On a May Sunday during Santa Clara’s annual cleanup campaign, Roger Weise was setting yard trimmings out at the curb for pickup. He had made a big pile of large, prickly pear cactus pads, wearing leather gloves to handle them.
“I have a wall of prickly pear cactus in the backyard,” he said. “It’s a living wall. No water needed. Do you want to see?”
Weise’s living wall is easily one of the seven, manmade growing wonders of—if not the world—Santa Clara. It grows along his back fence, spreading 35 feet—almost the width of his yard. At its highest, it measures about 15 feet. He estimates that it’s more than ten feet deep.
The thick, flat, fleshy pads of the cacti, covered in spiky spines, were dotted with yellow flowers and the red fruit “pears” that Weise says are called “tuna” in Spanish. Both the pads and the pears are edible.
Weise tried once to make prickly pear jam from the fruit. However, even though he doubled the amount of pectin called for, the jam never thickened.
He started his prickly pear cactus wall during the city cleanup campaign about ten years ago. He picked up 20 pads discarded by a neighbor almost a mile away. He just stuck the pads in the ground, never dreaming how well they would flourish.
“I’m surprised that the wall has grown so well and really pretty quickly,” said Weise, whose wife, JoAnn Weise, and he have lived in the house where JoAnn grew up for 32 years.
“It was easy to start the wall, but what do I do with it now?” he said. “My wife doesn’t really like it!”
That same Sunday, on another Santa Clara street, James Bourquin was trimming his own prickly pear cacti, which border the sidewalk at one side of his house, making a wall perhaps one third the size of Weise’s. Although the neighbors do not know each other, this was where Weise found his starter cactus pads ten years ago.
Bourquin and his wife, Catherine Bourquin, have lived in their home since 2002. They got their cactus cuttings from the home of Bourquin’s parents in Sunnyvale.
“We use the cactus wall for privacy,” said Bourquin, who makes juice from the fruit. “It’s a showstopper!
“But the spines just fly at you if you even look at them,” he cautioned. “And they smart!”
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a column where we casually interview people we meet in Silicon Valley. The Won’t You Be My Neighbor column hopes to highlight what makes Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and the rest of the South Bay special — the people who live, work and play here.