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Remember Adelaide’s Cactus Garden?

A distinct childhood memory of many trips to and from Adelaide was a cactus garden we would pass along Port Wakefield Road.

It’s strange, the things that stick in your memory, but the sight of all the cacti on the side of the road, was an indication that we were near the end of a long trip, and at night, the glow of the Adelaide lights were soon visible in the distance.

Photo courtesy Diana Field. You knew you were getting close to Adelaide when you passed the Arizona Cactus Ranch on Port Wakefield Road.

Photo courtesy Diana Field. You knew you were getting close to Adelaide when you passed the Arizona Cactus Ranch on Port Wakefield Road.

I don’t ever recall stopping at the garden (although many people did), and I never knew very much about its history until I recently came upon a reader’s letter to the Advertiser (year unknown). The letter was written by ‘PB’ of Bolivar; “I would like to know about the Arizona Cactus-Ranch Garden. I am new to this area, and a few weeks ago, driving north-bound on the Port Wakefield Road, we came across this lovely garden. It is beautifully laid out with hundreds of cactus and succulents, amid old pottery and many statues.”

The Advertiser replied; “The garden was started by Mr Joe Lowey in 1952 as a hobby. Mr Lowey who died recently had always wanted to be a landscaper and built up the garden entirely by himself after he had worked on a farm at Windsor. He first thought of the idea of a cactus garden in America, where he lived for some years. As Mr Lowey left no will, the garden is now in the hands of the State Government’s trustees.”

Further investigation of the garden led me to the “Now and Then {Mallala}” website that told more of the story. “Mr Joe Lowey came to Windsor with his parents and brother in 1929. He purchased section 492 Hundred of Dublin in 1935. Joe Lowey constructed the garden and rockery on his section in 1951 on the property abutting Highway One about 5 kilometres north of Windsor. The stone for the rockery was collected from the ruins of the Hollams cottage on Secomb Road near Windsor and other items collected from around the district were incorporated in the displays.

The rockery covered about 3 acres of land and Mr Lowey had 50 to 60 varieties of Cacti – all watered only by natural rainfall. The rockery was visited by people from all around the world and the visitor’s book confirms this to be correct.

Photo from Eugene Blackman on Flickr. A photo of the cactus garden today. Since its closure it has fallen into disrepair

Photo from Eugene Blackman on Flickr. A photo of the cactus garden today. Since its closure it has fallen into disrepair

In November 1978 the Cactus garden appeared on the television show “Ask the Leyland Brothers”.

Mr Joe Lowey died and the property was eventually sold. Following the church service to commemorate the centenary of the Windsor Institute on Sunday 12th August 1984, a plaque on the site of the Cactus Garden was dedicated by Rev. Kelvin Benn in memory of Mr Joe Lowey.”

I’m not sure of the exact year that the Port Wakefield Road became a dual carriageway, but at that time, it was moved away from the cactus garden. The new owners were unable to continue operating the property as a tourist attraction and the Windsor Cactus Garden was eventually closed to the public.

It has since fallen into a state of disrepair.


9 Responses to Remember Adelaide’s Cactus Garden?

  1. Johnny gee October 28, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    when I was a Boy I loved stopping there and going for a walk around mum and dad would stop every trip, there was always something new to look at and find.
    I was so upset when it closed, it was a big thing to stop there and always 4 or 5 car loads of people walking around.
    45 years later I still look at what is left every time I drive past and think of all the times I stopped there with both my parents who have both passed away.
    There was not only cactus but little comedy set ups around the park made out of dolls and toys, great days 🙂

  2. Sue Jaynes October 28, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    So sad to see the photo of it in disrepair. I loved seeing as we went off to our camping trips, but have long since forgotten about it. Thank you for the memory.

  3. Margaret hirschausen October 29, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    Why was such a beautiful garden shut to the public I for one would support to have it reopened have never been inside and I like many would be there with bells on

  4. Phil December 12, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    It’s one of the coolest places around. Certainly better than Adelaide itself! I was living in Adelaide in 2000 and had read about it in a book, very briefly, in NZ. I drove out there in May 2000, climbed through the fence and took about 100 photos and 14 minutes of video. Just digitalising it now from the old Video8 format. There were some extremely impressive specimens in the garden and luckily, being cacti, no-one really messed with them. At the time there were some 3-4m high barrel cacti, and the largest Agave americana I’ve ever seen yet. Very surreal place to visit. It would’ve been an awesome garden to visit back in the day. If anyone lives nearby, just go there and do what I did, at least preserve its former glory with photos or video.

  5. Karla July 3, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    Ive driven past it many times! I remember stopping there as a youngster travelling to the yorke penninsula! Its still a beautiful garden! As i found out the other day coming home from adelaide, we stopped. Its a beautiful wilderness now! It should be made into a park! Or camping area as it is so beautiful! Mr Lowley surely didnt want it to be like it is now! It needs some TLC and someone to look after it!! I dont know who owns it but really! Do something with it! Its beautiful!! Too much to loose!!

  6. Darrell Gordon April 8, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    Hi There well I was there in the 1960s many times, it was my stopping point on my way to Perth, I passed it by 4 times every month as I parked my semi trailer out the front on the dirt area it was a large part to park and sleep and rest, I met MR Lowey many times as he was would be there working on the property, he would be concreting pots, plates, cups,mugs tines and any thing he could get so they would not be stolen or people taking them home or blown away it was lovely ,I often think of him such a nice man to chat to loved all the things there the carrangers and Cactus , I did take him things now and then when I picked up stuff on the road side and on the Nullarbor as the road was dirt [[ very light traffic ]] from Wakefield to the the well past the other side of Southern Cross West Australia, I am now on my way back to look at it again so I hope I’m not disappointed and very sorry he has gone my condolences he was a champion, I am getting up in age to at 77 so live goes on.. Thank you for my Memorys …

  7. Vicki szczurko April 28, 2019 at 8:32 pm #

    It’s on the market for sale now, any takers?

  8. Graham April 28, 2019 at 8:53 pm #

    We used to stop there several times a month when travelling between Adelaide and Port Wakefield for our supplies for the Esso roadhouse cafe. It was fun as a kid to rummage around and wonder at all the plants and cool quirky things. We always put our sixpence in the donation tin. I have passed a few times in recent years and it’s sad to see it all run down after so much effort was put into it for everyone’s pleasure. It’s still a very pleasant memory.

  9. Alison Wilson May 20, 2022 at 9:26 pm #

    I remember stopping just after dawn. A beautiful sun rise over the cactus garden. My brother and I running around the garden discovering the statues hidden in the garden. My father recording on the old movie camera in the 70s..One of my fondest family memories

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