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Rosenberg’s cactus garden brings a sharp look

By Staff | Nov 12, 2014

Bill Rosenberg started growing his cactus garden at his Sanibel Island home 12 years ago and now has raised over 80 varieties of cacti species and nearly 200 plants. BRIAN WIERIMA

About 25 years ago, an idea started to blossom in Bill Rosenberg’s mind after he and his wife, Carol, attended their nephew’s wedding in San Diego.

While visiting one of the city’s many beautiful parks, Balboa Park stuck out to the Rosenbergs.

“There was a park which had a real nice cactus garden and after seeing it, I said I wanted to start a cactus garden one of these days,” Bill said.

That little blossom of a thought bloomed into something magnificent and unique, as the Rosenbergs’ entire three-quarter of an acre yard is now filled with cactuses from all over the world.

They come in all forms, colors and height. Most possess the familiar thorns, but others counter that with beautiful, colorful flowers.

Not all cactuses are just green and prickly. Some blossom beautiful flowers, which soak up the Florida sun. BRIAN WIERIMA

“I started planting cactuses in 2002, and this is the result,” Bill added. “We have about 80 different varieties of cacti, which number about 200 total because we have multiple of the same kind.”

Rock paths meander through the prickly garden, which highlight both big and small cactuses throughout the Rosenberg property. But it took plenty of sweat and time to bring the cactus garden up to where it is now.

“There was nothing else here, but some Sabal Palms,” Carol said. “Bill planted everything else. It started with one garden and it just took off from there.”

“It was a blank canvas,” Bill included. “When the City of Sanibel installed sewers in our neighborhood the area where our septic tank was located, suddenly space became available for a new planting. I cleared out the chemical and water-guzzling grass and planted about 17 cacti that I purchased at Walmart and Home Depot.”

Each addition to the Rosenberg cactus family has been brought back to Sanibel Island in several different forms. The pair still buy cactuses locally, but also have collected their spiny friends from all over the nation.

This cactus blooms beautiful buds, which can come in a variety of colors. BRIAN WIERIMA

“When we travel we make a point to stop at botanical gardens and always get inspired with new ideas on how to set up interesting displays,” Bill said. “One thing nice about cacti, is that you can cut off a lobe and let it sit for a week and scab over. You then can transplant it and it will grow.”

Inspiration comes from many different places, including the Lee County Lakes Park Botanical Garden on Gladiolus and the newly-expanded Naples Botanical Garden.

Transplanting and care for the massive cactus garden is actually quite easy. The plant species needs very little watering or fertilizing and if the Rosenbergs go on a trip, they can do so without worrying about having to have to take care of their plants.

“I put in an hour a day maybe in caring for them, and sometimes they can go weeks without attention,” Bill said. “You don’t have to water them much and very seldom have to fertilize them.”

Another advantage growing cacti is the fact they don’t spread. Despite the need to trim them, they don’t invade large spaces, like many of the other lush vegetation of Florida.

Some of Rosenberg’s cactuses sky over the others, like this Madagascar Palm, which is over 18-foot tall. BRIAN WIERIMA

“There is no danger of them spreading outside our yard and creating a problem with native vegetation, either,” Bill said.

Not all the cactus produce the angry-looking spines, instead they also bloom lively and colorful buds, while some sky high, such as the Madagascar Palm, which has reached 18-feet. Another one, the Queen of the Night cactus (Cereus), blooms a grand flower at night, but withers away within hours.

Or take the Roadkill Cactus, which earns its name with its look of being run over by a car tire.

All of these took time to grow and with Bill putting in lots of work throughout the last dozen years, it has turned into quite an eye-catcher for bypasses.

But the benefits are certainly paying off for the Rosenbergs, who have transformed their yard into one of the most unique sites on Sanibel Island.

“I really enjoy immersing myself in the yard and have several benches to sit on and winding paths to walk around,” Bill said. “I always see an area I want to change or add to. We have added a boulder and rock garden overlooking the lake that adds another dimension and versatility to the yard that does not require water or upkeep. Often curious passersby will stop and ask questions and one of my joys is giving impromptu tours.”

It is a botanical lovers’ dream to be able to walk through the Rosenberg cactus garden, while being able to enjoy one of Mother Nature’s sharpest looking plant in the world.