Sunday, May 26, 2013

barrels of memoirs

Barrel cacti bring back memories of my family's earliest days in California at the end of World War II. Having been transferred here from Ohio by Owens Corning Fiberglas, my father was called upon to develop applications in many industries, from aircraft to sporting goods. One of his most unusual assignments was a trip to the desert (probably near Palm Springs) to develop 'guzzlers,' fiberglass-lined cisterns that collected rainwater for birds and animals. I can remember how he came home and raved about the wonders of the desert, with barrel cacti prominent among them. 

According to Quail Unlimited, the guzzler project started in 1948. Ten years later, my father was able to act upon his passion for the desert by taking an early retirement and buying a small business there. Over a period of fifty years, he and my mother lived in a series of desert towns, and he ultimately volunteered as the caretaker of a large desert garden in Arizona.

Desert living does not appeal to me, but I do enjoy cacti and can grow them easily in our Mediterranean climate. Not long after Steve and I established the cactus and succulent bed in our front garden, I set out several small cacti which had been growing in pots for years. This may have been a mistake, as some of them were so tiny that we lost track of where they were. Here's a photo of the biggest one, a barrel cactus, with a dime at eleven o'clock to indicate scale:

2013 marks the third spring this cactus has bloomed for us, making quite a show next to the Texas sundrops that match its nearly neon color. Since the barrel is almost perfectly round, it's easy to follow the line of its circumference and to see that the flowers are larger than their host.

I stood on the sidewalk to take the photo above, but when I decided to photograph two more little barrels, I had to step right into the bed. This I did gingerly though I was wearing sturdy shoes, and indeed I almost stepped on a barrel that had successfully hidden from us for over a year. Growing less than two feet from the 'big' barrel, it looks to be a younger specimen of the same variety:

When I narrowly escaped stepping on this little guy, I was heading toward the smallest barrel in the garden:

Obviously this one is a different variety, with its shorter spines and lighter green color. It would be eclipsed by a quarter. I'm eager to see what color its blooms will be, but I'm not holding my breath.

Finally, here's the last known barrel.It's very much like the first, but with longer spines and a somewhat lighter color. The dime (three o'clock) should've been closer to it, but I was not interested in pricking my finger tips.

When I asked Steve whether he knew we had four barrels, he wanted to know: "Is that like a four-barreled carburetor?" Very like that AND "very like a whale," I think.

Barreling ahead through other parts of the garden, I see gardenia buds fattening and serrano chilies setting fruit: pulling together the best of so many worlds.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License