An eye for cacti
Inside Felice Andersen's gardening toolbox is a pair of long kitchen tongs.
The Beach Grove resident uses them to handle extra prickly cacti with spines capable of piercing her work gloves. Sometimes she fashions arm protectors out of old newspapers to prevent stray spines from slipping down her sleeves.
It's necessary to take these precautions when Andersen is tending to her more than 200 species of succulent plants.
She has been collecting succulents for 30 years and says she is drawn to their unique and sometimes bizarre shapes and colours.
"They're very architectural, they're very unusual, they're not your average plant," she says. "And if you go away, you don't worry about watering them every day."
Andersen explains the cactus is a large family of plant that are all succulents—meaning they store water. Cacti are identified by their sharp spines, while other succulents tend to have fleshy leaves.
Andersen is a VanDusen Master Gardener and a member of the Desert Plant Society of Vancouver. She and her cactus connoisseur clubmates share cuttings and pool their money to order rare plants via catalogue.
Andersen's garden is home to species native to Mexico, the Andes mountains, Madagascar, Morocco, the Canary Islands and other foreign regions. Some are 15 feet tall, others just an inch. One is covered in long spikes, another in soft white hair. And all are meticulously tagged with their proper Latin names.
"Some of them, they can get 100-years-old," Andersen says, motioning to a ceiling-high South African cactus in her living room which she has had for 30 years.
There's also a rotund, potted agave that is 50-years-old.
"It should have died a long time ago," Andersen says, explaining the plant will bloom just once in its lifetime. "So I don't really want it to flower because then it will die."
Hailing from the cactus-free country of Sweden, Andersen fell in love with the prickly plants when she was 25-years-old working as a fight attendant for Air France and living in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
It wasn't until she moved to Canada in 1966 that she started growing her own.
With its notoriously wet weather, the Lower Mainland isn't the ideal place for desert plants. But Andersen has created somewhat of a microclimate in her front courtyard, which provides partial protection from the elements. Plus, she says Tsawwassen gets more sun than the rest of the region.
To ensure they survive the wet winter, Andersen either stores her plants indoors or covers them with plastic until spring when she can once again marvel at their wacky shapes and stunning, albeit short-lived, blooms.