Keeping plants can be dangerous

I was the subject of an unprovoked attack in the Blue House yesterday.

For those who don’t know, the Blue House is a green house which is Blue.  And Big.  It’s not a typical domestic green house but rather a kind of environment for Mediterraneran and other arid plants, most of them planted in the ground, getting big and very spiky.  It was built in 2003 and if you want to see what it was like then and how it has developed since, take a look at

In the winter it is loaded up with other tender plants, mostly cacti and succulents which live outside in pots in the summer.  So with frosts forecast and looking likely for this week it had become a matter of urgency to clear out the dead foliage which accumulated over the summer.

There are lots of different types of plant in the Blue House, the majority of them plants with a point, or several hundred points. Most of them now having sunk their roots deep enough to grow without any watering.  One cactus is 8 feet tall with spines up to 2 inches long.  Some of the smaller ones have doubled in size over the summer. All, as I say, very spiky.  It is becoming difficult to walk through the Blue House now without being attacked.  Even the small ones will nip at your ankles.

Doubled in size in 6 months

Still small but fattening up

8 foot tall, 2 inch spines

In particular two of the agaves have got so big that they are taking all the moisture from the soil and other plants like ivy leaved geraniums which had previously been rampant have died of drought while I was sunning myself in Greece.  That meant a lot of dead foliage to clear and agaves to cut back because they were encroaching significantly on the pathways.

Agave Arizonica, 5 feet high and 6 feet across having smashed its way out of pot

Blue agave, planted in rubble and doubled in size in 2 years

I have been putting it off but yesterday decided it had reached top of the priority list.  The clearing went well, though my arms bear witness to the contrary in the shape of numerous lacerations from the two giant agaves which I was trying to tame.  They have incredibly sharp and very hard points at the end of each leaf/pad or whatever they are called.  They could do pretty serious damage to any part of the body including the head because they are that big.  I put corks on some of the more threateningly positioned ones. What is a more frequently occurring problem, though not with such potentially serious consequences, is that the edges have barbs which are curving and so sharp that the latch onto the skin at the barest touch and are reluctant to let go.


even more ouch!!

I cut off about 10 of the spiky pads, some over a metre long and congratulated myself on achieving less than usual blood-letting.  The clearing was going really well.  At least it went well until I was attacked, not by the agaves but quite unexpectedly by one of the prickly pear cacti which suddenly drove 50+ hair-like needles into my thigh, through my trousers.  I merely brushed against it but that was enough.

The one that did the damage

I then spent the best part of an hour trying to tease them out of my leg with tweezers, only to give up because I was pulling out far more hairs than cactus spines.  The spines were practically invisible in the hair even when I tried using a magnifying glass.  I’m glad no-one came to the door, or round to the back garden.  I was in my underpants sitting in the window to get better light, looking intently at my thigh through a magnifying glass, pulling out hairs with a tweezers, my face contorted with concentration and pain.

The thigh was looking increasingly inflamed and was becoming very sore.  It was clear that the tweezer method would not deal with the problem.  Then I had a brainwave!  It would mean sacrificing the hair at least temporarily but hopefully it would clear all the spines.  The solution? Depilatory hot wax.  I went to a neighbours’ where there are 4 females in the household to find out if any of them had any.  I figured I could coat the offended part and rip out cactus spines and hairs at one go, albeit rather painfully.  Good lateral thinking I thought.  But not to be.  They must all be shavers not waxers.  Or neither shavers nor waxers, I didn’t venture to enquire further.

However, they offered to go to the chemist and buy me the appropriate product in order to save me the humiliation.  An offer I readily accepted.  I wouldn’t like it to get round the neighbourhood that I use hot wax treatments.  It would get me a reputation I would rather not have.  The pharmacist, after a good laugh I’m sure, said hot wax would inflame the situation even more and recommended Magnesium Sulphate Paste as a ‘drawing ointment’.  So I’m trying a poultice made of that and Melonin dressings.  It hasn’t worked yet but here’s hoping.  Otherwise I might have to revisit the hot wax idea.

I’m thinking of taping off the Blue House like a police scene of crime.  It has certainly set back the Annual Clearance.

I had intended writing a Grumpy Blog today.  But I promise one next time.

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1 Response to Keeping plants can be dangerous

  1. dai hankey says:

    That’s hilarious!

    Trying to shake off the mental image of you in your pants gazing at your thigh with a magnifying glass, but feel I may be disturbed for life from that one!!

    God bless Pops!

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