Earlier, I talked about doing observations in order to make educated design decisions, and how important it was to wait before planting or building anything. One thing I failed to mention was if there is something you know you hate, there is no need to wait, it’s perfectly OK to remove it. There is also no need to measure and map out something you know you’ll remove. In my case, that was my front yard cactus.
Now before you start thinking I hate cacti, hold up. I think cacti have their place. Desert landscapes are beautiful, and cacti can add interest and structure to modern gardens. However, my front yard is neither of those things. My house is a 1900 Victorian, and while I don’t think the landscape style always needs to match the house style, I am drawn to gardens that somewhat corresponds. For a Victorian, I think lots of flowers, greenery, and lush spaces. I do not think Southwest. Which is what my house had going in the front yard when we purchased it.
There was a GIANT paddle cactus on a sand mound, surrounded by rocks that were on their end. A friend equated them to tombstones, and another said the yard looked like it was surrounded by shark teeth. Add in tons of Stipa tenuissima (an invasive grass sold as a landscape plant), an overgrown heather, rose bushes, a giant rosemary, and a ton of oxalis and other weeds. There was also a mess of weed cloth under a thick layer of soil, and chunks of cement holding up the cactus mound. Overall, it was a hot mess.
I do not know what type of cactus this specimen was, and while some people loved it, I knew it had to go. There is a slight chance it could have stayed if I ate prickly pear or nopalitos, but I don’t, and I’m pretty sure this was not that variety. I did feel a bit bad about removing something that was obviously so old, but I made the decision it had no place in my garden. Upon closer inspection, there was actually two cactus, one with crazy thorns, and the other with less noticeable but still painful thorns.
The first step to clearing the front yard was to break the cactus apart. The smaller paddles would snap off from the joints if I pulled on them. I had to apply some serious force, then jump back to avoid being hit my the falling arm. The larger ones had to get hacked off with a hatchet. Having never removed a cactus before, I was surprised at how HEAVY the paddles were, which makes sense since cactus store water to survive arid climates.
In between cactus hacking sessions, I would pull weeds, including the buildup of thatch from the Stipa. The cactus was built on a mound to allow for drainage, with two layers, separated by weed cloth. The sand that made up the top of the mound was set aside for a future re-use project, as well as the layer of soil that made up the lower layer of the mound.
While I worked on the cactus, my husband worked on removing our tombstone-like rocks. If you ever have a conversation that follows the lines of: “ Hey, you know what would make our garden awesome! Let’s take giant, heavy rocks, then CEMENT them in the ground!” In which your conversation partner says “No wait, let’s also rebar the cement!” YOU SAY NO. In fact, perhaps leave that relationship and get help, because clearly, you are both crazy. There is absolutely no reason my tombstone rock perimeter needed to be cemented in. But it was. With rebar.
But thankfully, my husband is uber strong and good with a sledgehammer and a crowbar and was able to get them out. I’m still wondering WHY they were cemented when it wasn’t needed. The rocks were buried a third to a half way, which was clearly enough to be stable. I’m open to suggestions. Perhaps afraid someone would steal them?
After two weekends of working with my husband, plus some days during the week for me, the cactus has been removed, most of the Stipa out, most of the weed cloth pulled, and about half the rocks dug up. Then it rained, halting our progress on continuing. Right now, the yard looks awful, a muddy pit surrounded by piles of rock and soil. But it has to get worse before it gets better, right? In the meantime, working out front and removing the cactus has been a great conversation starter with our neighbors!
Stay tuned as I create a design plan (that does not include cacti) for this space, as well as the rest of the garden!