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How To Start A Cactus Garden

( Originally Published 1942 )

THERE are several ways to start a cactus garden, and the method to be chosen depends upon many factors, most important of which is the attitude of mind of the person proposing to start it.

There is a temptation during the first heat of enthusiasm to try to acquire as many different kinds of cacti as possible. Whether they are kept in pots on a sunny porch or established in an elaborate outside cactus garden, the result is nearly always the same. There are so many specimens that one never comes to really know any of them—they are discouraging by their very numbers. Interest rarely persists in anything about which one knows little or nothing. Interest in such a cactus collection will be transient because it is superficial. It is little more satisfying than casual acquaintances made at some social function.

It is assumed that the reader is or wishes to become a true lover of cacti, and the following suggestions are offered as aids in attaining that delightful end.

The first step is to secure a cactus plant. Note that the singular number is used—we do not say "plants." It does not matter so much how you get the plant—whether you "beg, buy, or borrow" it. The important thing is to get it.

This first cactus may be planted either in a flower pot or in the garden, according to conditions which will be discussed later. It is perhaps better to have this first plant in a flower pot so that it may be kept nearer to you and make possible a more intimate, personal contact. You will be fortunate if you can select a specimen which will bloom at an early date and thus avoid a long nursing period before your interest will be rewarded.

The first thing to do after establishing the one-cactus garden is to learn its true name just as you learn the name of any new and interesting acquaintance. There are certain questions which, if answered, will help to give the plant individuality. What is the meaning of its name? Who first de-scribed the species and what other contributions did he make to the knowledge of cacti? Where is the native home of the species? What are the climatic and soil conditions in which it best thrives?

When you have answered these questions, you are on sufficiently intimate terms with the plant to refer to it by its common or popular name—you have made a distinct advance in your friendly relations.

You are now ready to investigate the relatives of your plant. There are certain questions which naturally suggest themselves. How many other members are there of the genus? What characters do they have in common with your species? In what ways do they differ? To what tribe does it be-long? What is its family name?

You may object that you do not know where to find all of this information. That is precisely why all this becomes so interesting. If this information were handed to you with your specimen, it would rob you of the pride in accomplishment and the thrill of overcoming obstacles. It would ex-tract the pleasure and excitement of re-search. And yet the difficulties are not as great as they at first appear. Usually the one from whom you obtain your plant can furnish you the scientific name. You may be able to appeal to a nearby dealer who will be very willing to identify your specimen for you. It may be possible to locate some other cactus enthusiast with more experience and wider acquaintanceship with cacti than you have who will cheerfully give you the information you desire.

Once the scientific name has been obtained, further information may be gained through books and magazines. A list of helpful publications is usually given in public libraries. Inquiries to any of the magazines will always be given thoughtful consideration and much valuable aid may be obtained in that way.

By the time you have learned the answers to the questions given and have watched the unfolding of the gorgeous bloom of your little plant, you automatically become a permanent and enthusiastic member of the large and happy group of people known as "cacti addicts."

You are now qualified to select intelligently and care for an increase in your cactus garden. You may have a desire to acquire strange exotic types, or you may wish to gather together a closely related "family group. You may be especially attracted by certain types of flowers or to plants that have distinctive landscape possibilities. You may specialize in the growing of seedlings, hybridization or grafting. But no matter what paths you may follow nor how far afield you may wander, you will never forget the joy and satisfaction you experienced when you first came to know intimately that first love—your one-cactus garden. Every species, new to you, which you encounter presents a similar challenge—you feel that you must know the intimate details of that species. As your knowledge grows, your interest grows, and, ever unfolding before you, is a rich field of delightful experiences because you have acquired the proper attitude of mind.

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