The cacti of Carriage Road

Finding 400 or so cacti in someone’s garden in Arizona would not be unusual. Perhaps even expected. But in Wilton?

That is the case at Ray Moskow’s home on Carriage Road, where hundreds — who can keep count — of the prickly plants reside, indoors and out. It is a hobby, Mr. Moskow freely admits, that has gotten out of hand.

Like many things, it started innocently enough. Fifty years ago, he recalled recently, he was living alone in Springfield “with not one green thing” in his apartment. A friend gave him a cactus plant and that “started a whole history of collection.”

He now has more than 100 varieties — tall, fat, hairy, prickly, smooth and flowering. The tallest measures 21 feet. Most are southwest American varieties but there are no saguaros.

There are ways to reduce the numbers, Mr. Moskow admits, but he does not sell or destroy them, believing in the right to cactus life. In fact, he propagates them, and sometimes acquires more.

He also gives them away. Some people are happy to have them. One of his daughters has 100 of them, and he jokes that they are in his will. After a hurricane he put 75 out on the street just for the taking. They were gone in three days.

He claims to have given 40 to a Norwalk elementary school teacher who put them on the windowsills in her classroom to keep the students from leaning out.

In addition to cultivating the cacti, Mr. Moskow also cultivates new cacti fans. Anyone who makes the mistake of saying, “hey, these are interesting” or “cute” or “I like these” will, with their consent, receive a “starter set of six plants.” (In actuality they receive six pots. The pots could have more than one plant in them, just saying.)

They also receive a congratulatory letter welcoming them to Ray’s Cactus Collector’s Club. Just last month he added at least four new members.

The plants are “warranted for life and will be replaced if they fail due to blight, operator error, mishandling or acts of God. The plants are second-, third- or even fourth-generation cuttings. The parent plants are often still alive at Ray’s and visitation is encouraged.”

Mr. Moskow also offers free repotting, which he says will be apparent when the plants begin to tip over. That is a good thing for most people, since handling these plants is not for the faint of heart or thin of skin.

Cacti have three kinds of spines, he explained: spikes, grabbers and glochids. The first two are self-evident, the glochids are sneaky. Similar to fiberglass splinters, they found on cacti known as bunny ears and can burrow under the skin easily. Mr. Moskow’s tools for transplanting include things like heavy garden gloves and metal tongs.

Some of Mr. Moskow’s plants are quite large and therefore quite heavy, and since they live outdoors in all non-frosty months, his deck was specially built of Brazilian mahogany to withstand their weight.

Mr. Moskow is not the only plant aficionado at home. His wife Gail maintains a large vegetable garden, but does not get too involved with the cacti except to help move them.

Lest people think the cacti have taken over Mr. Moskow’s life, that is not the case. They only require a few hours of care per week and Mr. Moskow has plenty of other hobbies including spending time with his six grandchildren, golf, tennis and rowing.

“I’ve been through every volunteer organization in town,” he said, adding he “just finished up with the ambulance corps and Trackside.”

With winter on his doorstep, the cacti are more pronounced, as Mr. Moskow reports they have all been moved indoors where they will remain until spring.

“It’s crowded,” he said.