West Coast Cactus + Succulent Scene

Copiapoa cineras in Chile
Copiapoa cineras in Chile

Gary Duke – The Duke of Long Beach

My mother bought me a plant gift package, which my father helped me pot in a planter. I did not get really interested until I was a sophomore in high school and I needed a show and tell topic. My dad suggested cacti.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, where you live, and how you got into cacti/succulents?

I have lived in many places throughout my life. When I was in the military I had about 100 plants in my collection, which I moved from Omaha, NE to Dayton, OH, to San Pedro, CA to Montgomery, Al to Albuquerque, NM to Huntington Beach, CA and finally Long Beach, CA where I currently live.

When I was ten-years-old we visited my mother’s sister in Arizona where I remember seeing all the saguaros on the train from Flagstaff to Phoenix. My mother bought me a 12 plant gift package on the trip, which my father helped me pot in a planter and made me water them. I did not get really interested until I was a sophomore in high school and I needed a show and tell topic along with a written report. My dad suggested cacti . The only books in the library were encyclopedias at the time (late sixties), but I became hooked after doing research for my show and tell.

I added another plant to my small collection when someone threw one out of the second story window. This was during Christmas time at Grinnell College in Iowa and it survived. I planted all of my current plants in my sandbox at home during the summer, and stored them under timed plant lights in the dirt floor of the ash bin in our old farmhouse during the winter.

When I retired from my job, I had several hundred plants, but it really exploded when I moved to Long Beach where I have a quarter acre and began my own botanical garden. This is when I began selling at shows and other events as well.

What are some of your highlights as a cacti grower and collector?

Winning the Sweepstakes Award (most ribbons) at the Inter-City Show in 2023. Also seeing Copiapoa hypogaea and several small Neoporterias in habitat last year. They grow undergound! Also seeing Copiapoa goldii in habitat very close to the ocean, within salt spray in a storm.
Ariocarpus retusus grown by Gary Duke
Gary duke holding Copiapoa cinera and krainziana in pots.
Ariocarpus fissuratus grown by Gary Duke

What are some of your favorite plants to grow?

Copiapoas, Dudleyas and Tylecodons

What would be a piece of advice you'd give to someone just getting into the hobby?

Just collect whatever you like the looks of.

What's in the near future for you and your garden?

I recently wrote a book, Landscaping and Micro-Climates for Small Yards, which people can purchase directly from me through my Instagram account.  I need to find someone to help me with my garden and propagation. I need to retire. I have already retired 3 times. I need to pass on my knowledge to someone else.