Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

While I will admit I’ve been spending considerably more time inside then out, there is still a small world of amazement going on outside. Although the majority of the flowers have disapeared, December allows you to appreciate all the incredible foliage you might normally miss during the fireworks of spring and summer. In an attempt to record the yearly progress of my garden I went out and had a little photo-shoot this afternoon. The weather has been incredible mild this winter and I for one am loving it. We’ve had almost 2 weeks of sunshine, with no more then a handful of -1 frosts. A surprisingly amount of tenders are still hanging on, and things don’t look nearly as bad as they did last year. I got a bit carried away with the photos on today’s post so enjoy. For those of you living in the north, I think we could all use a little bit more greenery in our lives.

December 2011 Garden Tour:

Euphorbia ‘Glacier’ was one of the first plants I planted in this garden almost half a decade ago. While some people don’t like a euphorbia’s unruly growing habit, selective pruning can maintain their shape. The nodding style of their growth tips let you know that they’re preparing to flower, a process that will take upward to 6 months to complete.

This Euphorbia wulfenii only had one bloom last season, it looks like this year it will have upwards to 10.

This Euphorbia rigida was planted around the same time as E. ‘Glacier although I’ve never had this species flower. It’s growth tips do look like their up to something though.

My one and only Rhododendron  (noid) is fully in bud preparing for it’s fireworks display in early spring.

Working at an annual nursery I often like to fill gaps with seasonal color. Some might not love English Daisies but tell me this, what else is flowering so prolifically this time of year?

Oh I forgot, that’s right, Mahonia media. The first time I noticed these was in front of the of Bay Center Mall downtown Victoria. Absolutely tropical looking from November till Febuary, this is by far the most electric plant doing it’s thing this time of year. Bonus points that it’s 100% hardy in Victoria, and would grow almost tree like if given the chance.

Somewhat of a border-line perennial up here in Victoria, Zauschneria californica (otherwise known as california fuchsia) has been attempting to flower for a couple week’s now. I’ve chanced it in the cold frame in the back yard and kept it on the dry side. It’s not exactly thriving but I think it will pull through.

Underrated as a 2″ annual Felicia amelloide has been in non stop bloom since I planted it mid summer. I’m unsure how much of a frost it can take but so far it’s untouched by the -1 light frosts we’ve been having.  100’s of delicate blue daisy flowers.

Some people on Dave’s Garden complain that Malva sylvestris is a bit of a weed, so far I’m not jaded by this opinion. I’ve always enjoyed growing other mallows (ie. Laviteria) and this one is impressive to say the least. We’ll see if a million of them pop up next spring and change my mind.  This sole flower was welcomed and appreciated in the dark gloomy days of December.

I think I like Cyclamen hederifolium’s foliage even more then the flowers. Nature’s art at it’s finest. It’s hard to believe conservationist  are ripping out 5-10 year old cyclamen corms from local parks because they consider them invasive.  That’s like complaining there’s too many gin and tonics, or sunshine, give me a break!

In such a small garden I don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to boring old hellebore , but Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ won it’s place in garden forever the first time I saw it as a small seedling. What incredible evergreen foliage.

It looks like a set of flowers are well on it’s way.

A great trick for adding a extra greenery to your winter garden is planting italian parsley in autumn. I fill the odd gap with it and it thrives in the cool season. Extra points that being a cold weather crop it doesn’t go to flower and will be megasized come spring. I first saw a planting of this kind in Finland, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Wasabia japonica otherwise known as true wasabi grows happily underneath some bamboo. This isn’t exactly an easy plant to grow and has given me stress throughout the hot months of summer. It turns out 99% of the wasabi you eat in restaurants isn’t in fact real wasabi at all, but dyed horseradish. Real wasabi has a much different taste, and fetches high prices if you learn how to grow it well ($70.00+/pound) I think I’ve figured this guy out, and since then it’s been doing much better, still the finest grown wasabi grows in running water, which produces a much tastier root.

Checking on the last few tropicals that I’ve cruelly left to chance outdoors shows Fuchsia gartenmeister holding on strong even it’s definitely seen some frosts. “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed”.

I really came to appreciate this undervalued 2″ annual,  Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ and I’m hoping it survives our unusual mild winter. This plant is vigorous to say the least and has really thrived in this planter. I had no idea it would grow as large as it did. I might be the crazy guy putting a blanket on it during the coldest of our frosts but that’s neither here nor there.

While many of my passion flower vines were cut down and brought to the greenhouse, Passiflora caerulea was left outdoors to chance. So far it’s doing just fine and looks completely untouched by the occasional frosts. My Acacia pravissima still has buds and also seems to be doing well. On the coldest nights I fold the leaves into that cloth to help it have extra protection, but so far it probably hasn’t needed it.

Acanthus ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is a discontinued version of a Terra Nova hybrid because it didn’t prove as hardy as they would have hoped. The nursery threw out over 20 of these and I took some home. Before they were proved “inferior” they were selling for over $30.00 at garden centers. Although small, mine are growing, just fine!

December is a great month for mosses’ and lichens, my Sagina mound growing happily.

This Blechnum spicant (western deer fern) accidentally followed me home during a camping trip up the coast. It has absolutely thived in this pot, asking nothing in return for it’s good looks.

And look at this hardy Opuntia noid, it doesn’t seem to mind our cold, wet winters

This Soldanella  lives happily by the pond. It didn’t flower last year so I’m hoping it will do it’s thing this season. It’s one of the first plants to bloom come spring with dainty little purple umbrella flowers. Even as a alpine foliage plant it’s well worth having.

These Crocus sativus (saffron crocus)  have given me two seasons of grass like foliage and no flowers yet. How am I to ever make my famous saffron rice, the Indian potluck is going to be really disappointing this year.

I love these cladonia “pixie cup” lichen, and have been helping them thrive since the very first time I spotted them. About two years ago 1 or 2 “pixie cups” appeared and I’ve been watering this rock ever since. In the heat of summer they dry up, but when it rains they’re back instantly.

A closer look reveals the strangest forms. As I become more obsessed with plants I find myself noticing their smaller relatives more and more. Lichens are a symbiosis of two plant forms:  an algae and a fungus. “ooo interesting”

A cold season window planter. Decorative cabbage, oxalis, leadwort, ivy and pansys, wow.

Saxifraga ‘White Hill’  enjoys the cold weather. Such interesting geometry rosette.

Blue Fescue and Prarie Fire grass really shine this time of year.

The benefit to working at a wholesale nursery is you often come across a lot of great plants that need to find a home before they hit the compost. I planted over 50 of these in my front yard this autumn  and they really brighten up the place in the dull winter months.

I think I’ve finally found my favorite berry. Ugni molinae otherwise known as Chilean Guava is another borderline perennial the seems to do well in my Victoria zone 7-8 garden. The berries are somewhat like blueberries with a hint of juniper, sort of ginny. I love snacking on a handful while wondering about the garden in December. So far this one lives in my coldframe and seems untouched by the cold weather. Growing happily in a 5 G pot.

If you’ve never tried these before I highly recommend them, delicious! Said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite fruit. It’s a relatively carefree plant requiring little to no special attention during the growing season.

If you could believe it there’s more plants indoors as well. It’s so much fun but a bit overwelming at times. My roommates have joked around in the past about a plant intervention. I protested saying there is never enough plants and we left it at that. You’re telling me your complaining you live in a fully tending botanical garden? Sounds like paradise to me?

And last but not least, the downstairs grow lab. Things are thriving, and I’m waiting on some seeds to sprout. More plants anyone?

Let me tell you I drank a large Starbucks before this post and that was 2.5 hours ago, Thank you for joining me on this tour, of which ended up being considerably larger then I first imagined. Just a couple more months of winter and then we get to do it all over again!

10 Responses to Who says you can’t garden in December: A Garden Tour

  • The Victoria Gardener says:


    You know I planted these out more than 2 years ago and have yet to have them flower. Meanwhile, I have seen the odd one bloom in forgotten accidental plantings. Banking on a show this year hopefully!

  • Nat, I loved these photos. What a tremendous amount of variety at this time of years, especially considering how far north you are. That Mahonia media is a stunner–I’ve never seen one before.

    Seeing your indoor collection made me feel better about the 25+ plants I brought inside for the winter. You definitely have way more than 25 there! I’ll point my wife to your photos when she starts rolling her eyes at me again, ha ha.

    :: Bamboo and More ::

  • The Victoria Gardener says:

    Tom – Don’t get me wrong, I somehow high-graded the back garden. Although there is a lot of interesting stuff still poking about, it’s still not enough to captivate me into spending great amounts of time in the cold and/or rain. Still banking on summer.

    David – The house has always had a condensation problem, long before the plants. It’s an old house built in the 1940’s and it has single pane windows. I have a dehumidifer setup in the living room, and unless someone’s cooking it works out pretty good. As for the cabbage, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to plant them, but as freebies they aren’t so bad. I hate seeing all the waste at the end of crops so I try to utilize them.

    Mouse- Try Euphorbia’s you’ll love em. And nothing eats them as far as I know. When they break they’re filled with a acidic white sap. I don’t think deer enjoy that kind of thing.

    Mark/Gaz – As usual thank you for stopping by!

  • A small garden you say? wow, I’m stunned at the quantity and wonderful variety growing in your spaces. They must be tucked in everywhere! I want to try euphorbias as they are not eaten by anything, and here (central California coast) there’s something to eat anything I plant pretty much! I’m just getting into succulents a little bit, and enjoying them. The English daisy – it is Livingstone daisy? If so it might be a Scottish daisy?? My mother used to grow them. I might be wrong – they don’t look quite the same. I’m thinking of trying a few of the common UK annuals, just for a nostalgia flower bed, and to remember my dear old mum. I’m also wanting to try a pond and try growing some California native wetland plants. Gotta get going thinking about how to do that, as I’m propagating the plants but don’t yet have their home built!

  • Tom says:

    If I didn’t know better I would have thought the Saxafrage was a sempervivum! I’m so jealous of your mild winter climate…the most exciting thing we have going on right now is some crappy looking seed heads from all the stuff that bloomed last summer.

  • Amazing Nat. Can’t say I join you in any love for ornamental cabbages but, those aside, there are some real beauts here. I love the blechnum – absolutely perfect. And I too spend a great deal of time studying liverworts, mosses and lichens. There is a perfection to them that just takes my breath away. But don’t you get condensation problems with ALL those indoor plans?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.