Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Prickly business: a Southern California specialty nursery
Southern California might well be considered the Mecca of all cactophiles: Mexico may boast the largest number of species, and of course South Africa postively bristles with succulents (albeit not cacti), but Southern California boasts dozens of dazzling public gardens displaying fantastic succulent collections (not just the Huntington, btw), and more specialty, wholesale, and retail nurseries growing and selling succulents than you can shake an ocotillo cane at. I was lucky enough to visit several of these during my recent lecture tour: I was captivated by Prickly Palace. The picture above was not taken at that palace, exactly, but in the private garden of the owners...an absolutely astonishing garden full of all manner of spectacular specimen succulents grown to perfection. As I looked up and down their street full of conventional gardens (lawns, blobby bushes) that could have been in New Jersey or Idaho (whose owners pay untold thousands of dollars to keep their dullish gardens surviving on life support) when they too could have a desert garden full of beauty. Are people nuts or what?
Buck Hemenway (above) and his wife (whom you shall meet shortly) started this nursery to support their serious addiction to all things succulent. I must qualify in the latter category, since they were very hospitable during my recent visit. Here you can see Buck pulling aside one of the many aloes and other goodies he gathered and gave Denver Botanic Gardens for our collections (gratis, incidentally). In addition to being a nurseryman, Buck has dedicated countless hours in service to many affiliates of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, as well as serving on the National board of that organization in many capacities. People like him are the ones who keeping the flickering flame of civilization glowing.
A glimpse of one of their growing areas, this one featuring all manner of cacti--in all sizes. I suspect many of the plants you see are specimens they are growing and perhaps grooming to put into one of the innumerable Plant Shows sponsored by CSSA throughout Southern California. Buck and Yvonne are frequent (and extremely successful) entrants in these shows. Moreover, they usually sell plants at them as well. Buck is likely to be conducting the auction at one of these meetings (he did so at two I happened to attend), to which they donated many of the best plants. And, oh yes, Yvonne will be outbidding others at the same auction...I think you call people like this "players".
One little corner of one of their houses where they cluster their non-cactus succulents...we shall take a a closer look at that out-of-focus red blur in the foreground next...
Here is Yvonne, a full partner to Buck in the business. I think her smile speaks volumes. She is accompanied by Monadenium coccineum, a delightful, everblooming succulent in Euphorbiaceae. I notice I brought one of those back (the plant, not Yvonne silly!). I enjoyed chatting with Yvonne about many things, especially the wonderful plans she and Buck have to move to Calitzdorp, a village in the Little Karoo of South Africa in a few years: their appetite for travel made me feel like a tyro.
Another flashy succulent I found there--a spectacular cultivar of Adenium. It's amazing these are not more often seen as house plants!
They had extensive beds outdoors for propagating larger succulents--such as this mass of Agave. Their Aloe beds will be in peak bloom over the next rew months: I may have to find my way back there soon...
They had flats full of treasures, such as this outlandish Ariocarpus agavoides, an amazing miniature cactus that reminds me more of a Lewisia than an agave.
And of course, they had to have the requisite Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii): you never know when some Chinese plutocrat might drop in looking to replace the sentinel lions on his front stoop.
My one glimmer of schadenfreude occured when Buck told me that his Delosperma sphalmanthoides (pictured here) had never bloomed. Until I realized his plant was twice the size of any I have managed to overwinter. This was growing in a special area (with many tables and some overhead protection) where they cluster hundreds--maybe thousands--of special treasures, many of them South African bulbs, which they wish to keep track of. That treasure trove merits its own Blog posting--except that my camera had trouble focusing through my hot tears of envy!
Buck and Yvonne: I salute you, and thank you for all you do for the world of horticulture and its wandering minstrels like myself. Long may your reign in your Prickly Palace--whether in Riverside county or the Little Karoo!