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The Peculiar Virtues of a Cactus Garden

When we speak of gardens, we all imagine different things.

Some of us conjure up images of wild jungle-like spaces with towering palm trees and human-size ferns taking over ponds, or secret paths winding under pockets of cool shade from giant oaks and dappled light created by ancient cedar trees. These kinds of garden lovers are the dreamers and adventurers of the horticultural world and, like their gardens, they prefer not to be tamed.

Their fingernails, toe nails, nostrils and brows are all marked with the soil they excitedly embrace with a whole heart. They are easily distracted by the call of a bird – one wonders if they have not created their garden solely for the enjoyment of these winged vagabonds. As a place for the birds to enjoy and for the garden lover to enjoy the birds. You can detect this with the countless bird baths, handmade suet balls and seed feeders scattered around the greenery. And the chairs set up beside them.

Some of us settle on an image of a prim and proper English rose garden, manicured and sculpted like the people who saunter through it in their fancy garden hats. These types of garden lovers always wear gloves and quite like to sip tea while seeing to the perfect petals that swim out of cherished rose buds. They are also fond of rolling evergreen lawns and fountain statues of angels with water flowing from their mouths. They would never use the word spewing although it is more fitting than flowing, and they would never pick out the other kind of angel statues, with water emanating from a lower orifice. Ducks are fond of following them around, awaiting a crumb from all those cucumber sandwiches.

Some of us envisage the greatest of vegetable gardens. These are the dungaree-wearers, who like to practice the art of staying in the moment while digging new little homes for their Swiss chard and fennel bulbs. They bring their whole selves to the garden each day, while sprinkling water over their herbs and harvesting their broccoli florets. Gardening is about more than mere enjoyment for them. It is a way of life. A turning away from the consumerism around them and an embrace of the concept of living off the earth.

Obviously, there are different degrees of veggie garden growers, but no man or woman grows an edible plant without the intention of eating it or selling it to someone else to eat. Their plants are what they stand for, they are all their hopes and beliefs tilled in between the dirt and roots and insects of the undergrowth, and watching them grow into thick, flourishing crops ready for harvest is enough to make them pop a wheelie with their wheelbarrows and dance in the buff with their spades as great warrior spears.

I am definitely this kind of loon. But I am also, deeply, called by the sparseness of a cactus garden.

The one day surprises that bloom out of the tall green pillars. Their covering of hairs, spines or barbed bristles. The unbelievable variety and kooky names – like peyote, prickly pear, hedgehog cactus, the Old Man of Perufee, Mother-in-Law’s-Chair, Horses’ Teeth, Elephant Feet and Bushman’s Grape.

Perhaps this, below, is why I consider myself a cactus person…

But it is also the peace of a cactus garden, the quiet, the honesty, the individuality and the character. The Sheilam Cactus and Succulent Nursery near Robertson is one of the best places in the country to see all 2000 or so species together and it is recognised by authorities as one of the finest collections of specimen plants.

I’d say the cactus gardeners among us are likely of the glove-wearing tribe. They also have the ability to see the beauty in the unordinary, in the unconventional. They are individualists, highly independent and, much like the cactus, often a little hard on the outside, but with a heart that supports and creates life. They hold a significant and lively interior world inside their spiky walls. That is their allure, their mystery. That is their peculiar virtue.

Here is a look at the Sheilam Cactus and Succulent Nursery from our latest visit. But we’ll be back.

 

 

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