It was somewhat fitting that while reading this book I visited the Hillside Desert Botanical Garden in Yakima, WA (zone 6), and went to re-photograph a cactus garden here in the Portland area (check back tomorrow for pictures of that one). Both of these gardeners are doing what Mr. Chance is writing about, growing cacti and succulents in locations not normally considered to be “cactus country.”
The forward for the book was written by Panayoti Kelaidis, the Senior Curator and Director of Denver Botanic Gardens Outreach. I had the good fortune to attend two talks by Mr. Kelaidis last year, where he shared some of his plant hunting adventures and photos of his own garden as well as the Denver Botanic Gardens. When he says the author has acquired “an exceptional private collection of plants and designed outstanding gardens in which he has tested and observed many of these plants in various conditions and microclimates.” I believe he knows what he’s talking about.
|Yucca at the entrance to Denver Botanical Gardens, photo by Leo Chance
Mr. Chance lives and gardens in Denver, a zone 5 (-20 F/-28 C) garden. In his words: “My fascination and eventual passion for gardening with cacti and other succulent plants began over thirty years ago. At that time I took a trip with my wife, Ann, to Southern California, and everywhere we went my attention was drawn to cactus gardens…Driving home through Arizona and New Mexico we saw many more cactus and succulent gardens. It was then the idea of creating a scaled-down cactus garden in zone 5…using cactus and other desert plants, started to develop in my mind.” In an interview on the Timber Press blog Mr. Chance admits there was also a tinge of the good ole’ “I’ll show you!” spirit behind the birth of his garden… “When we got home every nursery in the area said it couldn’t be done here. Something in my rebellious nature had to prove them wrong.”
|Agave neomexicana, photo by Leo Chance (and I believe the same Agave as on the book's cover)
For this book Mr. Chance draws on his years of experience to write about best practices for selecting, planting and tending desert plants. There are many photographs from his garden and maybe even more from the gardens of individuals and families who have generously opened their gardens and shared photographs. If I had a criticism of this book it would be that many of the photos are small. I find myself wishing I could “click to enlarge” but I’d rather they were included small than not included at all. I bet rounding up suitable images was a challenge.
Topics covered include:
The Right Way to Water
How and Where to Plant
Growing Plants from Cuttings and Seeds
Cold Hardy Succulents
In the chapter on Understanding Hardiness there is a section on The Influence of Provenance. Just a few years ago the importance of this topic was lost on me, but now I get it. I wish every plant came with a QR code you could scan and see where it was born (I know…very big brother, maybe I don't wish for this?), that that way you’d know if it came from a location with wet cold winters or somewhere that gets very little winter moisture. This information can mean the difference between success and failure in the garden.
|Notocactus sellowii, photo by Leo Chance
The second half of the book is given over to plant portraits with detailed information on various cacti and succulents. This section is information rich and contains valuable pointers for anyone interested in growing these plants, for example we learn the Notocactus sellowii shown above is found Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The author cautions this plant needs cover over the winter months, as well as protection from harsh midday sun during the growing season. It also requires more moisture in dry climates than rain alone can provide, sounds like a possible candidate for my garden! I do wish there was zone hardiness listed for each plant, but I suppose with 274 plants included (many of which are not mainstream) that type of research could have been cost, and time, prohibitive. Besides if they are growing in the author’s garden then they should be hardy to zone 5 right?
Finally, at the back of the book is a two-page spread listing sources for plants, most of them new to me. I’m going to have some fun looking up these nurseries and learning more about them!
I leave you with another quote from the Timber Press blog. Timber asked “If you could give only one piece of advice to a cacti or succulent grower what would it be?” Mr. Chance replied: “Top of the list is to consider plant placement. Think about the ultimate size of spiny, dagger-tipped plants when they are placed in the garden. These plants can be more enjoyable to see than to touch.” To which I’ll add “careful, you could poke an eye out”…
(disclaimer….I received this book free, as a review copy from Timber Press. They didn’t bribe me in any way to write a review (no free lunch, no gift certificate to my favorite nursery) nor did they threaten me harm if I didn’t write a review. It's all my honest opinion folks!)