Kaden Blunt loves poring over gardening books — so he knows what not to do.
"If it's been done before what's the point of doing it again?" he says. "I try to do things that aren't in those books."
For Blunt, gardening is all about experimenting with new ideas.
"I studied bonsai for a long time, so I like to translate that to bigger trees and make them look like large bonsais," says the 34-year-old signwriter from Altona North.
"Learning about bonsai helps you in selecting which branches to remove and thinking about the shape. You get an eye for it. It's all a matter of taste."
Blunt's passion is growing cacti and succulents, and the more unusual the receptacle the better.
One of his favourite creations began with a human head model once used for hairdresser training.
Blunt sawed its head off, gouged out the inside, drilled holes in the base for drainage and added rocks, then planted a cactus that resembles bulging human brains and a succulent that has grown into a head of luscious curls.
Elsewhere, cacti and succulents sprout from old kettles, pots and pans, propellers, boots, piles of tires, disc brakes, watering can spouts, drink cans, plumbing pipes and 44-gallon drums.
Blunt estimates he has 2000 plants in his backyard. In winter he spends about 12 hours a week perfecting his garden, even in the freezing cold or pouring rain and often after dark. In summer, he'll put in 30 hours a week or more, often until 10 or 11 at night.
That cactus, an Echinopsis, is still thriving in his garden, producing a big peach-colored flower throughout the year every time there is a warm spell.
"The flowers are amazing — they spread out as big as your hand and only last for a few days," he says.
While Blunt's extended family have taught him much about gardening, almost everything he knows about growing succulents and cacti he has learnt through trial and error over 10 years, killing many a plant along the way.
He is now writing a book for beginners on how to grow cacti and succulents so others learn from his mistakes.
"As long as you've got the right soil mix, growing cacti is easy," Blunt says. "It's all about drainage — if it drains it will grow. The soil has to be full of rocks. If it can't drain, they'll die."
Blunt says one mistake people make is to think cacti don't need watering. "Cacti are really thirsty in summer," he says.
"That's how I've killed a lot in the past. I'll go away for a week and come back and many will have died."
Blunt's son, Phoenix, 3, is a frequent helper in the garden when he stays on weekends, taking cuttings, putting plants in pots and keeping up the watering.
"He knows the ones not to touch now," says Blunt. "He got spiked by one of the worst cacti and his reaction was to hit it. I don't think he's ever going to touch one again."
Blunt loves his garden most in spring when it begins bursting into flower, but year-round it has become his sanctuary from the wider world.
"I'm not keen on living where I live, so when I walk out the back door I feel like I'm up in Queensland or somewhere nice," he says.
"I find working in the garden very therapeutic. It's my little spot where I can tinker or make up plants to give away. Everything is in its place and the way I want it to be, and it makes me feel good."
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