The Cactus Patch
Volume 11       March 2008      Number 3

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

New Years was quietly celebrated at home. Things remained quiet until the 8th when I gave my talk on “The Karoo in Botswana” (see last month’s Cactus Patch). Then on the 9th the Agave stalk in front of the house came down. It was 34 ’ 8” tall.

On the 11th we (Anne, Polly & I) set off on a trip to the south. Heading west we passed through Tehachapi and had lunch at Kramer Junction. From there we did go south to Palm Springs. There we visited the Moorten Botanic Garden. It is old and showing its age. The signs and labels need redoing and the plants have a tired look. We then had a snack at the nearby Rock Garden Café & Bakery. We then spent a long time finding the World Mark development at Indio where Anne had a suite for us. Even after phoning we had bad directions and the road it’s on was too new to be on the map. It was dark by the time we finally found it. Then we went back into town and had dinner at Cactus Jacks.

Next day we drove over to Palm Desert and walked thru the Living Desert a combined Zoo and Botanic Garden. It was good to see that the animal emphasis is on rare species which are disappearing in the wild. The plants were good with the most notable exception of the Madagascar section. There were large specimens of rare plants which were dead or dieing. The plan to protect them from the frost obviously didn’t work. Years ago I visited the “Domes” in Milwaukee where they have kept a large collection of Madagascar plants - in greenhouses. There they were quite healthy.

We had an early supper at the Elephant Bar and then went to the McCallum Theater for a live production of “Hairspray”. The seats were too narrow and most uncomfortable. Ordinarily I prefer live shows, but this time I was glad we had seen the movie first. The production was good, with lively songs, but the story line would have been hard to follow without knowing it already.

Next day we drove through Joshua Tree National Park from south to north. At the south entrance there were an amazing number of flowers in bloom including ocotillo and annual succulent euphorbias and mustard relatives. We found these latter two when we stopped to investigate red “bushes” I had noticed, which turned out to be barrel Cacti. We tried to find an elephant shaped rock Polly & I had seen at Hidden Valley years ago, but failed. We then proceeded to the town of Joshua Tree and stayed with Polly’s sister Ginny.

We got up early on the 14th and fought LA traffic to the airport where Anne caught a flight to Hawaii. She is visiting our sister Lora who lives on the island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. Polly & I then returned to Bakersfield where I read the summer ‘06 issue of “Nature Conservancy”. This issue has an article on controlling the cactus moth with the sterile male technique in Alabama’s Dauphin Island to protect the Prickly Pears. It is interesting because in South Africa they introduced this moth so the caterpillars would destroy such plants! I even found them burrowing in my cacti in Lesotho. Can one country sue another for introducing “pests”?

Going back to Cornwall: on the 20th of July Hazel took us to Heligan. This is an estate garden which was at its peak at the beginning of the 1900s. Then labor was unavailable during two world wars and the garden became an overgrown mess. Tim Smit discovered this in 1990 and led a successful effort to restore Heligan and reveal what such a garden looked like. Among the vegetables in one section were plants of Cardoon and “ Oca”. This latter is a tuberous-rooted species of a succulent Oxalis (Oxalis tuberosa). The succulent house was disappointingly small and not open. Other interesting features were a Giant and Mud Maiden. For more information I recommend “The Lost Garden of Heligan Handbook” 2002 by the garden staff, Pentawan, St. Austell, Cornwall. It has an extensive bibliography for those interested. There are also videos and DVDs. The web site is

After the garden we drove to the coast at Mevagissey to get a look at the south side of Cornwall. At St. Dennis we observed a Clay Quarry still being dug out. From here we returned to Newquay and shopped at Oxfam and other charity shops. This was Polly’s request, but I was happy to find they had a good stock of interesting books. In the evening we went to Cubert for a final dinner at “The Anvil”.

Next month I will write about Wakehurst and the Millenium Seed Bank.

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa)

Mud Giant

Clay Quarry

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