Visiting Victoria plant geek Nat Marcano at C&C Growers

I've known Victoria, BC plant geek Nat Marcano for many years. His blog, Stupid Garden Plants, is not only educational, but also wickedly entertaining. Nat has been too busy to post new content in a while (you know, work, life, etc.), but you can still catch up on all his previous posts. Fortunately, plant knowledge doesn't go out of date.

Yesterday I caught up with Nat at his place of work, C&C Growers in the Blenkinsop Valley, a tranquil and surprisingly rural area at the foot of Mt Douglas. As it turned out, it was only 7-minute drive from the Airbnb where we're staying! C&C is one of the largest wholesale growers of annuals and perennials on Vancouver Island, supplying retail outlets all over the island as well as on the lower mainland (including the great Vancouver area). The plants C&C produces may not be all that exciting to hard-core plant nerds, but they're the mainstay of many a garden: petunias, violas, begonias, sweet peas, bidens, fuchsias, lavender, and so on.

Nat has been with C&C for 12 years and has made his way up the ladder to a position where he is able to pursue his own projects in addition to his regular work. He is Mr Succulent, in charge of the hardy and non-hardy succulents C&C sells. He also propagates rarer succulents available only in small quantities (such as the seed-grown Aloe polyphylla you see below).

Nat is the kind of person you feel you've known forever
C&C Growers is located behind GardenWorks, a large retail nursery not affiliated with C&C. In the photo below, the bagged soil products on the left belong to GardenWorks; C&C Growers is down the hill behind the truck.

Green roofs on the office building. I think the plantings look quite nice considering the severe winter Victoria has had.

I can't quite remember how many greenhouses there are, but it was more than 20. This is the very beginning of the gardening season in Victoria, and plants are being moved to retailers at an increasingly faster pace. It's truly amazing to see a greenhouse packed with thousands upon thousands of plants:

Plant tags en masse make for wonderfully abstract images

How about these patterns?

LEFT: Impatiens niamniamensis  RIGHT: Oxalis 'Plum Crazy'

Begonia luxurians

Tiny tomato plugs

C&C both propagates their own material from cuttings and seeds and buys in plugs—tiny plants like the tomatoes above.

Nat does much of the succulent propagation. Sempervivums and sedums are particularly easy to grow from cuttings, he says, but orostachys, although visually similar to sempervivums, are much tougher, requiring a sharp knife to separate offsets from the mother plant. I'll be the first to admit that I wish I could grow sempervivums and orostachys, but they either melt in our summer heat or get destroyed by mealy bugs.

Just a few of the many Sempervivum varieties

Sempervivum (left), saxifrage (right)

Succulent garden containers are very popular among retail customers

Nat says they're fun to make. Each one is different.

Rhubarb just waking up

Nat's "mad lab" is this walled-off section of greenhouse. Here he propagates all kinds of plants, both succulent and non-succulent, that might never be big sellers but are appreciated by gardeners who want something less mainstream.

Not exactly rare but a favorite of Nat's, and I can see why: lady's purse (Calceolaria × herbeohybrida). It's much larger than, say, Kentish Hero.

Seed-grown Aloe polyphylla. Nat has definitely cracked the code on how to grow them beautifully.

Just like coastal California, Victoria seems to have the perfect climate for this challenging aloe. I've killed my fair share of them; they do great from fall through spring, but they hate our summer heat and often croak from one day to the next.

Other aloes from a seed mix

Large Agave attenuata, pampered to look as good as possible. People from, say, Santa Barbara and other coastal cities in Southern California probably don't quite understand how a plant that is as common as a weed for them could be so fascinating to people like us who have to fight tooth and nail to keep it going, especially in the winter.

This was the first time I got an inside peek at a commercial operation of this size, and it was eye-opening. The sheer number of plants in production was staggering, and it made me realize how many common annuals and perennials are bought every year. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing your visit with Nat! Fresh off my own visit to Little Prince of Oregon I know just how mesmerizing the repetition and patterns of all those plants and greenhouses can be. That center aloe in the "Other aloes from a seed mix" photo is stunning.

  2. Your "rolodex" of garden contacts is impressive to say the least, Gerhard. I envision a future in which you travel the country visiting growers and assorted plant addicts, writing and photographing your journey as you go. Thanks for the introduction to Nat's blog (even if he isn't active there) - I read his last post and he redeemed himself on the Carpobrotus testimonial with the Albuca spiralis discussion.

  3. The tag photos are way cool. What a great place to work, all those plants!

  4. What a great place to see how the hort business runs. Would love to get my hands on an Aloe polyphylla. Do you know where he sells his specialty plants?

  5. You lead a good life, Gerhard. Thanks for bringing us along again.


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