The Barrier Garden

For the love of a rose, the gardener becomes the slave of a thousand thorns. Turkish Proverb.

The house came with an old woody Pereskia Bleo in a pot. I was told this leafy cactus has a beautiful flower. Indeed it does, a Rose like flower even in bud form but its not for love of this rose that it has found a prominent place in my garden.

On the day I got the keys to the property I  discovered that it had been broken into. Thieves had climbed into the roof and stolen all the electrical wiring. Security became an issue and one suggestion was to plant Pereskia against the fence and this is how I was introduced to the concept of barrier gardening.

Having determined that the the roof was a vulnerable point of entry, I decided to mass some barrier plants around the side porch whose roof is easy to access from the slope on that side of the property. Besides the Pereskia, I had also inherited another unfriendly plant, a large spiney Euphorbia Lactea in a pot. Friends donated more thick stalks of Pereskia that were cut into lengths about a foot long and sticking these  into the ground along with the original plant and a few branches of the Euphorbia has resulted, one year later, in a formidable grove of thorns.

This area sort of  bookends the gravel garden so I also have Agaves, and Sanseverias growing in between. The couple of Euphorbia Milii I added, because of its pretty flowers, just hasn't done so well, so will soon be moving. The Pereskia on the other hand grows like a triffid now reaching six or seven feet. It's an awkward plant that topples over from its own weight and has required a fair amount of assisting to keep it tidy. Handling it however has been a painful learning experience.

Pereskia thorns break in your skin, and as I discovered, that can happen with a branch falling on or even brushing against you. The thorns also easily pierce leather gardening gloves. I learnt that these lingering barbs can turn infectious and require medical attention. On more than one occasion I have run into the house and pulled out a needle to retrieve one or more of these nasty things. Or, days later inspection of sore appendages lead inevitably to some domestic surgery.

I really avoid handling them at all now and if I do, I wrap a fabric shopping bag around it then pick it up with gloved hands. If I can avoid it at all, with the use of tools, sticks or whatever's at hand I will. Its a good thing that its easy cultivation provided a quick, effective and necessary security solution because its really not a lovable plant, although the orange flowers I'll admit are really quite pretty and the plant always blooming.

There is less issue with thorns with the Euphorbia Lactea  but the branches break off easily and there is toxic sap to deal with. Unfortunately since there is more space between them, some weeding is occasionally required and a stab and a dash to the sink to wash of the sap is part of that process. Thankfully both the Euphorbia and the Pereskia are growing in the slope thats behind a retaining wall so my dogs and visiting children are at much less risk of interacting with them.

A third inherited plant, a large potted Bougainvillea became another barrier plant. I don't love Bougainvilleas, they just seem at odds with the landscape here but despite this have become hugely popular, there's hardly a garden without one, which is perhaps another reason for my disinclination.  However, this plant was large and planted against a low boundary wall that was particularly vulnerable, quickly draped it with a protective cloak of thorns. Out of its pot and into the ground, its gotten monstrous pretty quickly. Taming it every couple of months has resulted in some nasty scratches.

How odd to have a gardening relationship with plants that one has little attachment to and are a little scared of even but find necessary to have in the garden at grave risk.


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