Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bach's Cactus Nursery in Tucson on a chilly winter day

Since I'm housebound because of the rain and can't do any work in the garden, let's go on a virtual nursery visit. The experience may be vicarious, but at least we'll stay dry.

Last New Year's Eve, I visited Bach's Cactus Nursery, one of Tucson's best retail destinations for succulent lovers. It was a cold day, the sky heavy with menacing-looking clouds, and I didn't expect the nursery to be busy. It wasn't, but I wasn't the only customer either, which surprised and pleased me.

Bach's is located north of downtown, not exactly out in the country but not in a bustling part of town either. The turnoff onto the dirt road/driveway that leads into the nursery does look decidedly rural:


This is a large nursery, 11 acres, so signs are needed to direct customers:


It's a one-way road, but watch for stationary vehicles. I noticed several customers, myself included, who simply stopped in the middle of the road to look at the display garden. You'll see photos further down, and you'll know why. 

When you see this smaller bed, you're almost at the retail nursery.


Plants on the ground, prices handwritten onto the nursery pots: my kind of place.


Bach's also has a decent selection of pottery...


...including the requisite imitation Talavera (real Mexican Talavera is crafted by hand in only nine certified workshops in and around the city of Puebla and is far more expensive):


The Styrofoam cups over the columnar cacti were a visible reminder that cold weather was coming:


Saguaros don't need protection:


And neither do ocotillos (they're dormant anyway):



Other areas were covered with frost cloth. I didn't want to mess around with it so I don't know what was under there.


On my first visit to Bach's in 2013 I noticed a ton of petrified wood all over the nursery grounds. Apparently it had come from the estate of a collector. Much of it is still there. I have no idea how much larger pieces cost, but judging from the hand-sized chunks that were priced at $75 and up, I can't imagine that $1000 will get you very far.


One of my favorite things to do when visiting a nursery is to get a peek behind the scenes, away from the retail space. At Bach's there are cool plants wherever you look—as well as petrified wood!


Golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii) galore

Agave applanata 'Cream Spike'

Agave colorata

If somebody offered me a piece of petrified wood anywhere near this pretty, I would not say no


Petrified wood closeup

Bach's has a huge selection of field-grown saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea):


You pick the one you want, and they dig it up for you:


The display garden is inside the circle made by the one-way road into and out of the nursery.


Here you'll find the largest pieces of petrified wood—regular logs!


The folks at Bach's go to great lengths to cover tender specimens in the display garden:


The wrapped plants above and below are Aloidendron dichotomum (previously Aloe dichotoma). I saw them in full bloom in December 2013 (see photo towards the bottom of the Bach's Nursery homepage).


Aloe marlothii


A particularly colorful piece of petrified wood

Look at the knobby totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schotti f. monstrosus) center left! I bought two large sections from a guy in Phoenix ($10 for both on Craigslist!), and I hope to recreate a little bit of this look in the bed next to our front door.

What can I say, more golden barrels!

Startlingly white clump of Mammillaria geminispina

These two Agave victoria-reginae could not be more perfect. The barrel cactus on the left is Echinocactus platyacanthus.

Petrified wood is good for leaning on!

Agave parryi

Out of all the petrified wood vignettes I saw, this is my favorite

Petrified wood and Opuntia lindheimeri

Time to take a peek inside one of the greenhouses:


This would be a good place to play "let's guess how many plants there are."


Alan, this one's for you, seeing how you like photos of cactus seedlings:


I also went inside two other greenhouses looking for a couple of smaller totempole cactus to bring home. Nope, not these....


...but these looked good, and at $12 are fairly priced:


Of course that was before I found the aforementioned totem pole pieces on Craigslist:

I still can't believe it: $10 for both

Bach's Cactus Nursery is family-owned and has been in operation for 40+ years. I was told during my 2013 visit that it's the third largest cactus nursery in the country. Whatever other plans you might have the next time you're in Tucson, this is one destination you must not miss.

I didn't take any photos specifically of my Bach's purchases, but this is what I got:
  • Agave utahensis var. eborispina
  • Echinopsis terscheckii (small 2") as a thank-you gift; click here to see how big it can get
  • Ferocactus pilosus
  • Pachycereus schottii f. monstrosus
  • Two large high-fired Italian terracotta bowls (reasonably priced Italian terracotta is hard to find in the Sacramento area)

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10 comments:

  1. When it comes to cactus and succulents, you do know the best places to shop, Gerhard. I love the Opuntia combined with the petrified wood - they accent one another perfectly.

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    1. I've sworn off opuntias in my own garden because I keep hurting myself, but that combo would make me reconsider.

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  2. Have you ever been through petrified Forest National Park Gerhard ? It's along Highway 40 between Flagstaff and Albuquerque. I guess I better add this nursery to my list for Tucson this fall. The agenda keeps expanding !

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    1. I've seen the turnoff from I-40 but never stopped. I definitely will the next time I'm in the area.

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  3. I love that place and need to go back the next time we’re in Tucson! Thanks for the virtual visit.

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    1. I believe I first heard about Bach's through a post on your blog!

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  4. So many great plants! Definitely a place to visit on a road trip, when I have a car...

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    1. YES! It's torture going there knowing you can't buy anything.

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  5. That sales pen of field-grown saguaros evokes the Chinese emperor's terracotta army -- all the more menacing for the spikiness. (What do the workers wear for protection while digging, I wonder?)

    There was a brief period when my partner's brother-in-law got into collecting rocks of all kinds and regularly mailed us some outstanding specimens. (We almost went broke tipping the mail carrier before the fever blessedly broke...) Among them was a sizable and beautiful chunk of petrified wood, which I am now eyeing with more respect.

    It's hard to choose among the fantastic vignettes, but I think my absolute favorite composition is in the flat-strewn behind-the-scenes area. Another deeply soul-warming distraction from sleety rain; thanks!

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  6. Yes petrified wood is pretty cool. Can imagine one of the large logs used as a spot to stop and admire the plants. We find the odd piece of petrified wood around here but mostly lots of dinosaur bone fossils which look great in succulent containers.

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