The Cactus Collection at Chatfield Farms

July 1, 2024 Grace Johnson , Assistant Manager of Horticulture at Chatfield Farms

In June of 2022, an extensive collection of Opuntia and Cylindropuntia hybrids were donated to  Chatfield Farms. The hybrids came from local cactus man Kelly Grummons, owner of Cold Hardy Cactus

A sloped, south-facing hillside was selected as the location for the cactus collection’s new home. The hillside is an extension of the Plant Select® Demonstration Garden situated across from the Lavender Garden. Due to its slope and aspect, this hillside would allow for good drainage, warmth and full sun, which are crucial for many types of cacti. It was decided that the garden would be completely unirrigated.

Dan Johnson, associate director & curator of native plant collections at York Street, assisted Grace Johnson, assistant manager of horticulture Chatfield Farms, with the foundation and layout of the garden. Large boulders, many of which were long and narrow, were placed to mimic the slope of the hillside and to create microclimates for some of the Opuntia varieties. A pea gravel mulch was used to top dress the garden.

A number of companion plants were chosen to withstand zero supplemental irrigation. Most of the plants chosen are in the Plant Select® Program, as they have been known to withstand harsh conditions and drought. Once plants were installed, only the companion plants were watered in. Opuntia and Cylindropuntia do not like root disturbance or being watered in during planting. The companion plants were watered three times a week for three weeks. Since then, the entire garden has received only the precipitation that comes from the sky.

In its second growing season, the cacti have begun to flower profusely, and the companion plants are filling out and thriving. The Opuntia flowers are constantly visited by numerous native bee species once they open in the morning sun. Weed pressure is nearly non-existent due to the site preparations taken while building the garden, and the lack of irrigation. It is truly a low-maintenance, beautiful display garden of what is possible to grow in Colorado without irrigation.

Some of the companion plants: Lavandula angustifolia ‘Wee One’ (dwarf English lavender), Achillea ageratifolia (Greek yarrow), Delosperma ‘Lavender Ice’ (ice plant), Delosperma Red Mountain Flame (ice plant), Gazania krebsiana TANAGER® gazania, Hesperaloe parviflora (red yucca), Kniphofia caulescens (regal torch lily), Osteospermum ‘Avalanche’ (white sun daisy), Psephellus simplicicaulis ‘Bellina’ pink cornflower, Agastache rupestris SUNSET hyssop, Amorpha nana (dwarf leadplant), Nolina greenei (beargrass), Campanula incurve (bellflower), Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue' (blue fescue)

Some of the featured Opuntia: Opuntia macrorhiza ‘Loveliness’, Opuntia phaeacantha ‘Orang-I-Tang’, Opuntia x ‘Nambe Winter Glow’, Opunta rhodanta ‘Snowball’, Opuntia macrocentra x polyacantha ‘Peach Pie’, Opuntia x ‘Prolific Rose’, Opuntia polyacantha ‘Nebraska Orange’, Opuntia basilaris, Opuntia polyacantha ‘Idaho Falls Pink’, Opuntia polyacantha ‘Gold Mine’, Opuntia fragilis x humifusa ‘East Meets West’


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