The Gardener’s Guide to Cactus/Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates

Professional gardeners Scott Calhoun from Tucson, Arizona and Leo J. Chance from Denver, Colorado draw upon their personal experiences to explore the spiky side of gardening in their newly released books from Timber Press.

While you might naturally think of cactus when you think of Tucson, it hasn’t always been that way—at least for the home gardener. Scott Calhoun was a bit of a trail blazer, adopting a water-wise approach to gardening long before it was fashionable—a journey delightfully detailed in his earlier book Yard Full of Sun. In The Gardener’s Guide to Cactus, Scott shares his love for desert plants and the knowledge he’s acquired planting, selling, and designing with these plants for years. In one of my favorite chapter titles ‘Tools of the Prickly Trade’ he includes this bit of advice: “Several cactus tools are also used for surgery, but don’t let that worry you.” He’s right; every spiky plant lover needs a few of these gadgets. I don’t know how I managed without a pair of long forceps; they make removing debris caught in my spiky plants a lot less traumatic!

Being a successful gardener means choosing plants suitable for your garden, so I appreciate that Scott’s Gardener’s Guide provides cultural information in an easy to use structured layout with Native Habitat, Mature Size, Hardiness and Flowering Season listed for each plant. Thankfully Scott shares his design talents too, noting when a plant is well suited to life in a container and suggesting attractive companion plantings. Even with all the valuable information included in The Gardener’s Guide one of the biggest selling points for me are the images. There are large colorful photos of each plant profiled; a feature made all the more impressive when you realize Scott himself is responsible for all but four.

Leo J Chance caught the desert-plant bug while on vacation and never looked back, even when told he couldn’t grow cactus in Denver. In Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates he presents 274 species “for challenging conditions” in a friendly, narrative style. His book reads as though you’re talking with a knowledgeable friend; personal tidbits are included such as “I tried this species and the plants grew for several years. They were killed almost immediately when I disrupted roots…” (referring to Sclerocactus wrightiae). Along with in-depth plant information, Leo addresses important topics like understanding hardiness, where he shares tips on growing hardy cacti and succulents in winter-wet climates, such as mine. Upon finishing this book I felt a certain connection to Leo, even though we’ve never met and garden in distinctly different zones. You see, I grow cacti and succulents in Portland, Oregon, another less-than-traditional cactus climate. No doubt gardeners everywhere long to grow these plants but, because they don’t live in the Southwest, fear they can’t. Leo does us all a favor by saying yes, actually, you can. My successes have been the result of trial and error, more than a couple agaves have left my garden bound for the great nursery in the sky. However by reading Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates gardeners new to this style of gardening can avoid the pain of watching their beautiful new Agave melt into a pile of goo.

Both books are written in a manner which makes them understandable for the beginner. They also contain information that a seasoned gardener will enjoy and benefit from, especially in the plant profiles sections. After all, aren’t we always looking for a new plant to add to our collection? I am thrilled to have these titles on my bookshelf.

Loree Bohl, self-avowed spike-aholic
Portland, Oregon