Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Zaluzianskya capensis

Weeks are certainly disappearing quick this time of year. So much sunshine, gardening and plants.

As per usual, the last couple weeks have been heavy in plant projects. The heat of the summer awakens the thirst in the plants. Between the garden in the back and the greenhouse at work, I spend most of my time waving around a hose. The plants are voracious in their thirst, and I can’t bare to see them crisp into oblivion. So far so good, but the summer is still underway. In all this watering I spend a lot of time staring at the plants, and some days I’m just down right astonished in how cool some of them are. To keep things simple today I thought I’d highlight three plants that I’m impressed with at the moment. While the Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ bloom their heart out, and Dahlia ‘Bishop of llandlaff’ can’t help but to impress, I thought I’d try to highlight a couple oddities you’re less likely to have blooming right now.

Let’s begin!

Iochroma australis

This rarely grown South American exotic is a real pleasure to grow. Distantly related to a brugmansia, Iochroma has diminutive purple frilled flowers and sticky leaves much like a nicotiana. Unlike it’s brugmansia relative, Iochroma isn’t a spider mite magnet and seems to fair well against this annoying summer pest. Flowering from mid summer until frost, I took my cutting from a specimen planted in a sheltered location outdoors in Victoria. This of course meaning, it’s significantly more hardy then most sources list, the specimen in question must have survived the -16 frost of the winter before last. Having taken a cutting from a tree a little taller then myself, it rooted with ease, and a year later my plant is a foot and a half tall covered in flowers. Honestly it’s a wonder this plant isn’t more commonly available with how easy it is to propagate, and the ease of it’s culture. Regular water, sun to partial shade and some light winter protection and you should have no problem whatsoever. It’s decicucious if left outdoors in the winter, with a little extra drainage and protection from heavy winds you too might be able to grow this plant outdoors in Zone 8.

Zaluzianskya capensis ‘Night Flowering Phlox’ (zal-oo-zee-AN-skee-uh)

What more do you say about a plant like Zaluzianskya capensis then amazing. Another cool plant from South Africa, Zaluzianskya capensis (What were they thinking with that name) is definitely something a different for a gardener who has everything. You might not pay it much mind during the day, but at night Zaluzianskya comes to life. Without seeking it out Zaluzianskya will introduce itself to you. The flowers start to open in the early evening and around 7-8 at night, the smell of candied talcum powder smacks you in the face. The smell is absolutely delicious, and one can’t resist putting their face right in the bush to take a deep sniff. What’s so nice about this plant’s smell is not only how unique it is, but how far it lingers. As the evening moves on, the smell seems to intensify and by midnight the whole patio will be perfumed.  The flowers fold up in the most unusual way, unfurling into snowflaked pinwheels at dusk. Often grown as an annual, I attempted to overwinter mine in the greenhouse with mild success. Truth be told, I let the mother plant die by letting it dry out one winter eve. That being said  I would say this plant does not recover well from neglectful watering. Luckily the plant roots well from tip cuttings and one can ensure a fresh plant by doing so at the end of each season. The plant grows quickly, and is also a heavy seed setter, so you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to procure a specimen. A true conversation piece, for the best effect put it within arms reach from the patio table. It’s great to bring out to show guests between pints and storytelling. If you’re not a plant nerd you haven’t seen this plant, your friends will be amazed.

Tucked amongst an echium fastuosum.

Bomarea edulis

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered this Bomarea edulis from Sacred Succulents earlier this year, but I’m so glad I did. A little off the beaten path with this one, it’s a plant for the geeks. Not to say it isn’t attractive, but more that it’s subtle in it’s beauty. Vigorous and quick growing, the vine started to flower a couple months ago and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. The flowers come in succession so their are always more on their way. After the flower has been pollinated, the petals fall off and the seed pod enlarges and hangs in a bizarre way. So far I’m as pleased with the effect. The plant requires no special treatment whatsoever, and looks best if planted somewhere it can hang. Rumored to be hardy to -5 C, once I increase my stock I’ll do some more thorough hardiness tests. Upon closer speculation, the delicate flowers hide a world of intricacy. I love the colorful fades of pink and yellow.

Well wasn’t that fun! 2 weeks until BC to California roadtrip. I need a vacation. So. Bad.

Until next time.

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.