If Jim Hall had his way, his entire 130 acre vegetable farm in Strathmerton, Victoria, would be covered in cactus. The current 10 acres occupied by his cactus garden and retail nursery is clearly not enough for a man of Jim’s passion and vision!
Jim has always loved plants. ‘The gardening gene runs through my family. My great-great-grandfather was a gardener for a large estate in England and my grandfather was an orchardist, and grew vegetable seedlings in a nursery in Melbourne,’ he says. Jim’s father, though, was responsible for giving Jim the cactus bug. John Hall was a very keen gardener, and started collecting cactus when Jim was a child.
In 1979 Jim bought his Dad’s cactus collection. ‘I had worked with these plants all my life,’ says Jim. ‘I didn’t want to see them going to anyone else.’ Then in 1984 he and his wife Julie purchased a second collection from the estate of Ed Kroemer, a man who had travelled the world collecting cacti. From these beginnings, and with plenty of time spent propagating new plants and growing larger specimens in ground, Cactus Country was born. With around 3000 different plant species, it’s now the largest collection of cacti on display in Australia.
Jim says people thought he was mad when he started Cactus Country. He had just returned from a few years in England, and decided to combine his love of growing plants with a tourist venture. ‘It was a bit of a wild idea back then, and people thought l was crazy, and probably still do, but l think I’m having the last laugh!’ says Jim! Indeed, cacti and succulents have become very popular in recent years, and it can be hard to find large specimen plants. With his huge collection of mature plants, plenty of space and no shortage of passion, Jim has built himself a thriving business. As well as being a plant nursery, Cactus Country is a serious tourist attraction, with thousands of people visiting the gardens each year.
It’s clear, though, that for Jim, Cactus Country is more than just a business. ‘I love designing and using my imagination to create something that will inspire people,’ says Jim. ‘I’m an artist using plants and rocks and sculpture to create something unique.’ His dream for the garden is to incorporate more sculpture and art into it, citing Inhotim in Brazil as an inspiration, but on a smaller scale.
Cactus Country is a family affair. Jim’s wife Julie works in the café, and their son John is also involved in the day-to-day running of the gardens. Julie wasn’t always so keen on plants. ‘Gardening is definitely not in my genes. l went along with Jim’s idea not really knowing where it would go! Some guys are into cars and fishing. Jim is into cactus,’ she says. ‘I’m so pleased for him that all his hard work is finally paying off. To be able to make a living out of what you love is a great place to be.’
When I ask Jim if he were a cactus what species he would be, his answer is no surprise. ‘I would be a giant Saguaro, like the ones growing in the Arizona desert, so I could see a long way into the distance.’ He’s a man of vision that Jim Hall.