Revisiting Norm Klein's 40-year-old cactus garden

A couple of years ago, I introduced you to Norm Klein’s cactus garden in the Sacramento area (post here). Recently, I had the opportunity for another visit when Norm opened his garden for the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society (SCSS).

Long-established cactus gardens are more common in Southern California or Arizona, but here in Northern California, they’re few and far between. That’s why seeing Norm’s garden and listening to him talk about his plants was such a special treat. I don’t know of any other private garden with cacti as large and old as Norm’s.

Norm Klein in his front yard

Norm, a young 87, has lived in his suburban home for nearly 40 years, during which he has meticulously cultivated one of the largest private cactus collections in the Sacramento area. Instead of small cacti in a greenhouse (he doesn’t have one), Norm has mature specimens both in the ground and in terracotta pots, filling nearly every inch of his front and backyard.

Norm’s property, typical for the area at around 7,800 square feet, feels much larger because there are so many plants to look at. By the time I left, I felt as if I’d wandered through a garden spanning an acre or two.

As you can see in the photos below, the majority of Norm’s plants are cacti, but there are also other succulents such as aloes, agaves, and a few euphorbias. What you won't see: weeds. There were none. Norm patrols for weeds on a daily basis.

Not a square inch of lawn anywhere

Clump of Ferocactus glaucescens

Ferocactus glaucescens doesn’t get more spectacular than this

The side yard leading into the back is jam-packed, mostly with cacti, but there are few agaves as well.

Notice the row of golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii) lined up along the walkway. Norm got them recently at a local Home Depot. You and I, we would have bought one, maybe two. Norm, on the other hand, bought twenty-five. Because, why not?

Twenty-five recently acquired golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii)

More golden barrels

Parodia magnifica

Like the other areas you saw above, Norm’s backyard is anything but minimalistic. It may have been more sparse 30 years ago, but now it’s filled to the brim with cacti tall and skinny, round and fat, and everything in between.

Norm with SCSS members Kyle Johnson and Dave Roberts

Aloe marlothii and a very purple Opuntia santa-rita

Large clump of Agave filifera

Opuntia erinacea ‘Snow’

It’s wise to watch your step

Agave filifera and Agave parryi

Agave filifera and Agave parryi

Agave parryi

Prickly pear fruit in Agave potatorum rosette

Leaves on Eve’s needle cactus (Austrocylindropuntia subulata)

I’d love to know how many pots there are!

Opuntia robusta and Agave titanota

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Agave geminiflora and yet another Echinocactus grusonii

Ferocactus robustus

Opuntia robusta towering over...

...countless golden barrels

Agave parryi and golden barrels

Agave schidigera and golden barrels

Quick question: What is Norm’s favorite cactus?

Answer: I think you can tell from the photos above (and below).

Covered patio packed with potted cacti (and a few other succulents)

Big fat golden barrel and a magnificent clump of Parodia magnifica

Norm even has golden barrels in hanging pots

Wider view of the patio

Looking toward the house

SCSS members Dave Roberts (standing) and Kyle Johnson (sitting)

Norm likes golden barrels, but he likes parodias too

Norm says this amazing slab of petrified wood weighs over 100 pounds and cost $79 about 40 years ago

Opuntia sulphurea

Euphorbia echinus

Euphorbia horrida

Another old clump of Parodia magnifica

Small island with cacti and Agave schidigera

Opuntia robusta and Aloe distans hybrid

In spite of occasional trimming, these prickly pears are close to 10 ft. tall

Another benefit: They’re an effective privacy screen against the neighbors

The side yard on the patio side of the house...

...leads to a hidden garden:

Norm loves a good story almost as much as his plants. 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. You and I would freak out, but Norm, a retired oral surgeon, kept calm, cool, and collected. When neither packing tape nor soap and water worked, he resorted to fine sandpaper to scrape the glochids off in the shower, followed by a liberal application of rubbing alcohol to prevent infection!

In addition to being a doctor and cactus collector, Norm was an ultramarathon runner for many years. His wife Helen, now 102, had an even more illustrious career as a runner. She didn’t start running until she was 55 and went on to completing 90 marathons and 143 ultramarathons, setting 75 national and world records. Considered a legend in ultramarathon circles, Helen was inducted into the USA Track & Field’s Masters Hall of Fame in 1999. What a rich life the Kleins have had!

Note on watering: Norm hand-waters 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, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Wow! Does he ever have to water them? What a job that would be! Maybe I am thinking of Phoenix! Maybe the rain supports them in northern CA? 87 and 102! A testament to running!

    1. He does hand-water; I just added a note. We're dry from May to October so potted plants wouldn't survive without additional water.

    2. That's a lot of watering! Wow, he is dedicated!

  2. I enjoyed this article very much! The Kleins are indeed very impressive & very interesting. Simply wow!

  3. Wowza!!! In addition to being packed, that may be the most meticulous garden I've ever seen. I bet the's never had a problem with burglars either!

  4. This is truly amazing. I noticed the Western States t-shirt right off that bat, they are both inspiring for their running careers. The parodia clumps are fabulous, as well as all the golden barrels. What a great post, I'm going to go read it all over again.

  5. Go Norm! Golden barrels for the win.... what does he plan to do with his 25 new acquisitions?

  6. What amazed me on a visit several years ago is how meticulously he keeps the ground around the plants. He told me the bane of his existence is the redwood in the background of your second picture, in his neighbor's yard. It drops leaves year round into his front yard, and he picks up every one. All his plants look pristine, no cobwebs or any detritus, in or around the pots. It would be a horrendous job for a young person to constantly move all those pots and sweep around them, and he's doing it in his late eighties!

  7. Oh, that was fun! Thanks for taking us along! I think I'd probably spend hours there, and it would be fun to visit with folks while discussing the amazing succulents!

  8. What happens in when winter rains come? Does he have to cover some?

  9. 2nd photo shows a world of difference between Norm's yard and everyone else's.

  10. WOW. I remember visiting Norm’s a couple of years ago when he had an open house for our SCSS group. His gorgeous hard continues to amaze me. And thanks so much, Gerhard, for adding the scientific names for us beginners. You are a fabulous photographer!

    1. Gorgeous YARD, not hard. 😂


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