The great cactus comeback
Thanks to dry spells and passionate growers, cacti are enjoying a fresh spike in popularity.
When Libby McLean started removing rose bushes and lush green lawn around her mid-century Geelong home a decade ago, replacing them with thorny cacti, most people thought she was mad.
“This was back in 2008 and at the time a lot of friends and family were like, ‘that’s really weird,’” says Libby, a former fashion designer and product manager. Libby now runs Arizona Living – a nursery renowned for its extensive range of cacti – down a disused laneway in Jan Juc on Victoria’s Surf Coast.
While Australians have had a long fascination with cacti, Libby says it is only recently that perceptions have shifted from “unusual and even hostile” to “fashionable and on-trend”.
“It’s only been in the last few years that people have started to think, ‘oh, cacti are actually an attractive plant rather than an unpleasant one,’” she says.
When Libby started the business in 2015, indoor plants made up about 95 per cent of her sales.
“Now, the cacti are the major part of the business,” says Libby, whose nursery features millennium pink walls, a shipping container and a geodesic dome that doubles as a hothouse.
“There’s been a huge shift, particularly in the last 18 months. People, who might have previously thought of cacti as a weed that farmers had on their farms, are now coming in and asking for certain varieties because they’ve seen them in a home magazine or on Instagram.”
Jim Hall, who runs Cactus Country – Australia’s largest cactus garden – in Strathmerton, near Cobram in north-east Victoria – says that while there have always been people with a passion for the “architectural beauty” of cacti, the plants, which are native to the Americas, are now being appreciated far more widely.
Jim’s own interest in cacti began as a child. His father, a keen gardener, had a small collection on his Strathmerton dairy farm.
“I was the only one who really enjoyed the garden, apart from my father,” Jim says.
Returning from overseas in the mid-1970s, Jim was devastated to discover his father had sold most of the cacti. “Dad was moving and when I came back there were only a few plants left, so I bought them and started my own little collection.”