My journey to winter-hardy cacti

Developing my collection of winter-hardy cacti has taken many turns and much patience. My advice is to keep trying and never give up!

I started by raising a number of rock garden plants from seed for my little garden. In 1965, I heard about Reader Rock Garden in Calgary, home of more than 2,000 rock and alpine plants.

I didn’t get to the Reader Garden until 1969, when we lived in Calgary for a year. About halfway through the garden, I noticed a cactus among the alpine plants. A desert plant there seemed a bit strange. But it was growing there permanently, not just for the summer, so I wanted one for my Edmonton garden. One of the fellows working there said they didn’t sell anything, no plants, seeds or cuttings and he didn’t know where I could buy one. Never did I come across a plant like it as long as we were in Calgary.

Shortly after, I came across two names regarding winter-hardy cacti: Claude A. Barr in Smithwick, South Dakota, and Geo. W. Park Seeds in South Carolina. I ordered seeds from both… Some grew, so I planted them outside in Edmonton, but within a couple of years all were dead. Three years had passed since I saw the cactus in Calgary—would I ever see a winter-hardy cactus grow successfully in my garden?

But things changed after a visit to Dr. Reinhold’s “Cactus Flower Shop” on Edmonton’s south side. I didn’t buy any plants, having lost so many already, but on the bookshelf I came across the booklet “Handbook on Succulent Plants,” that was published by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in 1963 and contained an article by Claude A. Barr reporting on winter-hardy cacti he was growing and mentioning quite a number of them by name. Best of all, he wrote about the weather conditions the plants had put up with and survived. To me as a beginner, knowing hardly anything about cacti, winter-hardy or otherwise, was just great. I ordered a number of cacti seed lists, and with Barr’s article “Hardy Cacti,” I thought I would give it a try. And I did…

[Editor’s notes: Reader Rock Garden is still there, at McLeod Trail and 25th Avenue. The City of Calgary website has a nice description of it and its founding by William R. Reader about 100 years ago. Over the years, the Garden has tried out more than 4,000 different species. Claude A. Barr died in 1982 after nearly 100 years of distributing and publicizing Great Plains plants and seeds. George W. Park died in 1935, but Park Seeds still exists – the company has been providing seeds from Greenwood, South Carolina for 140 years. The Cactus Flower House in Edmonton, a successor to Dr. Reinhold’s shop over several changes of ownership, no longer carries cacti in spite of its name! Our Society’s library has a copy of the 1963 Handbook on Succulent Plants.]

>>By Jean W.

One thought on “My journey to winter-hardy cacti

  1. Dear cactus enthusiasts!

    I am trying to find a good source of Opuntia polyacantha and O. tortispina
    seeds originated in Alberta or nearby states or provinces. Please, if you have any idea about such sources let me know at

    And also, do you have any experience of growing O. basilaris and Hesperoyucca Whipplei in your area? I am sking because I have contradictory information in this regard.

    Respectfully, Michael Vinaver,
    Los Angeles, California

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