Cacti and Succulent Extravaganza
(12 October 2017)
I felt like the new kid on the block in this exotic garden, with owner Jackie talking an awful lot about plants I have never heard the name of, let alone seen before.
The garden, situated on an 831 metre block in Tuggeranong, was established in around 2004. Jackie has created three distinct rooms, including: an intensively grown, productive mecca; a cottage nook; and the focus of my visit, a large cacti and succulent area.
There are varieties and types of cacti and succulents to fulfil an impressive range of functions: indoor culture or out; in pots or in garden beds; frost tolerant to sub-tropical; small growing, large growing, narrow, or broad; vivacious and vibrant flowers, to quieter, seemingly understated ones – these plants are certainly versatile.
Jackie has nurtured a 25 year passion for cacti and succulents, with one of her first prickly recollections being of taking an alternate route home from school, just so she could admire a cacti garden in her neighbourhood. Her interest and curiosity in these fascinating plants instigated her horticulture studies. Jackie, along with her partner Brett, run the established garden maintenance and consult business, Terra Solarus.
Jackie raised the bed height in her cacti and succulent area, using a free-draining topsoil containing 50% coarse river sand. She also installed sub-surface drainage using Ag pipe, to prevent any water hanging around after rainfall. Jackie stresses the importance of a soil’s drainage qualities when growing cacti, and its being paramount to their survival. The bed is mulched with red scoria, which is porous, contains beneficial micro-nutrients, and doesn’t get too hot as some pebble mulches tend to do.
Jackie went on to say that when growing cacti in pots, aim for a medium containing 50% coarse river sand and 50% quality potting mix; and with succulents, 40 % sand and 60% potting mix, this being due to their higher water and nutrient requirements.
Aspect and micro-climate are also critical to success when growing cacti. Surprisingly, not all species are ‘no water’ and ‘full sun’, loving plants; many tolerate or even prefer more shaded positions, and require more regular watering. Jackie explained that succulents, although dry hardy, generally require more water than cacti, particularly if they are grown in pots. Generally, Jackie waters her cacti garden 3 or 4 times per year, during the hotter months.
During the depths of winter or when severe frosts are expected, Jackie applies frost protection and anti-transpirant product, ‘Envy’ on more cold-sensitive cacti in her garden, as well as erecting cloches over individual plants. Amusingly, Jackie has no issue losing airborne objects in her back yard, including flyaway cloches – with all potential runaways being promptly detained by her prickly friends.
Jackie is actively involved in the long-standing, Canberra Cacti & Succulent Society, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday. The society is the go-to for everything cacti, including regular get-togethers and field trips, seasonal market days, and growing cacti and succulents in the Canberra region.
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