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Sunset’s Midcentury Succulent Cover Story

“Once in the ’90s and again in the late ’20s, gardeners have turned to succulents with an intensity amounting to a craze. Now they are coming back into favor again, and this time it looks like something more than a temporary infatuation.” — Sunset magazine, June, 1954*

Fifty years ago, each hefty, half-inch-thick issue of Sunset magazine cost 20 cents and brought days of useful, entertaining reading about gardening, food and travel. My parents subscribed, so they no doubt read the June, 1954 cover story about succulents.

I’ve always assumed they surrounded their Southern CA ranch home with succulents because cuttings were free for the asking, and my father didn’t want to water the garden more than absolutely necessary.

An ad for Fiberglas awnings shows an idealized midcentury patio

But was it possible that my parents were onto…a trend? Well, no. The six-page cover story is mostly about container gardens for “the outdoor living areas of the Western house: its patios, lanais, decks, and paved areas…And if ever a plant was made for a pot, it’s the succulent.” Containers didn’t appear on my folks’ patio until the ’70s. With geraniums.

The succulent article’s 25 photos are B&W except for those shown on the cover. In 4,000 words, Sunset editors give an overview of succulents and their care, design ideas, and a “beginner’s collection” of about 50 varieties. Most are still fairly common, but Euphorbia valida is now E. meloformisGasteria maculata is now G. bicolor; and Cotyledon hemisphaerica is Adromischus hemisphaericus.

Mentioned but nearly unknown today are Echeveria rosea grandis and Sedum amecamecanum. “Do you mean Sedum americanum?” asked Google. Uh, not unless Sunset made one whopping typo. I found out that this stutter-named sedum has “fragile leaves”—doubtless why it’s not much in demand.

Kalanchoe flammea” in the illustrations sure looks like Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, shown here. Don’t you wish it had kept its earlier, more descriptive name?

Aloe arborescens (left), Aeonium haworthii (right)

The jades, aeoniums, aloes, ice plants and cacti in my parents’ garden were not necessarily those in the article—they grew Aloe arborescens and  Aeonium haworthii, for example. Perhaps even back then these were so common, the few succulent specialty nurseries that existed didn’t bother to offer them. (Hence a reason not to mention them, lest readers write in and say they’d tried to find them but couldn’t.)

Although it’s shown in the article, perhaps Sunset shouldn’t have bothered. The defining characteristic of Drosanthemum floribundum is lost in black and white.

As a little girl, I was proud to pronounce the name of this searing pink ice plant: “mesembryanthemum.” And I would be still, except it’s since become drosanthemum.

Now about that astonishing statement, “Once in the ’90s and again in the late ’20s, gardeners have turned to succulents with an intensity amounting to a craze…” Aren’t you curious what happened in the 1890s and 1920s? I am. Hm. I’ll see what I can find out…

*Special thanks to friend, colleague, and retired Sunset Senior Garden Editor Kathy Brenzel for presenting me with the 54-year-old issue. In case you’re wondering, all its content is copyrighted, so apart from short excerpts, I’d need permission to share it.  There’s no link to it because it’s not online.

Related info on this site:

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are my “nostalgia plants” because they remind me of…[Continue reading]
As for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident… [Read more]

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Eight Bold-Hued California Classics

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are “nostalgia plants,” because they remind me of my SoCA childhood. These California classics are as popular now as 40 years ago, for good reason: they’re easy-care, readily available, inexpensive, and add great texture and interest to Southwest gardens. The plants’ bold hues are reminiscent of a Mexican serape: purple, orange, yellow, red and white. All blend beautifully with large-leaved succulents, especially agaves, aloes and aeoniums. Look for more “Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 250-285.

In my garden, California poppies are annuals that return every spring. I love how their vivid orange contrasts with the silvery blue of Agave franzosinii. Surrounding the agave are fragrant white alyssum, which some people consider a weed because it reseeds so prolifically. I don’t know about you, but in my garden, that’s a plus.

Purple is the complement of yellow, and few combos are easier than euryops daisies and statice. The shrubs get leggy over time; keep them compact by cutting back in fall.

Also pretty in purple is pride of Madiera. Here it contrasts with orange-and-yellow African daisies, a red rose, and yellow-leaved euonymous. Once the flower show is over, the succulents at lower left (an aloe and an aeonium) become more prominent, because their sculptural shapes stand out against finer-texture foliage.

Rosea ice plant, a succulent from South Africa, has become as much of a California classic as the state’s flower. The poppies die back and the ice plant goes out of bloom, leaving a green mound for most of the year. But when they bloom together in spring…wow!

In my own garden, African daisies, rosea ice plant, red ivy geraniums (another classic) and euonymous surround several types of agaves.

Related Info on this Site:

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Make a Low-Light, “Scooped from the Garden” Succulent Arrangement

This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window. It makes a great gift, and all its components are readily available. Owner Jeanne Meadow displays it on her covered patio and waters it minimally (once a week in warm weather, once a month in cool).

Design by Megan Boone of Nature’s Containers, Temecula, CA, for Jeanne Meadow. 

You’ll need:

One rectangular 9×12 bonsai pot  (available at garden centers or online). A matte-finish, earth-toned container helps suggest that the composition came straight from the garden.

Cover the pot’s drain holes with pebbles or squares of screen so soil doesn’t fall out. Fill the pot nearly to the top with succulent potting soil and add:

Upper right corner: Aloe nobilis ‘Variegata’ rosette. Variegates like less sun and tend stay smaller than their solid-green cousins.

Lower right: A green sempervivum. This one’s fuzzy texture makes leaf edges look outlined with white.

Lower middle: Haworthia attenuata (zebra plant). It has intriguing raised white ridges and repeats the fountainlike shape of other plants.

Lower left: A  Sempervivum arachnoideum (cobweb houseleek) cluster fills the corner, repeats the solo sempervivum, and offers interesting texture accented with white.

Upper left: Gasteria bicolor. A little sun will bring out the red in its leaves. Its sculptural and its whitish dots serve as a subtle counterpoint to white on other plants.

Upper middle: A peperomia provides contrasting texture and serves as filler. Without it, the composition would be too regimented—less loose and natural. Any similarly sized and shaped succulent, such as Othonna capensis, will work as well.

Rocks: These three from Jeanne’s collection are varying sizes and shapes, are interesting in their own right, and are in scale with the plants. They also create planting pockets, making it possible to vary the elevation slightly.

Topdressing: By covering bare dirt, crushed rock gives a finished look and helps hold in soil moisture. And in keeping with the natural theme, this warm-toned gravel appears to have crumbled from the larger rocks.

Note that the gasteria is in bloom, but this isn’t about flowers. It showcases foliage, texture and form, as any good succulent container garden should!

Related Info:

See more of Megan Boone’s designs on my website.

Topdressings for succulent pots

YouTube: Learn more about Jeanne’s rocks and topdressings

Find additional succulent container ideas on my Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest pages.

Jeanne’s garden is also featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

Get Tips from a Top Succulent Container Garden Designer (Melissa Teisl).


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Megan Boone’s Vintage Succulent Containers

IMG_3996_annotated_resizedMegan Boone of Nature Containers Vintage Garden Art designs in three dimensions, using cast-off objects to showcase succulents and vice-versa. As exemplified by the pick above, Megan brings elegance and whimsy to her artistry by reinterpreting the forms and lines of utilitarian objects. I love how the aloe perfectly repeats the shape and color of the rusty metal, and also emphasizes its arc.

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The Temecula, CA, artist has teamed up with nearby Water Wise Yard Design & Decor to enhance their outdoor showroom with one-of-a-kind container gardens.  Those shown here are just a sample; Megan’s continually coming up with something new made from something old.

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Megan told me that her choice of stacked crassulas (Crassula perforata, above) coincidentally echoed the wire basket handle. Perhaps, but talented designers often do things subliminally.

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Hm. What ARE these containers? They look familiar but I can’t quite place them.

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Doesn’t the wheel below suggest a succulent wreath? Note the texture of the metal and how Megan left some of it unplanted to show the criss-cross pattern.

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I’m not normally a fan of shoes planted with succulents, but the boot below spoke to me. The lines, proportions and colors really work.

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Love this planted teakettle, too. The crassulas suggest steam; the senecio, flowing water.

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Wouldn’t the wood palettes below and the planted window frame make great vertical accents for a garden or patio? They could also serve as privacy screens.IMG_3915annotated_resized

 

I couldn’t resist showing you Leroy, Megan’s bloodhound. The velvet-eared puppy hangs out with her at work, regarding her with soulful eyes. Clearly Leroy knows that his coppery coat contrasts beautifully with Senecio mandraliscae. Perhaps he’s her muse.

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Related info on this site:

Make a Succulent Dish Garden for Indoors. Design by Megan Boone for Jeanne Meadow.
Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer (Melissa Teisl’s designs)

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All About Echeverias: Succulent Roses That Last

Is any plant lovelier than a ruffled echeveria? These rosette succulents are soaring in popularity, and new cultivars are being introduced all the time. Look for echeverias throughout my books and in many of my videos.

We have brides partly to thank—they prefer bouquets that match the blue of their eyes, or that come in hues of aqua, dove, lilac, silvery pink or celadon. Echeverias offer all those colors plus a bonus: They can be planted afterwards as living mementos of the occasion.

Keep in mind that new leaves grow from the centers of rosettes and lowest leaves eventually wither. So to tidy echeverias over time, old leaves should be removed. If you don’t like looking at the resulting exposed stems, snip off the heads and replant as cuttings. If you set the old plant aside, it may form new little rosettes along the stem. These also can be removed and planted. (The thicker the stem, the more likely it will produce offsets.)

Echeverias will grow toward greatest sun exposure, which is especially noticeable when bloom stalks lean. Echeverias grown in low light will have elongated leaves (from trying to expose more surface to the sun) and will revert to green. Expert Dick Wright advises that two hours of full sun daily is ideal. Age also is important; young plants may not display the ruffled edges, layered leaves and the carruncling (bumpiness) of mature ones.

Don’t miss my YouTube series featuring renowned Echeveria hybridizer and grower Dick Wright:
Echeverias #1: Meet Dick Wright

Echeverias #2: Dick Wright on Echeveria Hybrids (View photos of cultivars shown in this video on this site.)

Echeverias #3: Dick Wright on How to Grow Echeverias

Please Note: Dick Wright wants to thank everyone who has contacted him as a result of the YouTube series. He’s been swamped with inquiries, so please be patient. “It’s wonderful, but I can’t keep up with them all,” he says. Providing a list of plants is difficult because, “I don’t know what we’ll have from week to week.” His son Kraig is often away, so “I’m a crew of one,” Dick adds with a laugh. Moreover he had an accident—cut his finger and had to go to the ER—but he’s doing fine. “I heal real fast.” Dick will be 90 in Sept., 2018.

 

Related Info ~

In My Books:

Designing with Succulents, pp. 208-211

Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 95-97

Succulents Simplified, pp. 162-169, Step-by-step: Make a Special Occasion Succulent Bouquet of Echeverias and Roses:

My Online Class: 

On this Site:

100+ Echeveria Photos, Labeled

Also on my YouTube Channel: 

 

 

 

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The Colors of Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta health and fitness spa in Tecate, Baja California, across the border east of San Diego, offers the best of Mexico’s food, climate and ambience. It’s also famous for mature gardens that offer a wonderfully immersive experience. The Ranch is a great getaway within half a day’s drive from nearly anywhere in SoCa. Amid the lush landscaping are guest casitas (bungalows), gyms, library, gift shop, dining hall, and much more. Ornamental plants include Mediterraneans such as rosemary, Australian trees (melaleucas), native oaks and palms, and succulents large and small. The majority are minimally watered (or not at all) and are well suited to the region’s arid climate. Below are a few favorite photos from a recent visit. Bienvenidos al Rancho!

In the lobby, stained glass windows by famed Julian artist/sculptor James Hubbell overlook a cactus-and-agave boulder garden.

Agave shawii (Shaw’s agave) is native to the Baja peninsula. When backlit, teeth along leaf margins glow shades of yellow, orange and red.

One reason I went in April was to see the Aloe striata (coral aloes) in bloom. They’re beautifully juxtaposed with a similarly red-orange ice plant.

Incorporated into the door of the art studio is a stained-glass-and-brass butterfly.

A mosaic by artists Linda Weill and Tilly Nylin near the concierge office depicts a garden of cacti and succulents. That’s a scrub jay at lower right.

Another mosaic holds a blackboard with inspirational sayings that change daily. Its top echoes the outline of mountains nearby.

At La Cocina Que Canta (the Kitchen that Sings), dining tables are decorated with Mexican textiles and folk art.

Want to see more? Be sure to watch my YouTube video, “The Succulents of Rancho La Puerta.”

Related Info on this site:

Even if you live in drought-parched Southern CA, garden plants that don’t need to be watered are not as hard to come by as you might think…[Continue reading]
Agaves are rosette-shaped succulents native to the Americas. There are dozens of species of Agave… [Continue reading]
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Meet Debra Lee Baldwin: Author, Designing with Succulents

San Diego Voyager: Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Lee Baldwin. Thanks for sharing your story with us Debra. So, let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

I grew up on an avocado ranch in south Escondido on a hilltop overlooking San Pasqual Valley. As a child, I helped my father tend the hillside garden surrounding our home. Whenever I smell ripe plums or wet cement, I’m back in that garden. He explained fascinating things, like why nasturtium leaves repel water, what black-and-orange tarantula wasps are up to, and how to grow long-stemmed roses.

He also grew many succulents because cuttings were free from friends, and succulents need much less water than other ornamental plants. But I didn’t see these fleshy-leaved, water-storing plants as special. For one thing, there were not nearly as many varieties available then as now.

I fell in love with succulents while photographing cacti, aloes, agave and other varieties as a scout for Sunset Magazine, because of the plants’ sculptural geometry. I transformed my own hard-to-garden yard with these resilient plants, and through books, public speaking, YouTube videos, social media, and articles online and in print, I now advise others how to cultivate low-water landscapes with “plants that drink responsibly.”

 

My three bestselling books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified, all from the nation’s leading publisher of gardening books, Timber Press.

ACHIEVEMENTS:
— Author of the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.
— Magazine contributor to Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design and more.
— Succulent expert quoted by the Associated Press, Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, KPBS TV, Garden America, Garden Design, and others.
— Producer of 100+ YouTube videos with over 3,000,000 views.
— Presenter at venues that include Epcot Center; the Cactus and Succulent Society of America convention; flower-and-garden shows in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco; and botanical gardens, universities and horticultural groups nationwide.
— Profiled in Garden Design as the publication’s Spring, 2016 “Ground Breaker.”
— Instructor at Craftsy, the leading online purveyor of how-to videos in the US. Debra’s popular 7-lesson class is “Stunning Succulent Arrangements.”

AWARDS:
— Literary: Nineteen first-place awards from the Garden Writers Association of America, the Society of Professional Journalists and Authors, and the San Diego Press Club.
— Lifetime achievement: San Diego Horticultural Society “2017 Horticulturist of the Year.”

Has it been a smooth road?
I was a single mom when my son was ages 7 to 11. That instilled in me the desire to make a living at what I’m good at and love doing. It wasn’t easy, but it was essential to developing the person I was meant to be.

From 2000 to 2010 I suffered from a chemical imbalance that caused an anxiety disorder. I didn’t take medication because of the side effects. So to avoid being miserable, I stayed focused on the present moment via research, writing and photography. The result was a book that launched a worldwide gardening trend: Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007). My therapist at the time told me, “You’re the highest achieving person with an anxiety disorder that I’ve ever seen.” I’m fortunate that I was able to handle it in a positive and productive way.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Debra Lee Baldwin story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m proud and honored to have played a unique role in the history of horticulture and landscape design and to have been able to develop my skills in creative ways that help others, not only to use yards more sensibly, but also to enjoy them more fully.

You might describe me as an award-winning garden photojournalist who launched worldwide interest in succulents in 2007 with her first book, Designing with Succulents. I’m widely known as the “Queen of Succulents.” I’m especially proud of the book’s completely revised and updated second edition, released in 2017.

My mission is to increase awareness and appreciation of “plants that drink responsibly” through my books, articles, photos, videos, social media and more. During my 25-year career as a garden communicator, I have discovered and shared cutting-edge design ideas and interviewed renowned experts. To an ever-increasing fan base, I present information with the goal of “entertaining and enlightening in equal measure.”

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It’s becoming politically incorrect to have a water-thirsty front yard and a lawn that isn’t used for anything but greenery. Yards are subject to fashion just like clothing, and furniture, and now we’re seeing more and more succulent landscapes replacing the turf.

But succulent gardens are not always done well. There’s a learning curve, and doubtless we’ll see smarter plant choices as homeowners and landscapers gain knowledge. For example, century plants (Agave americana) may be free for the asking, but they’re a poor choice unless you have a lot of land. All too often people put these plants, when small, alongside their driveways or in curb strips, little realizing that century plants eventually get as big as Volkswagens, and are extremely difficult to remove. Not only are they huge and heavy, the plants have sharply toothed, inflexible leaves. But this isn’t to say you shouldn’t plant agaves. There are numerous other kinds that make excellent garden plants.

I think we’ll see the trend toward low-water plants arrive at its inevitable conclusion: cactus. All cacti are succulents, but people haven’t wanted cacti in their gardens. That’s changing. The plants are supremely low-water—they get by on rainfall alone—and are beautiful when backlit. (Spines of many varieties are translucent and glow when low sun illuminates them.) Again, there’s a learning curve. People have yet to learn which cacti to stay away from because they’re too treacherous and to realize that there exist wonderful spineless varieties.

Contact Info:

 

Related Info on this site:

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Ten Top Trends for Succulent Plants, Gardens and Design

Apr. 24, 2018 ~ If it seems that succulents are moving at warp speed in the world of gardens, nurseries and designers, they are. And as a journalist, I’m ON it. My predictions for succulent plants, gardens and design will help you stay on top of trends and maybe even make money from the plants you love.

Btw, I wrote this before all those native dudleyas were taken from Northern CA by tourists from overseas. Shocking. Goes to show how a little-known genus is gaining attention (see #8 below).

This is Part Two of my earlier post: Ten Predictions for the Succulent Decor Marketplace.

1. As no-water cactus gardens command the design scene, all eyes will be on high-end, professionally orchestrated, Arizona residential landscapes.

2. In Western gardens, large tree aloes, beaucarneas, Dracaena draco and columnar cacti will be sought-after focal points, commanding five figures per specimen.

3. Also popular will be golden barrels, blue baseball bats (Pilosocereus pachycladus), Cereus peruvianus‘ Monstrosus’ and any long-spined or filamented cacti (such as Pachycereus pringlei and Cleistocactus strausii) that glow beautifully when backlit.(For examples see Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp 192-200.)

4. Beginning with collectors, the grafting of one type of cactus onto another will become fashionable, leading to groups on social media and a new market segment.

5. In southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south, retail and hospitality destinations— such as theme parks, resorts, botanical gardens, restaurants and shopping malls—will hire celebrity designers to create innovative themed succulent gardens that boost traffic, PR and social-media shares.

6. Opuntia (paddle cactus, prickly pear) cultivars will be acquired by homeowner-collectors for the color and variety of the flowers, especially those with prolific, multicolored, long-lasting blooms.

7. Nurseries, having to compete with homeowners who give succulent cuttings away via “Free” signs and neighborhood sites, will offer membership-based, trim-and-share services.

8. Dudleyas native to Mexico and CA will be THE sought-after rosette succulents, unfortunately leading to the poaching of rare species from the wild. Above: Watch my video of D. brittonii last week in Baja. 

9. The indoor, urban, and cold-climate markets for succulents will continue to increase. The money’s in haworthias, gasterias, dwarf aloes, sempervivums, and those genera’s tough-and-colorful hybrids; as well as windowsill mammillarias, parodias, rebutias, and anything monstrose or crested.

10. By 2020, spineless opuntia and other minimally spined cacti—the bigger, the better—will be the hottest plants for dry gardens in southern CA and beyond.

 

Related Info

On this site: 

Why Grow Paddle Cacti? My 16 Reasons

April 22, 2018— Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear… [Continue reading]

Ten Predictions for the Succulent Decor Marketplace

April 13, 2018— In fabrics, dishes and other decorative items, rosette succulents such as echeverias have… [Continue reading]

 

Dec. 27, 2017 — Whenever I’m asked how to find certain succulents or services that are in short supply, I wonder why so few offer them[Continue Reading]

Is Cactus the New Black?

Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in… [Continue reading]


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The Joys of Cholla (Cylindropuntia)

In Baja recently I was showing off my knowledge of native succulents when one “got” me. The friend who was taking a video with my phone gasped when I unsuccessfully tried to set a 3-inch-long chunk of cholla (“choy-ah”) cactus back onto a boulder. It resolutely clung to my fingers.

When I tried to shake it off, the cholla hopped into a more secure position. Next I tried to remove it with my other hand, and spines stuck to that one too. Wow, what a determined little cactus!

I had help removing these cholla spines. Watch the 20-second tweezered extraction.

Cylindropuntia, of which there are 30+ species, are sometimes referred to as “jumping chollas” or “horse cripplers.” Like many other succulents, chollas reproduce via both seeds and cuttings. Cylindrical joints detach readily from the mother plant and cling with astonishing tenacity to whomever or whatever brushed them. They take root where they fall off, usually far enough from the original plant so they’re not competing with it for water, sun or nutrients.



My Mexico experience reminded me of when I addressed the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society, where I made the mistake of saying I don’t recommend that anyone grow cholla. “Could there be a more unfriendly plant?” I asked the group. Well, you’d think I’d insulted the entire state of Arizona.

“There are more than a dozen different species,” members told me, each more eager than the last to extol the virtues of cylindropuntias. “Cholla is beautiful.”

“This is my cholla comb,” one told me, pulling a small comb from his shirt pocket. “If I get spines in my clothing or skin, I just comb them out.”

A mourning dove nests in Cylindropuntia fulgida at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson.

“Cholla is an important part of the desert ecology,” said another. “Nesting birds feel safe in it. Snakes, coyotes and other predators can’t get to them or their young.” Birds aren’t alone in using cholla as a security enhancement, she added. “I have it below my bedroom window to keep burglars out.”

Intrigued, I went on a cholla hunt. I found this orange-flowered one at Tohona Chul botanic garden near Tucson. Not bad looking, considering it survives broiling desert heat and temperatures below freezing, with no water for months.

Cholla comes in more colors than I’d assumed—not just its flowers, but even its spines and skin. The specimen of Cylindropuntia versicolor above has green, rose-red and maroon segments, and translucent, rust-red flowers.

Cylindropuntia bigelovii is commonly called teddy bear cholla. Look how fuzzy it is, and its cute little ears. Like all chollas—like most spiny cacti, for that matter—it’s beautiful backlit.


The flower petals of teddy bear cholla are buttery yellow tipped in rose-red.

Cylindropuntia spinosoir, illuminated by late afternoon sun in a Tucson suburb, glows pink.

Cylindropuntia fulgida var. mammillata (chain fruit cholla) forms ropy, pendant strands. Doesn’t this one look like a face?

Diamond cholla at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Cylindropuntia ramosissima, aka diamond cholla, has pencil-thin stems lined with glittering, translucent toothpicks.

I pretended to hug a Cylindropuntia fulgida, then sent this photo to my new friends at the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society.

As for my Mexico adventure, what was it about those spines that made them stick? Like those of all cacti, cholla spines are modified leaves. But cholla spines differ in that they have papery sheaths lined with microscopic barbs. Try to pull one from your skin, and you’ll discover it’s well anchored. Sure it’ll come out, but if a bit of barb remains, you’ll feel it whenever pressure is applied to the area. If that’s just too annoying, you may have to dig it out with a needle.

“Living and working around cactus is an art that requires the balance of a dancer, the strength of a weight lifter and a high tolerance for pain,” one of my favorite authors, Maureen Gilmer, wrote in the Desert Sun. “In time we become immune to the arrows of these New World beauties, and in all our homes are the tools of the trade. These are the magnifying glass, sharp needles and tweezers with a bit of Neosporin afterwards if the going gets bloody.”

Fortunately, “my” cholla’s spines were shallowly embeded. The only thing that stung was my pride.

 

Related Info

On this site:

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like [Continue reading]


Is Cactus the New Black?

Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in [Continue reading]

Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in [Continue reading]

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Why Grow Paddle Cacti? DLB’s 16 Reasons

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like ping-pong paddles. New pads grow from older ones after rains drench the roots and help fuel new growth. Typically these new pads, and flowers that turn into fruit, form along the edge of the pads and orient themselves for maximum sun exposure. For garden plants, I prefer spineless or near-spineless varieties, like Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’, O. ‘Burbank’s Spineless’ and O. ficus-indica. These grow from 3 to 7 feet tall.

I also have dwarf varieties in my miniature landscape, which I designed to suggest a Latin American mountain town. Photos of it and the specimen below are in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.

Flowers of opuntias are spectacular, and open in succession. So although the blooms last only a day or so, the show lasts a week or more.

As with all cactus, opuntia spines are modified leaves. There’s a good reason to grow prickly varieties—whether Opuntia species or others, they’re breathtakingly beautiful when late afternoon or early morning sun backlights translucent spines.

Certain varieties, such as O. Santa-rita, have purple pads. It’s been my observation that these tend to attain their best color in desert gardens; here in Southern CA, the pads stay green with a purple tinge.

I grow an intriguing variety that has beard-like white filaments, but I recently had to trash much of the plant because scale insects snuck under the threads and colonized the pads unnoticed. I did manage to keep a few unblemished ones, which I treated with Safer soap and replanted.

Opuntias are easy to start from pads; simply slice or break one off and stick it in the ground. Knock one off, and where it falls it’ll form roots.

The egg-shaped fruit of opuntias is edible and a colorful garden enhancement.

Opuntias are unique among cacti in that they have two types of spines—needles and glochids. The latter often is nearly invisible, barbed, and will go home with you if you touch it. Glochids create fuzzy polka-dots on the paddles of Opuntia microdaysis. Beautiful…but beware.

Because cactus pads are moisture-storage organs filled with a mucilaginous gel and protected by a tough, waxy skin, they’re slow to catch fire. Opuntias not only make great firebreak plants in wildfire-prone areas, they’re efficient at conserving water and need no irrigation other than rainfall.

Tender new opuntia pads (nopalitos) are sold in Mexican markets. They’re good in salads and can be cooked as a vegetable dish that tastes like green beans.

Let me know what you think. I always enjoy hearing from you! ~ Debra 

 

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