Cactus are not among my favorite garden plants. Boring. Prickly. Basically idle. Despite my view of them as mediocre, I have a cactus collection of more than two dozen. The plants have an advantage over the more fussy plants in my yard because they can live without me.
Most of my cacti include the night-bloomers that were a gift from the late Suzi Draper. Suzi invited me to her backyard many years ago when her backyard was filled with flowers from the mostly-dormant plants. By mostly, I mean these plants bloom for only one day, and then they have the audacity to put on their show at night.
Last year, I was too busy to notice the fuzzy protrusions that inched their way skyward from the prickly cactus cone. I came home one day and found the flaccid remains of what may have been an amazing, and brief show. The flowers smell like nothing else on this earth and attract night critters including pollinating moths.
Cacti aren’t kept because of their bloom. The flowers are a delightful surprise, as if beauty managed to sneak up on us. If you shop for a cactus at the downtown farmers market, you might think the plants are blooming all the time. Geffray’s Gardens — https://www.facebook.com/geffraysgardens — manages to display some of the best and the brightest. Why not sell them at the height of their beauty, when the buyer can enjoy the brief and beautiful color for a few days or more? However, the new cactus owner shouldn’t expect to see that again any time soon.
I think so.
We tend to appreciate things when they’re experienced only rarely, such as exorbitantly-priced tickets to a Pink concert, shooting stars, weddings, first kisses and Bigfoot sightings.
I think gardeners, and perhaps bird watchers, get to experience these fleeting “aha!” moments more often. We’re out there with our eyes open. We’re waiting for magic.
Last week, I was doing a routine once-through of the yard, hose in hand, mind appropriately somewhere else, when I came nose to needle with a rare-to-me cactus bloom. This was an entirely different plant than the descendants of the gift plant from Suzi Draper.
This particular cactus was a acquired from another reader, who invited me to see his cactus garden in the Chapman Neighborhood about 15 years ago. Once upon a time I plopped those cacti in a wheelbarrow filled with mostly sand and a bit of dirt.
The plant is certainly attractive, in its rugged way. Yet, this day it was glorious. The creamy, waxy petals were perfectly arranged, with a slightly different hue of petals creating the back row. In the center, tiny tentacles reached out, like the intense (yet fleeting) sparks of fireworks. The pattern of the interior seemed to invite me in, as if to say “Hey, I’m here. Now. Devour me.”
I was in a hurry that day, but I lingered. I grabbed my camera. I zoomed in to experience all this flower had to offer. As expected, the next day it was gone.
Ho hum. Nearby, the Vinca Rosea has been blooming all summer. The flowers keep fading and renewing. Every day I walk by. I nod, perhaps with appreciation, but not really.
That’s the way life is, I suppose. Something that will be gone tomorrow will receive more dedicated attention than a million roses on a faithful production schedule.