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We became custodians, recently, of an instant cactus collection. I say instant, but it was only instant for us. The person who bequeathed his collection to us, one of our coworkers, undoubtedly spent years carefully curating this assemblage of little – and not so little! – breath-holding wonders.

Just some of the thirty-odd cacti and succulents entrusted to us some weeks ago. We haven't killed any yet. It can be hard to tell, though...

Just some of the thirty-odd cacti and succulents entrusted to us some weeks ago. We haven’t killed any yet. It can be hard to tell, though…

There’s a rambling scarecrow of a cactus in a terracotta pot so old it’s beginning to crumble and one side has broken off. There’s a pile of little prickly nubbins scrambling all over each other in a frantic, slow-mo quest for light and substrate. There’s a barrel cactus (front right, above) so festooned with yellow, serrated spines fountaining in all directions I’m not even sure how it gets any photosynthesis done. There’s a succulent whose dramatic, slightly obscene five-petalled flowers open to release a hint of carrion odour, such that flies lay eggs in the blooms and soon after, tiny fly larvae wriggle through the deep maroon hairs that coat the petals. Another succulent (middle back, dark green) looks like a sea-star, it has so many protuberances. There are lots of tall, hairy, super-prickly cacti and a total of four of the plants are flowering now. We’ve watered them generously through this cruel back end of summer and lots of them are picking up and growing at a surprising rate, getting greener, plumper, livelier.

Our veggie garden might be a rip-roaring failure, but by gam, we can sure nurture some cacti.

(If you want to see photos of the prickly babies as they progress, follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram – @thorhammer24 on both. I’d like to think I’m not annoying on either platform.)

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