One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

A Prickly Beauty

A few Februarys ago, I was out for a walk on my usual route to the bay and back.   I’d noticed on previous sojourns a sprawling planting of some variety of hardy cactus at the driveway corner of someone’s yard.  On this particular day, we were in the melting phase of a recent minor snowfall, and I saw that a wide sweep of the snowplow had knocked free a few bits of the cactus.   Always eager to try something new (especially if it doesn’t appear to cost me anything) I scooped up a piece and stuffed it in my pocket and carried on my walk.

I have never claimed to be exactly the Smartest Gardener Ever and by the time I’d carried on to the bay and back home, my hand was burning with a fresh reminder of that very non-fact.   Just about every cactus of the non-Christmas variety brings a visible warning from Mother Nature about not being so touchy all the time.   You can see proof of it in almost any Road Runner cartoon you care to look at (If you’re pressed for time, you can pick up the cactus stuff at 3:49, but seriously, who doesn’t have time for Wile E. Coyote?!).   But this particular cactus doesn’t have visible thorn/spike/barb things.   The small pointy things you can see are leaf buds, but they’re also secretly spring-loaded, apparently, with invisible little bristle spines for when someone brushes against them, or – like a dope – actually picks some up to put in his jacket pocket.

Anyway, I was very keen to get it out of my pocket and be done touching it by the time I returned to the Nest and I dropped the piece of cactus in a hanging pot hosting a semi-dormant – ok, half-dead – fuschia plant, and went off to the business of trying to get those nearly invisible spines out of my hand.   A little tweezing and some hot water soaks did the trick, and fortunately, those in my pocket were swept away in a laundering.  With this negative reinforcement in place, for a few months I forgot about the cactus, although it benefitted from the watering its pot-mate got now and then.

But when spring came, it was quite obviously rooted and enjoyed being brought out onto the deck.   The fuschia did not pass, as they say, the Ultimate Test.   But the cactus pretty quickly took over the pot and now lives outside on the deck year-round, in a distant corner where I give it a little drink now and then, far enough away where I can’t easily brush against it.

It’s been about three years now, I estimate, and in this morning’s tentative sunlight, it bloomed for me, presenting the lovely rose-like flower you see here.  It often seems the most beautiful things have the briefest lifespan and that’s true here.  This morning’s blossom melted quickly in the rains with which the middle part of the day doused us.  But this evening has brought two more of them on…and there’s the full-budded promise of about twenty more such flowers in the days ahead.

It’s funny, how just last week I was writing of garden thugs – the Bamboos, the Audreys, the Triffids – and this, too, is something of a thug.   Witness the way it is bursting out of its pot, eager to take on the world.  It’s getting a little out of hand, and I’m told they can be pretty invasive, so I have no intention of putting it back in the ground, although really, that’s where it belongs.   If only it hadn’t create such lovely blossoms, it might’ve been easier to come to some terminal decision.  But as Stan Lee might say, with great beauty comes great responsibility.

So I better find a new container to house this.  And a very thick pair of gloves.


Comments on: "A Prickly Beauty" (4)

  1. We have prickly pears on the side of my home as well. I am always lured into weeding around it and being punished with the inevitable spines across my hands. The flowers are so miraculous that I continue the habit. If not for such beauty, there would be death.

    P.S. I keep hens and chicks with mine.

  2. midnightgardener said:

    “Prickly pears”?! Is that what these are? Cool…

    I do love hens and chicks.

  3. How pretty! I’ve always been smart enough (or not interested enough) to NOT touch a prickly pear, though I’ve enjoyed many a neighbor’s specimens.

  4. “With great beauty comes great responsibility”, hm, interesting thought & a nice story.

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