Reseda Cactus Ranch = Stressless Environment

Echeveria sp.

Echeveria sp.

David Bernstein is proud of the stressless environment he has created on his 1 1/2-acre cactus ranch in Reseda. He has more than 100,000 cactus plants on display, but you will never feel any pressure to buy even one of them. “The public is welcome to come and browse. Some people visit me every weekend just to unwind. They are soothed by the atmosphere at the ranch,” Bernstein said.
You may be wondering how the sight of thorny cactuses can be soothing, but, trust me, after five minutes at the ranch, you will feel as though you have been transported to a peaceful, if exotic, planet far away from the strife and struggles of Earth. A similar feeling has been described by visitors to the extensive cactus collection of the Huntington Gardens in San Marino; it is a feeling confessed by those who have gazed upon the hundreds of barrel cactus planted en masse at the Getty Center; it is a feeling shared by anyone who has driven through stands of cactuslike Joshua trees (they are actually yuccas) in the Mojave Desert.
There is something about cactus, thorniness notwithstanding, that draws you close to it. Cactus appears to be complete, like a finished sculpture. Cactus – unique among living organisms – never appears to lack for anything, as though it had completely lived up to its potential. No wonder it arouses unparalleled curiosity and fascination among us.
Bernstein has cactuses or succulents that would be suitable for virtually any landscaping project. For the sunny flower garden, Bernstein recommends Mammilaria Zeilmanniana, a spherical cactus with purple flowers that bloom from spring until fall. As an added bonus, this zealously flowering cactus is cold, hardy and may even be grown in the Antelope Valley. Bernstein’s favorite spring flowering cactuses are Lobivia and Echinopsis, possessed of large gramophone-shaped flowers that bloom in red, yellow, white, purple and pink. He also speaks highly of the peanut cactus (Chamaecereus), whose flowers of bright orange or scarlet are so prolific that they completely obscure the peanut-sized prickly segments that constitute the plant’s body.
When considering the subject of cactus and succulents, it would be a mistake to confine your thinking to sunny exposures. Most cactuses will grow satisfactorily in some shade, even if they do flower with greater profusion in the sun. However, many thornless succulents, typically grown as much for their interesting leaves as for their flowers, are sun sensitive. Aloes, for instance, should be protected from the total force of the Valley’s summer sun – in full sun, the leaves of aloes may burn and blister. On the north side of his greenhouses, Bernstein is growing a rare aloe tree (Aloe bainessi x vaombe) that would be suitable for a location that receives no direct sun but is exposed to plenty of ambient light. Another noteworthy aloe on display (Aloe ferox) has leaves armed with teeth and brilliant scarlet flowers.
One of Bernstein’s favorite plants is Echeveria “Afterglow,” a smooth-leafed succulent that will grow well under a tree as long as some light filters down through the canopy. “Afterglow” has the aspect of a rose whose violet petals are suffused with pink.
If hanging baskets are your particular passion, Bernstein’s cactus ranch is a place where you will feel at home. In the Valley, most hanging baskets, typically filled with impatiens or ivy geraniums, will look presentable enough for a season or two before their inevitable downfall. By contrast, plants such as rattail cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis) burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum) and variegated elephant bush (Portulacarla afra ‘Variegata’), will grow slowly but surely for years, becoming fuller and more arresting with the passage of time.
During my visit, I noticed a hummingbird sipping nectar from the flowers of a rattail cactus. Bernstein informed me that many cactuses, as well as all of the aloes, are regularly visited by hummingbirds.
Even the herb garden enthusiast will find a plant of interest at Bernstein’s cactus ranch. Plectranthus tomentosus, suitable both as ground cover and as a hanging basket plant, has pubescent leaves with a strong peppermint redolence.
The cactus ranch, with a “California Nursery Specialties” sign in front, is located at 19420 Saticoy St., just west of Tampa Avenue in Reseda. It is open to the publicfrom 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Call (818) 894-5694.

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