My collection of hardy cacti is compiled from the most garden worthy species and varieties from across North America. We're proud to have an extensive array of Claude A. Barr's selections (Smithwick, South Dakota). Mr. Barr, who passed away in 1983 shared his collection all over the world. He was very fond of naturally occurring and man-made Opuntia hybrids and unusual flower colorations. His ranch near Smithwick, South Dakota in the southern Black Hills was about 50 miles from my family's homestead at Dewey, South Dakota near the Wyoming border. My grandmother (who taught range management to local 4-H members for decades) recalls Mr. Barr giving gardening talks to her Ladies Aid Society in the '60's and '70's. I was never privileged to meet the great Opuntia guru. His book JEWELS OF THE PLAINS, was published by the University of Minnesota Press after his death and is still a bible for collectors of Western American plants.
Claude Barr became pen pals with my mentor Mary Ann Heacock in 1960. He had developed a mail order catalog for his native plant selections and Mary Ann (an obsessive rare plant collector from Denver) soon engaged in a life-long friendship with Mr. Barr. Mary Ann shared letters with me that revealed that the two held the same incredible passion for new and rare plants from America and other cold climates from around the world. Mrs. Heacock and her husband Samuel had compiled an impressive collection of choice plants in their own right including many wonderful cacti, Penstemons, native bulbs and native collected bonsai.
I studied botany and horticulture at the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University in the early '80's and moved to Denver in '86 to work as a horticulturist at an enormous retail nursery (Paulino Gardens) where I developed systems for growing over 2000 varieties of native and exotic perennial plants. While getting to know some of the region's most compulsive plant junkies who frequented the nursery, I met Al Frost (a student of Mary Ann Heacock and fellow cactiphile). Before long, Al introduced me to the widowed Mrs. H. and soon we were traveling the West, discovering and rediscovering populations of native cacti and Penstemons. I owe a great deal to these two for kidnapping me from my work and throwing me in the car. Otherwise, I would never have been exposed to Mary Ann's museum of Claude Barr plants and the locations of the numerous populations of native plants that she had documented around the West. Mary Ann passed away at the age of 96 in the summer of 2011. I'll always remember that she felt that a prickly pear cactus "had better have a good flower or I don't want it!" She would pick up prickly pear pads with bare hands and call them "Damn Its"!
A few comments on cold hardy cactus and their cultivation can be found on the frequently asked questions (FAQ) page.
My friendship with Panayoti Kelaidis (world-renowned horticulturist at the Denver Botanic Gardens) and his wife Gwen has provided me with the support that a person with my compulsions needs in order to stay focused and feel appreciated. My travels across the West with Panayoti as well as our buddies Lauren Springer and Sean Hogan have produced many choice plant selections that I can grow and offer to my customers. As much as I love plant collecting, I get even more satisfaction from growing a beautiful crop.
My dear friends David and Ava Salman (owners of Santa Fe Greenhouses and High Country Gardens) in New Mexico have been so generous in sharing new varieties with me and with our main nursery, Timberline Gardens (www.timberlinegardens.com). David's eye for spotting amazing garden plants never ceases to amaze me. Their efforts have done more for the current trends in gardening in the West than anyone I know.
Over the years, members of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society have shared numerous cactus varieties as well as cultural information that has taken the mystery out of growing these jewels. Don Campbell from the Grand Junction, Colorado club has been particularly generous with plants and information.
If ever in the Denver area, be sure to visit the garden of Steve Miles in Boulder. He has the most incredible non-Opuntia cacti and succulent collection in the region. He has pioneered the culture of particularly difficult species and fondly hybridizes them in search of something new and wonderful. His patience is astounding.