Throughout my gardening life there have been many plants that I tried to grow with middling success, until I observed them growing in the wild. Sarracenia (pitcher plants), venus fly trap (Dioneae muscipula), episcia, and ginger are just a few that come to mind. Seeing them in their natural habitat helped me understand something about the soil, light, moisture, or the communities they grow in that allowed me to better approximate their needs at home in my own garden and pots.
In June 2011 I travelled to Denver, Colorado to speak at the Denver Botanic Gardens. One of many things I was excited to see in the area were cold hardy cactus growing in the wild. I’ve been growing Opuntia humifusa and other hardy cacti in pots for years and had only recently began to have success with them in the ground. But I still felt that there was something that I was missing.
A pretty typical cactus garden with lots of space between plants. Note that I took this photo on the roof of one of the buildings at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Winter 2013. It’s not really a hardship compared to the thirtysomething odd winters of my lifetime past. No, my problems with this winter are entirely mental. And it’s not depression. I simply want out. I am full of energy and ready to start but winter laughs at my impatience. “You will wait until I am good and ready. Sucker.”
Today I am a caged animal. I’m howling and shaking the bars and smashing my feeble and pale, vitamin D deficient body at this winter prison. Friends of ours are headed to Cuba next week, and even though I once proclaimed that I would, “…sooner poke my eyeballs out of my head than stroll the beaches of the resort nightmare that is Varadero,” I still begged them to take me. And I would go. I would travel inside a large box and I would dance and stumble and shake across those beaches cackling like a madwoman.
Let’s look at some pictures I took on trips to Guama and Santiago de Cuba in winters past and pretend that we are there. Let’s imagine that there is a warm breeze that smells like jasmine and burning cane fields with a touch of plastic. We can feel the vitamin D surging through our skin as it comes back to life. And we are laughing and dancing; losing and then finding our minds in the sunshine.
As previously mentioned, I decided to stop posting weekly from my ongoing Herbaria project. However, I am still assembling the boxes and taking the photos each week and hope to make this into something bigger once the full year is up in May. Until then they will make an appearance now and again rather than weekly.
When I took this photo we had just experienced a big thaw and I thought it would be interesting to assemble the opuntias to see how they have been fairing up underneath snow. For eight of the nine plants this is their first winter in the ground, outdoors. I checked up on them today (another big thaw) and they are holding up nicely.
I am yet to write extensively about my experiments with hardy cactus in Toronto, Canada, but I promise there is more to come. What you see here represent the sum total that I have growing outdoors to date, but I hope to add many more this spring. The desire to fill up all available space with these ferocious beauties is strong — the trick is in finding them.
If you’d like to learn more about growing hardy cacti, I highly suggest “Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates” by Leo J. Chance. It’s a fantastic book full of useful information. I’ve gone back to explore its pages and drool over the photos many times since I purchased it.
Happy New Year!
I wrote my first year-end wrap-up post in 2010 and continued with it in 2011. As I sit here at my desk the end of 2012 [note that I began compiling this post just before the New Year], the garden buried underneath a blanket of snow, I feel compelled to continue the exercise, in part, because I can hardly remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, never mind what I did over the last year! I have a tendency to be onto the next thing the second the last thing is done. Exercises like this are a good memory jog and a way to slow down, look back, and remind myself of the things I accomplished in the recent past.
2012 began with a tranquil week in the desert or more specifically, coastal Baja California desert chaparral. Oh, how wonderful it smelled. There was rosemary in bloom and sunshine on my face. There was an organic farm with a head gardener who could match me in his enthusiasm for seeds and interesting edibles. We plunged our hands into warm soil and pulled out fresh carrots. We spent our nights cozying up to a fragrant wood fire and toasted our escape from the frozen, scentless world at home. I loved every minute of it.
We shuffled all of the remaining houseplants inside last Friday just before the hard frost returned. And so began the arduous process of stuffing potted plants into windows and underneath lights in preparation for a long winter indoors.
This year I decided to go for an all succulent mix in my office window, which wasn’t difficult given how many I have. I haven’t counted, but my best guess is TOO MANY. I usually put most of the agave into this prime spot where I can see them at a glance from my desk chair all winter long. However, this year I decided to mix things up a bit and have instead situated my new collection of unusual opuntia within reach.
A few of my tender paddle cactus (opuntia).
Chances are good that a few of the smaller plants will end up in the basement should the windowsill get too cold and draughty come mid-winter. I also plan to move this year’s Offfice Tomato Experiment 2012/13 once it gets too cold in the unheated front porch “greenhouse.”