Desert rose

By TheHindu on 20 Nov 2016 | read

Cacti need regular but minimal care

Garden of thorns Seetha Shelton and her unusually large collection of cacti

Seetha Shelton’s family in Neelangarai are animal and plant lovers. They feed and neuter neighbourhood strays, move wayward turtles to marshy areas and have a large collection of cacti from all over the world.

With more than 110 varieties occupying their garden over three levels, their home is a maze of prickly and hardy green. Seetha agrees that it takes regular care to maintain her plants but also says it's an exciting hobby.

"I’ve always been interested in gardening but never had the time. A few years back, I began taking a keen interest in cactus because they’re so unique and different. Of course, succulents, agaves and some other plants are also broadly classified in the cactus realm, so there are many varieties when you come to think of it," says Seetha.

Her garden begins on the ground, moves to two open areas on the first floor and ends on the terrace. "We don’t have the luxury of space; so we’ve filled up every place." Prickly pears, Opuntias, Aloe cacti and euphobia and the desert rose are just some of the plants that Seetha grows. Stacked in smaller pots in three rows on each level are her smaller cactuses.

"I pick them up wherever I see them," she says "at nurseries or when we travel. My husband is a botanist and always brings some home from his trips. My children send some as well," she adds.

Seetha also gives away her plants for charity but doesn’t sell them. "Plants are the easiest things to sell and make money. So I give away my plants to charitable events, so that they can sell them and use the funds." She has done this for four years now.

With charity and a growing collection on her mind, Seetha is always investing in gardening. "I need a lot of pots and ask people to gift me these. I read books on it. I compost gardening waste and use it as manure. January is the best season to change things in your cactus garden. So I re-pot them or break off a piece to grow another plant."

Seetha also improvises and uses anything to pot plants — from small glasses to big tea pots. Driftwood and shells embellish her garden.

Cacti, according to Seetha, flower at night and do well in Chennai weather. “They are slow plants and take time to grow. They need just a little water and lots of sunshine. They grow really fast in February and March and stay dormant through summer. "

Her garden was recently affected by cyclone Nilam but, says Seetha, her cacti are alright. "They survived."