The evolution of styles has become the norm with the vast contrast of what was just a few short years ago. Out with soft, lush and green - in with texture, form and contrast. Several years ago succulents reemerged in the landscape in a big way. People gravitated toward these the same way you would toward a collector’s hobby. Looking for the unusual varieties that once were not available before. Filling pots, patios and counter spaces with the unique colors and textures only succulents can bring you. It has truly added a layered dimension to how people garden and has brought a new generation to the culture. Our weekly workshops at the nursery have evolved to include items like succulent wall art, floral design with succulents, succulent wreaths, kokedama with succulents. People have grown to love these plants and are interested in how to incorporate them in unique and unusual ways. Now cacti are beginning to take center stage in the world of haute horticulture lifestyle. With the growing availability and interest our tables at the nursery have gradually turned into retail space for cactus. This is another change that I have welcomed with open arms because it gives us another opportunity to be creative and explore the possibilities.
Cacti are an off step of succulents, meaning that most varieties of cactus are considered succulents. This classification comes from the ability of a plant to store water in an overly fleshy leaf, stem or root. No doubt a design trend influenced by years of drought conditions, succulents have become practical necessity because they require a fraction of the amount of water traditional plants do. Cactus is a general term used to describe a spiny plant with a fleshy stem. The anatomy of a cactus is fascinating. Its structure is perfectly designed to live in the most arid landscapes in the world. The stem is overdeveloped and fleshy to store as much water as possible. The spines are evolved leaves used to protect the plant from animals. Areoles are unique to cactus and are the small nodes you see spines and flowers emerge from. The surface of the stem is typically broken up by deep undulations and areoles to reduce the amount of sunlight on the plant. Everything about this plant can be evaluated on how it can perform the basic functions without wasting energy in a harsh climate.
If you are getting started with cactus in your potted arrangements or landscape here are a few you should be on the lookout for.
Echinocactus grusonii, Golden Barrel Cactus
Native to U.S. and Mexico these typically take on a rounded shape early in life, maturing to a slightly elongated form. Each plant has up to 40 ribs which the golden areoles and spines emerge from. Ring of bright yellow flowers appear on top of the cactus early summer months. These stay relatively small, maturing to three feet tall and wide. Plant them in a container or in the ground with contrasting blue foliage to highlight the color, or in mass for striking statement.
One of the largest families of cactus, varieties of Mammilaria are always a unique addition to your garden. Characterized by their ribs making a spiral pattern down the stem these typically stay small in stature (under ten inches), have a fuzzy appearance, and exhibit radiant flowers every year. Mix and match different shapes for an interesting potted cactus arrangement.
Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’, Spineless Prickly Pear
If you want to add a little cactus in your life, but don’t want to spines this is the way to go. The thick paddles make a unique addition to the landscape, not to mention their colorful flowers and fruit every year. The stems, flowers and fruit are all edible on this plant making is prized in its natural environment.