I’ve driven out Blue Diamond Road plenty of times in the eight years I’ve called Las Vegas home, and every time I’ve noticed the white truck parked just past the turnoff to Red Rock Canyon. “Cactus Joe’s Blue Diamond Nursery” it says in big letters on the side; “Cactus – Pottery – Yard Art.” Each time I’ve passed it, I’ve said to myself—or to anyone who happened to be traveling with me—“I’ve really got to stop there one of these days.”
One of these days came last week, and as soon as I got out of the car, I was kicking myself for not visiting sooner. As I had long suspected from my drive-by glimpses, Cactus Joe’s is far more than a nursery. It’s even more than an outdoor showroom of fountains, statuary, ceramics and furniture. The enclave, shaded by oleander hedges, tall cottonwoods and cypress, is an enchanting 7.5-acre desert garden. Pleasant even on a summer day, Cactus Joe’s is a fascinating place to explore.
Just inside the gate, a greenhouse-like enclosure—refreshingly cool thanks to three enormous evaporative coolers—houses an enchanting variety of whimsical art, from ceramic frogs to huge metal sunbursts, along with a fascinating variety of potted cactuses and succulents that grow well indoors and on patios. Past the greenhouse, paths meander through displays of concrete benches and tables, past thousands of brightly-glazed ceramic pots, huge piles of petrified wood, Mexican “chimineas” (moveable earthenware fireplaces), birdbaths, wind chimes, wall hangings, possibly the world’s largest collection of concrete tortoises and, of course, the impressive assortment of cactuses. Tall, many-armed saguaros stand sentinel over fat fire barrels, teddy bear chollas, hedgehog cactuses and prickly pears. Other desert plants are well represented, too: Joshua trees, ocotillos, agaves, yuccas, desert willows and creosote bushes, to name only a few.
At least as interesting as the plants is the man responsible for collecting them. Yes, there is a real “Cactus Joe,” a straw-hat-and-overalls-clad character who describes himself as “a third-generation farmer from Missouri.” When I inquired what brought him to Las Vegas, he asked me if I knew why Willie Sutton robbed banks.
“Because that’s where the money is?” I asked.
Yep, that was the right answer. Joe Davidson came to Las Vegas 15-or-so years ago, and cactus has been good to him. Not only does he import exotics, he harvests and propagates native plants, including protected species like Joshua trees and barrel cactus. Many of the protected varieties come from land Joe owns over near Lake Mead, and all bear the tags that show they were gathered according to legal guidelines. Joe’s customers include not only retail shoppers but also landscape architects and gardeners. The potted specimens are even available for rent, as are the grounds.
As I chatted with Cactus Joe, it became obvious that this cactus lover is also an animal lover. I said hello to at least three dogs, and Joe said there were more and that I would have seen several cats if it weren’t naptime. All are adoptees from rescue organizations and animal shelters.
“If you’re lucky, you might get to see the pig,” Joe added.
Sure enough, a miniature pig named Lindsay Low-Ham, who joined the dogs and cats a few months ago and also came from an animal shelter, trotted up while we were peeking into the vegetable garden. Joe let me feed her some sunflower seeds, and if I’d had the chance, I just might have tried luring her into my car. I’d heard that pigs make good pets, and Lindsay offered excellent evidence. Perky, dainty and polite, I think she was even cuter than her namesake. She did show up a little later with muddy feet, however, suggesting that she has found an ideal home outdoors at Cactus Joe’s.
In addition to plants and “yard art,” Cactus Joe’s also has a gallery featuring handmade jewelry, art glass, ceramics, T-shirts, hats and a wide variety of one-of-a-kind gifts like wood carvings, knives, paperweights and boxes. Cece Cormier, the jeweler whose creations are on sale in the gallery, is also very knowledgeable about all the plants and their care.
Cece showed off one of the newer additions at Joe’s: an intimate wedding chapel. Rustically inviting, the chapel has a view of Red Rock Canyon, and the surrounding gardens offer plenty of charming backdrops for photos. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the chapel had already hosted several weddings.
The first time I noticed Cactus Joe’s, I knew it was worth a visit. If I had realized what lurked behind those oleander hedges, I probably would have screeched to a halt far sooner. This is a wonderful place, and I’d say that even if I hadn’t gotten a kiss from Lindsay Low-Ham.