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody!

I just returned from my annual Christmas trip to see the family on Salt Spring Island. The highlights include some nice moments shared with family and friends, eggnog’s, scotch and rum, and a plethora of delicious sweets and savory snacks. As Christmas day came to an end, the turkey dinner vanquished, I passed out in a Trypophan daze.

thriving in the winter

Anyhow back to the topic of plants, while visiting my grandparents I noticed their greenhouse could use a little TLC and I did just that. A little Windex, and some gentle plant manicuring and voila the place shined. My grandmother has quite the green thumb and it was my honor to spend a little time in her beautiful glass greenhouse. I’m amazed by how healthy everything was for the middle of December in an unheated greenhouse. Their Bougainvillea was still in flower, spider plants a plenty, and the datura I gave her for her birthday a couple months earlier was about 4 times as big as the one I have at home.

flower in the winter - saltspring island

What I believe to be an old growth yucca was severely overgrown, pushing it’s way into the window and developing a strange mold. A little action with the sectaurs and arborist saw and it was fixed right up. It was as simple as topping the overgrown branches, and removing the dead and diseased leaves. I think they look better like palm trees anyhow!

trimmed and looking good
My grandmother has a knack for propagating and when she’s not busy painting she peacefully duplicates her plants. Her speciality remains jade plants and spider plants (Chlorophytum) which thrive like no other. Just a friendly reminder that small time growers exist everywhere, and while garden centers are a great source of plant material, you neighbors might be just as good.

thriving in the dead of winterbrugmansia / datura almost 1 metre across

For your further enjoyment please enjoy the artwork of my grandmother Jan Sharkey Thomas.

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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