BY ELLEN S. PRESSMAN
It took years and a life-threatening illness before I could convince my husband, who is an architect, to redo our backyard. When it finally took shape, I got more than I bargained for.
He created a most beautiful oasis and retreat that exceeded my expectations, but it also led to the development of a somewhat obsessive –compulsive behavior.
I could deal with his “chemo brain,” but now he had suddenly acquired a fascination with collecting every type of cactus and succulent imaginable. And it all started when our close friend, David, told us about California Cactus Ranch.
After we installed the major landscape components of our yard, we wanted to be environmentally correct and design a water and maintenance free landscape. We also liked the idea of incorporating a “zen-like” area for cactus.
So, this is where the real story begins — and when his OCD kicked in full throttle. You think I jest.
Our first visit to California Cactus Ranch was all it took to hook us into the world of cactus and succulents – it was an epiphany.
California Cactus Ranch occupies half of a city block on Saticoy, half a block west of Tampa in Reseda. You can’t miss it; there are cacti everywhere, not to mention the huge rusting steel dinosaur sculptures looming over the fence.
Cacti are stuffed into every nook and cranny as you wander through this magical environment. It’s pre-historic time meets western kitsch with a covered wagon, a backdrop of a ghost town, a cow’s skull, and vintage-type signs for sale.
Take a close look and you’ll see baby cactus in containers growing on the roofs of the old houses that occupy the property.
Three enormous green houses house every exotic type of succulent imaginable. The cacti are grown from infancy and nurtured into adolescence right on the premises.
What propels my husband’s adoration of all these cacti and succulents are their quirky and distinctive characteristics. Some have unusual structure and shapes, while others have wonderful textures and unexpected colors. They all have different protective thorns. Many look like they aren’t even from this universe.
For the amateur and even the connoisseur collector, the California Cactus Ranch is an eye-opening and refreshing adventure. You can easily lose track of time and spend hours wandering around trying to narrow down how many of the infinite species so you can fit your purchases into the back of your car.
Some friendly advice? It is like going to Costco for the very first time, you will definitely buy more than you intend, but you won’t break the bank because the prices are extremely reasonable.
We quickly filled up our designated Zen garden. But it didn’t stop there. That’s when my husband discovered container gardening. He began collecting various sizes and shapes and colors of cacti as a painter selects his color palette for a painting — and fill up cardboard boxes, but then ended up filling wagons.
With the cacti home and planted, the most amazing surprise we’ve discovered is that these wonderful plants grow the most beautiful and unexpected flowers. One day we found a brilliant orange flower on a cactus that you would never believe would be capable of such beauty. Others began to flower and suddenly we have a most unbelievable cactus garden blooming all year round.
Best of all, it is drought tolerant. If a cactus succumbs to a chill or disease you can inexpensively replace it — which provides another great excuse for returning to the California Cactus Ranch.
As an aside, Native American Indians believe that cactus contain healing and spiritual powers. My husband is doing great and we derive endless pleasure and fulfillment spending time with our cacti.
California Cactus Ranch (also known as California Nursery Specialties) is open Saturday and Sunday only from 11am – 4pm. 19420 Saticoy St, Reseda, CA 91335 (818) 894-5694
Ellen S. Pressman is an Emmy Award winning television director and producer who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Her credits include thirtysomething, Hill St. Blues, Time of Your Life, Everwood, American Dreams, Arliss, My So-Called Life, Party of Five and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She can’t live without her Peets Coffee.