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A Desert Oasis In Our Backyard

Chad-NicoleBY DAVID STERN

Thirty minutes from Palm Springs, between the mountains that divide Desert Hot Springs and Yucca Valley, resides the Cactus Mart—a desert gardener’s delight, known to horticulturists and cacti enthusiasts alike for decades.

You’ve been there, right?… No?… What’s almost just as amazing as this desert gardening wonder-world, is how many in the Coachella Valley have yet to discover it. Located a short distance from I-10 off Highway 62 in the Morongo Valley, you can get there in the time it takes to get from Palm Springs to La Quinta.

Seeing Is Believing
It’s easy to understand how people pass by this gem without realizing the treasure they missed out on. Their sign is easy enough to see. However, it isn’t until you cross the threshold of the entrance that you discover how this place blossoms to reveal an astonishing assortment of… well, just about everything related to gardening and home.

There’s a huge selection of cacti and succulents, a plentitude of native and desertadaptive plants, pottery, a gift shop, an art gallery, even a hardware store. Cactus Mart owner, Nicole Holland shares, “It just makes sense that the gardening hardware people need for planting is right here. It’s a one-stop-shop.” You might also notice the resident chickens, cats, (dropped off in a box when they were kittens), and the tranquilizing Koi Pond.

The first time I visited the Cactus Mart, I couldn’t help but notice a beautifully decorated surfboard converted into a shower fixture. Not what I expected at a desert garden nursery. But that’s the magic of this Morongo destination—it’s not what you’d expect. “People come here for cactus or succulents, then they stop in the art gallery and see an original artwork by Snake Jagger—we have amazing artwork here. It blows people away,” said Nicole.

Seeds Of Change
The Cactus Mart has been around since the late sixties and Nicole and Chad Holland are the third owners. “We just took over around the first of the year, and we’re revitalizing the place and expanding on what people are gravitating towards these days—drought-tolerant landscaping. It’s a different type of nursery. This is not your typical ‘big-box’ garden department. Our people have great knowledge. They know what they’re talking about. They understand plants and the conditions they need. You’ll have a personalized experience when you come here. A lot of people are drawn to that,” Nicole explains.

The Cactus Mart sells heirloom non-GMO seeds year-round from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. These special seeds are heat-tolerant and perfect for the harsh desert heat. Presently, seeds for tomatoes, zucchini, squash, watermelon, peppers and more are available.

It might also surprise people that the Cactus Mart specializes in weddings. “We do arrangements for weddings. We create succulent bouquets, which are very popular right now. The brides come in and pick out exactly what they want. They can see the actual plants that will be used for their bouquets. Sometimes it’s succulents mixed with fresh flowers or it can be just succulents. We also have a portfolio brides can choose arrangements from. They come in with their ideas, we take their color scheme and we tie it all together with the flowers and the succulents. Coming up, we have three weddings to do for one weekend,” said Nicole.

Classes For The Masses
Every now and then, desert gardening classes are provided at the Cactus Mart for all who want to attend. In May, Maureen Gilmer, author of the book, Palm Springs-Style Gardening, held an ‘Edible’ gardening class that was well attended. “That class got great response. We were stopping traffic on Highway 62 because there were so many people trying to get in here,” said Nicole. The next class will be about Winter Gardening and Nicole says that people find about the classes through Facebook, word-of-mouth and radio ads that air in Joshua Tree. Contact the Cactus Mart for more info.

Future Growth Plans
Nicole and Chad plan on expanding to fully-utilize the two acres of property their business occupies—although it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the Cactus Mart wishing they had more to offer. Nicole explains, “We want people to have an even bigger experience and offer an even bigger selection. If you don’t want the ‘big-box’ garden department experience and not get ignored, you can come here and have fun.Desert landscaping doesn’t have to be boring.”

The Cactus Mart is located at 49889 Twentynine Palms Hwy. (Hwy 62) Morongo Valley, CA (760) 363-6076 / www.cactusmart.com

Custom arrangements available at Raymond Lawrence, 830 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, CA Phone: (760) 322-3344.