Norm Klein's Sacramento-area cactus garden 40 years in the making

Norm Klein has been living in his suburban Rancho Cordova, California home for almost 40 years, steadily building what has got to be one of the largest private cactus collections in the Sacramento area. I'm not talking about small cacti in a greenhouse (Norm doesn't have one), but mature specimens in the ground and in terracotta pots, occupying virtually every square inch in the front and backyard. 

Norm is a legend in Sacramento cactus and succulent circles, and this past Saturday I finally had the opportunity to see his collection during an open house for the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society. A big thank you to SCSS membership chair Carole Hada for making the arrangements.

Norm's property is typical for the area, about 7,800 sq.ft., but it appears larger. That's probably because there are so many plants that beg to be looked at. By the time I left, it seemed like I'd explored a garden an acre or two in size. 

As you can see, most plants are cacti, but there are some other succulents as well—aloes, agaves, and a few euphorbias. The only tree anywhere on the property is a Canary Island date palm in the front yard (you can see a bit of the trunk on the right in the photo below),

Front yard as seen from the walkway to the front door

Agave parryi and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

So... many...

...cacti!

All the potted plants are in terracotta containers, which Norm prefers for their breathability and uniform look 

Swoonworthy Ferocactus glaucescens

Well-placed art piece near the front door

Opuntia microdasys beautifully matched with a lava rock

Agave filifera


Opuntia erinacea

Cluster of potted cacti next to the garage:


Side yard leading into the back:

No wasted space here!

I meant to ask Norm what his favorite cactus is, but based on the number of individual specimens I saw, it has to be the golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii). In most of the photos below, there's at least one golden barrel somewhere.

Still in the side yard, almost into the back now

Now we're in the backyard. Get ready to be overwhelmed!



This Aloe marlothii was a recent rescue. Norm estimates it weighs several hundred pounds. It required four adults to move it into its new home.

Wider view of the backyard

Norm in his element

Another clump of Agave filifera, with Agave parryi on the right

More Agave parryi

Agave parryi is an aggressive colonizer, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you have in mind. Norm clearly doesn't mind it spreading.

Opuntia pads turned to wood

Backlit Cleistocactus

Norm during our tour of his backyard

The far corner of the backyard is occupied by a spectacular clump of Opuntia robusta

Ferocactus robustus

Prickly pear as tall as the house 


Closer look at the Opuntia robusta above

Opuntia robusta and Agave parryi

View down the other side yard toward the redwood tree in the neighbor's front yard

Covered patio on the right

My favorite piece in Norm's collection wasn't a plant, but this amazing slab of petrified wood. He says it weighs 100 pounds and cost $79 about 40 years ago. I bet it would sell for well over $1000 now.

Covered patio off the living room

Euphorbia echinus

Golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii)... 

...and ball cactus (Parodia magnifica)

Another Ferocactus glaucescens I drooled over

More views of...

...the covered...

...patio

Remember what I said about there being a lot of golden barrels?

Yellow, blue and green are the dominant colors, plus terracotta orange


A surprising jolt of purple from this Opuntia santa-rita

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Oreocereus celsianus

 ♫ Roll out the barrel...

...we'll have a barrel of fun

Agave schidigera

Norm loves his plants. And he knows they love him back because they generously share their spines with him. Norm has had his share of close encounters of the cactus kind, and he enjoys sharing the details. In one particularly memorable incident, he fell onto a clump of opuntia and ended up with thousands of glochids in his chest, arms and thighs. When neither packing tape nor soap and water worked, he resorted to fine sandpaper to scrape them off in the shower, followed by a liberal application of rubbing alcohol to prevent infection. And it worked. We cringed when he told the story, but to Norm, these things simply come with the territory.

By now, I'm sure you've realized that Norm has a great sense of humor and doesn't take himself too seriously. Just look at what he was wearing:


But this isn't the only cactus outfit in Norm's closet. He proudly brought out a few other cactus-themed garments:


My wife was joking that I might be just like Norm in 20 or 30 years. To which I say, I should be so lucky!


Note on watering: Norm hand-waters his plants from March through October. He now uses stainless-steel clad hoses that are easier to move around than conventional rubber hoses, don't kink, and don't get punctured by spines.


© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.

Comments

  1. Fabulous!!! 🌵❤️🌵

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  2. Unbelievable! I have been to many cactus gardens in mostly AZ but also CA too. I have never seen anything like this one! And my husband thinks I have too many cactus! Mine are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to this garden.

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    1. That's how I felt! The sheer number of plants was almost overwhelming.

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  3. Makes me look like a dabbler in my collection now seems tiny bad comparison. What a marvel!

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  4. Amazing! Doesn't he ever need to water them!? Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Norm hand-waters roughly from March - October. He now uses stainless steel hoses (as do I) because they're lighter, don't kink, and don't get punctured by cactus spines.

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  5. Wow wow wow! Norm has created one awesome garden! So many gorgeous plants, expertly cared for. The decision to keep everything in terracotta pots was a smart one - they really tie his collection together into a cohesive whole. Norm's passion for plants is clear and I love that this enthusiasm extends even to his wardrobe! I too would be happy to be like Norm in the future. What a cool dude. Thanks for the tour!

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    1. Norm was a dentist and oral surgeon, and he said he gives his plants the same care he gave his patients :-)

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    2. That explains why everything looks so spotlessly clean!

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  6. Speechless. Awed. There are amazing, unsung gardens and gardeners out there.

    And great shorts!

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  7. You overlooked the most amazing thing about Norm's garden- how pristine it is. There isn't a particle of plant debris in sight. The mind boggles at how many hours he spends hand picking leaves out of the gravel groundcover. He told me that his neighbor's redwood tree is the bane of his existence- lol. Considering Norm has to be in his 90's by now, I don't know how he does it.

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    1. Norm did mention the neighbor's redwood tree. Seeing how it's about 40 ft. tall, I can only imagine the amount of leaf litter that ends up on and among Norm's plants.

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  8. What a great post of a great plant enthusiast! I could have guessed Norm's passion is for cacti just from looking at his clothes, all the way down to his socks!!!
    As I was reading, I wondered if a pot ever became too crowded... some of the barrel cactus are beautifully "spilling" over the edge.
    Is the purple color of Opuntia santa-rita a permanent feature or a seasonal coloration?
    Chavli

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    1. The spilling cactus was one of my favorite features, too!

      I was surprised to see the Santa Rita prickly pear such a vivid purple at this time of year. I'm going to ask Norm if I can have a pad.

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