The Cactus Patch
February 2017

A Very Busy Season
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

In addition to over eating, we had lots of outdoor activity lately.  Anne decided to have a “shed” put in as a sewing room.  It is large and tall with windows and a skylight.  Unfortunately it has a wall which replaces a bit of the fence between our properties.  (The fence needed repair anyway.)  This means I had to move plants away from this area and now will have to move them back. 

Our front yard has had a bit of lawn taken out and I have put in a red bud tree, Euphorbia xanthi and some wild flowers.  I have also added five agaves which were freebies at Fresno to an expanded Agave garden.  Daniel gave me a bag of rocks for Christmas and I am adding them to the Agaves.  At first I thought they were dull gray, but when the dust was washed off of them, they proved to be quite colorful.  All of this is aided by the plentiful rain lately.

In addition to the flashing star inherited from my mother and a lighted chili wreath, this year we had a string of blue LEDS on the Agave flower stalk.  John threw a line up and we bought a string with a solar panel so they don’t attach to the house.

On Christmas Eve we went to Anne’s and had tamales and pozole. Next day we had dinner at Lora’s with ham and turkey and all the works.  We exchanged presents.  It was the usual chaos with too many people, too much food etc.  On New Year’s Eve we again ate at Anne’s and played games.  I led the singing at midnight with my clarinet. Sunday we met at Lora’s for more food.  On Monday we stayed home and watched the Rose Parade.  I was pleased to see a lot of the floats had wildlife themes.  I particularly liked the “flock” of Monarch butterflies.

On the 5th we heard Eunice Thompson speak in Fresno on the Chihuahua Desert. She had a late start due to a medical emergency, but managed to present well.  I don’t think we needed to see every Agave lecheguilla and she never identified the species on all the Euphorbia xanthii.  Otherwise, it was a very interesting tour.

On the 6th I noticed a beautiful mushroom in the lawn at Polly’s sister Nancy’s house.  It looked like the death cap Amanita phalloides!

On the 10th, of course, we watched Keith Taylor’s presentation on Winter Growers.  He had fantastic plants and, of course, his “home-made” pots.  There were lots of his pots for sale as well.

On the 15th we celebrated Lora’s birthday at Tahoe Joe’s which was crowded and took a long time.  We did better next morning at Denny’s which gave Lora a free breakfast.  That evening we had cheesy tomato soup at Anne’ and then went to Lora’s for a lesson in painting.  None of our works matched the example we were supposed to copy, but there were remarkable outcomes.  Anne produced Agaves instead of pine trees and Polly’s mountain was a remarkable dome with a waterfall.  Instead of a bird, I painted a bat and I added a mushroom and Euphorbia.

Finally, I promised some comments on my own experience with succulent landscaping, so here goes.  The first garden where I actually planned some sort of organization was in the Peace Corps.  While teaching primary school in Malawi I laid out rocks in the shape of the country and filled the area with succulents.  Unfortunately they were from the Karoo in South Africa and they all rotted when it rained!

Then I tried a garden at the High School where I taught next in the Peace Corps. This time I planted local succulents on a hill-like garden.  They were doing fine when I left, but when I returned some time later, they had all been replaced with fruit trees!

While at the University of Malawi I scattered succulents in family groups about the campus.  I understand this lasted somewhat longer.  I was also acting head of the National Herbarium and Botanic Garden nearby in 1980.  The garden required little work as it was already laid out in a beautiful park-like setting on a well watered hill slope and was being maintained well.  I was surprised to find pictures later of the original garden which had been built ninety years earlier.  It was a formal English garden!

Next I was in charge oh the Herbarium and Botanic Garden at the National University of Lesotho which was already built and maintained.  Due to the high altitude most of the plants were housed in three greenhouses: a half sunken one, a temperate one, and a tropical one.  I concentrated on rebuilding the garden outside of them by adding specimens as I collected around the country.

From there we moved to Botswana where I had the privilege of building a national botanic garden from scratch.  I investigated costs of digging out a central area with ridges around a stream and found the costs outside our budget.  The director of the National Museum solved the problem by bringing in the National Dam Building Unit!  Everyone kept pestering me to plant roses, but I insisted the garden was for the plants of Botswana. The garden was laid out by ecological regions of Botswana and planting began, leaving as much of the natural vegetation as possible.  This was especially true of the rock figs with their roots growing down the large rock outcrops.

I left after 6 ½ years and then was asked to come back in 2000 to continue the building.  I found someone had put in roses – which had died due to the termites which abound in the soil there.  (I could have told them the solution- lay down a thick layer of wood ash under them- but why bother?) This second 6 ½ years was full of co-operative projects with other units such as the Millennium Seed Bank connected to Kew Gardens in England.  It was a great challenge and I miss the garden in Botswana.

I am currently building an Agave garden in our front yard.  Why agaves?  I started with Agave americana which came from a plant my grandfather had in Stockton and have expanded from there.  I am replacing the lawn with a water-wise garden more suitable to Bakersfield.  I have, of necessity, been experimenting how to do this as cheaply as possible.  I try to get plants and rocks at little or no cost, but this makes the project proceed slowly.

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