Embracing Cacti in your Mediterranean Garden

An interview with cactophile and Cactus Toni Moreno CEO, Antonia Portell

What is your vision of a Mediterranean garden? For most it’s probably vibrant bougainvillaea, lavender fields and olive trees. But what about cacti and succulents? Before you get all prickly, there’s good reasons why these plants are being increasingly embraced in Mediterranean landscapes. 

The first thing to know is that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are just one of many families of succulents or water storing plants. Collectively, succulents are highly adaptable, low maintenance and the ultimate eco-friendly plant. They require minimal watering and care, even as they shrink to protect themselves under the glare of the hot summer sun.

At Mashamba, we consider cacti and other succulents as living art – beautiful and intriguing. Their structural appearance provides a captivating contrast to the lusher greenery familiar to Mallorca. And with so many shapes, sizes and colours to choose from, they work well in a variety of planting schemes, in pots or in the garden. Year-round colour and a flowering season are just more reasons to celebrate the succulent. 

In this interview, we talk to the CEO of Cactus Toni Moreno, Antonia Portell. Antonia’s run the Ses Salines based cactus business since 1995 and she tells us about the allure and ease of including these succulents in your Mediterranean garden.  


What are your top tips when it comes to selecting cacti and what do people need to think about when purchasing them?

Tip #1
Not all cacti have thorns. I’m sure you can find something you will love, whether you like their prickly aspect or not. 

Tip #2
Cacti and succulents originate from all over the world. The ideal plant for your garden is the one where you know its origin and can replicate its habitat. Although saying that, the most important quality of succulents is their resistance to the weather and diseases – they can adapt to even the toughest circumstances. I’m sure we can learn a lot from them.

Tip #3
Do not water them too much! Many cacti are 90% water and can survive without any care for months, even years. It’s their nature TO SURVIVE.  Sometimes it’s even better if you forget about their care. Like Freddie Mercury sings in the song by Queen, “too much love will kill you… in the end.”


What do cacti and succulents need in terms of maintenance to make sure they thrive?

Once you have chosen the varieties you like and made sure they are ideal for your garden in terms of sunlight, wind and soil, all you must do is not water them too much. Keep an eye on them and give them some care when it’s so hot that we humans are also melting. Cacti will appreciate it, like if it was raining in the desert. 

If you water them too much, they might not die but can develop a fungus. Other succulents such as crassulae need a little bit more watering – and a little bit means maybe once every 2 weeks – depending on how hot it is and where they are located.


Where did the idea for opening a cactus farm come from and why Mallorca?

It’s a long story… My father Toni Moreno (Antonio Portell Gari, 1941) had the opportunity to study at the gardening school, Rubió y Tudurí in Barcelona, thanks to the March family of Banca March. Mrs. Carmen Delgado de March knew him because he used to go on Sundays to help with mass at the small chapel at the Finca S’Avall in Ses Salines. He was only 14 years old. 

He stayed in Barcelona for four years and after that he worked in the garden at Finca S’Avall. By that time, the March family had built and constructed a cactus garden under the guidance of Don Juan Pañella, who was a cactus expert.

Don Pañella introduced my father to the cactus world and insisted, “you are from Mallorca and it’s a great place for the cactus. You have the weather, the climate for many species… especially where you live, in Ses Salines, the most southern point… why don’t you start growing cactus?”

Only 18 at the time, my father didn’t think planting cacti from seed would make him money fast enough. He continued working in the S’Avall garden and ran the family bar for a while. It’s during his time at the bar that he started planting cactus seeds. It was 1972, the year I was born, when he started the business. 


What is your favourite variety of cactus and why?

I have to say that our favourite here at Toni Moreno is Echinocactus grusonii (golden barrel cactus), also known as mother-in-law’s cushion. It hails from Mexico and is very resilient, needing no water for years, and has a brilliant yellow golden colour like the sun.  

These plants have been our sun and our son for decades. Although it has a lot of thorns, it’s like having a beautiful painting in your garden when you plant a group of them. If you don’t water them, leaving them only to store water during winter and some sporadic rains, their yellow colour becomes more intense and gold.

My second favourite is agave, also from Mexico. I love it planted next to the golden barrel cactus.

I also love all caudex. They are from Madagascar and South Africa and have a totally different look from what we think a cactus will be.

Mashamba Garden & Terrace Design

Outdoor living is the essence of Mediterranean life and we believe that gardens and terraces are the ultimate platform for creating the romance and charm we desire from life in Mallorca. Let us transform your outdoor spaces and create the Mediterranean dream you’ve always wanted.

Cactus Toni Moreno

Since 1972, Cactus Toni Moreno has been producing cacti and succulents in the town of Ses Salines, Mallorca. They grow, sell and ship around the world.