Friday, February 10, 2012

The Gardener’s Guide to Cactus


If the title of Scott Calhoun’s new book from Timber Press doesn’t grab you then maybe the subtitle The 100 Best Paddles, Barrels, Columns, and Globes will. One hundred, the perfect number. You are virtually assured to find something, but not be overwhelmed at the choices. I would like to start this review by saying I’ve enjoyed two other books by Mr. Calhoun, most recently Yard Full of Sun, the tale his creating a personal garden in Tucson, Arizona. It's a good read.


Since I was already familiar with his personable writing style I was curious how it would translate to this type of book where you aren’t following a narrative but rather a very information rich list of plants, their features and needs. As it turns out Scott’s firsthand knowledge and experience of working with these plants shines in this format.

The profile for each plant is a full page or more and features a photograph as well as information on native habitat, mature size, hardiness and flowering season. The lengthy description often includes design suggestions, cultivation, culinary value as well as notable varieties, forms, and subspecies.


While this book is primarily written for those who live in the desert (and can grow these amazing plants in the ground) there is also ample useful information for those of us who are limited to growing container specimens and the occasional in-garden cactus. While I would give anything to be able to grow a dozen Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus, above) or Golden Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii, below) in my garden…

Echinocactus grusonii, photo Scott Calhoun

…I’ve found cactus happiness with Chollas and Prickly Pears (in the Paddles and Rods section of the book), a surprising amount of which are hardy to temperatures below those found my zone 8 garden. Of course the catch is drainage…always, the drainage.

Opuntia egelmannii, photo Scott Calhoun


In the chapter titled ‘Prickly Pear Passion’ Scott shares information on 20 different plants, many of which I’d never heard of before but of course now must have, including the Dinner Plate Prickly Pear (Opunita robusta)

Dinner Plate Prickly Pear (Opunita robusta), photo Scott Calhoun



Finally, included in the book is information on…Tools of the Prickly Trade, Showing Cactus, Cactus Pests, Cactus for Special Purposes, and Select Retail Cactus Nurseries. How lucky am I that I’ve got one of these select nurseries, Cistus, just 20 miles away from my front door? Perhaps it isn’t so bizarre after all that an Oregon gardener is reviewing a book on Cactus? Or so I tell myself.

And yes you guessed it; Timber Press sent me a review copy of this book, which was free. I’ve also freely shared my thoughts on the book. However I doubt the plants I will need to purchase as a result of reading this book will be free…proving once again that nothing in life is ever really free.

20 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you reviewed this book because I've been wondering if I should order it. Like you, I've really enjoyed Scott's previous books. I was worried that the information might be too basic but it looks like I should get the book for the photos alone.

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    1. I think you'll feel the information is worth the purchase price, and yes the photos are pretty excellent too!

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  2. My initial reaction was *jealous*, but seeing some of these amazing specimens now just inspires me to learn more about cold-hardy cactus that I *can* grow.

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    1. You're zone 5 right? There are definitely Cactus you can grow as long as your drainage is good...even some Agaves! (although of course they aren't covered in this book)

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  3. Culinary uses? Hmmm...there may be no such thing as a free lunch, but you will never starve if disaster should strike.

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    1. Man cannot live by prickly pear pads alone...

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  4. OK, I'm getting it! (and I am near Scott, and intend to get his autograph, as well:)

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    1. After reading and reviewing this book I had to go back and re-read The Hot Garden (the first of Scott's books that I read). Of course since I read it years ago all the references to you didn't jump out at me then. I think at the very least you deserve an autographed version of this one!

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  5. Gorgeous photos and SKIES!!! I'll have to get this one!!

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    1. Not our typical grey skies are they?

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  6. Nice post, Loree.
    You really said something that made me think about why I like some books much more than others: "personable writing style". It is so much nicer to have a gardening book with a 'person' inside. Many, many garden books seem to be a set of words about some nice plants with no hint of the author's 'voice'. Beautiful pictures. I will look for this book. :0) David

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    1. Thanks David! The writers voice comes through even stronger in blogs, which is one of the best parts of reading them!

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  7. I just picked this up at the library the other day, I had a hold on it ever since I heard about it. It was in my list for upcoming items for many months. Lucky me, fresh off the press..........Great book!

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    1. It seems my library holds always come in when I'm on vacation! By the time I get home, get the message, and get there to pick it up they've let it go back into circulation. Glad you got this one.

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  8. I am glad to read your review of this one. I'm looking forward to reading it. Always love Scott's books.

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    1. I wish we could have stayed at his B&B when we passed through Tucson last fall...maybe next time.

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  9. Looks fascinating! From the photo of the Mexican Fencepost Cactus page, I see I will also love the graphic design of the species page - clean, simple and very compelling. I may need to ask for this for my birthday.

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    1. I agree that the clean design really works, I think you'll appreciate the information shared too.

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  10. Dear Danger Gardener,

    Thanks so much for reviewing my book. Next time you are in Tucson, I'll give you a personal tour of my danger garden. It is getting more dangerous all the time. I'm happy to find your blog, I don't know how I've missed it.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Mr Calhoun...I will take you up on that offer, someday!

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