I don’t know exactly why the sumbitch is in my garden in the first place.
That is not true. I do know. I put it there. It was before I understood the point of planting natives in the garden. I still bring in plenty of exotics because I am a flawed human but I’m working in a backbone of natives too. This sumbitch is no native.
I was visiting my sister Bobbie in Colorado. She and her husband have a huge cactus garden. It looks amazing. Like it all got dropped off by aliens. They don’t get a lot of water there and the cacti do very nicely. There are fat ones and skinny ones and flat ones and globular ones and some of them don’t know which way to turn so they turn all the ways. Every now and then they get a whiff of rain and they all bloom, damn near audibly. I love it.
Not only that, but the garden scenically contains authentic Southwest fauna posing picturesquely all the time as though they were in a diorama and the museum curator wanted one of everything. There are bunnies. Lizards. Quail. Salamanders, for some unknown reason, even though I tell them, Psst, it’s way damper where I live, and they just shrug their noodle shoulders and stay put. There are owls in the cactus holes.
My brother-in-law was tending the beds when I came up and admired them loudly, and he said “Would you like to take a few home with you to see how they do?” I couldn’t imagine they’d do very well in my climate, which is, or perhaps I should say was, quite soggy at times. But the exotic-plant beeper of joy went off in my head and I said “Sure!”
I pointed at a few favorites. He went in with delicate precision like he was playing Twister on a wobble-board and snapped off a few pieces and dropped them in a cardboard box.
With extra-long barbecue tongs. In retrospect, a clue.
No dirt. “Just take the box home and open it up and leave it outside for a couple weeks to let them harden up and then lay them down where you want them,” he said.
Around here we dig the hole twice as big as our plants and half-fill with compost and unicorn poop and fluff the roots and tamp down carefully and raise a soil ring around to hold water and cross our fingers. We most certainly do not bake them in the sun and chuck them on the ground.
But they took. Three of them made it all the way through the damp winter. The tall squiggly one petered out the next spring and another one sulked and rotted a bit later. But the Prickly Pear was quite happy. It kept flapping out new ears and even bloomed, briefly but beautifully. I had it in a corner I don’t always reach with the hose. Fun! But after a few years it was getting obstreperous. I tried to go in and weed around it but even if I didn’t touch it, tiny hairlike spines flew through space and lodged in my knuckles. It was like one of those medieval armies where everyone throws their spears at once. After a while you just decide to go conquer something else.
I wouldn’t get within a yard of it. But it kept growing, flinging out new flappets. It was backing me into the peonies. Ultimately I quit tending the entire corner and the little bench I had there fell apart from anxiety and weeds lurched up through the gravel. This area is right inside the wall near the street. People who glance at our garden and say “Ooo, pretty” and tilt in to see over the wall? That’s the first thing they see. Brown crap, neglect, and a terrorist succulent.
This year I’d had it. I had a thriving prickly pear but no owls and no bunnies or lizards and nary a quail so I armored up and went in there with a spading fork. I stabbed at it and tore it apart in chunks–each chunk miraculously packed with water that it got from who knows where, because we’re in a major drought–and dropped it in the yard debris bin. I think it’s gone now. But it’ll be a year before I even try to clean out the rest. I know how terrorists work. Even if they’re vanquished, the sumbitches leave landmines behind. That corner isn’t a portrait of neglect. It’s a hostage situation.
Happy birthday to Bobbie!