In the 50 years that Ray Moskow has lived in Wilton, he has developed many interests. He plays golf and paddle tennis. He’s a member of the Wilton Kiwanis Club and has been an advisor to many charities. Yet there’s one hobby that he has cultivated, literally and figuratively, to great heights. Moskow grows cactus plants. A lot of cactus plants.
Moskow’s interest in cacti first budded as a young man. He invited a date back to his apartment and the young woman commented that he didn’t have anything green in his apartment, except for a green afghan.
“The next time she came over, she gave me a cactus,” Moskow said. “I thought it was kind of fascinating.”
That first plant launched a lifelong passion for cacti. When he and his wife, Gail, moved to Wilton in the 1970s, he inherited some cactus plants from the prior owner. Over the course of five decades, the number of plants has dramatically increased, and he now has over 300 plants and 80 varieties. Some of the cacti are over 35 years old and nearly 8 feet tall.
“I do think it’s a little out of control at this point,” he admitted.
Many of his plants are offshoots from existing ones. Moskow propagates new plants from cuttings that he lets scab over and then roots in a sandy soil which he mixes himself. He likes to give away the progeny plants. “I’m not in the business of selling plants,” he said. “It’s just a hobby to me.”
He donates plants to the Kiwanis for their pumpkin sales and he’s given plants to family and friends. To people with a burgeoning interest in cacti, Moskow invites you to come see his plants. “If you say you’re interested, I’ll give you six,” he said.
The plants, which cover nearly every inch of his back deck, are so heavy that Moskow had to have the deck constructed with a special mahogany wood to support the weight. When the couple leaves for Florida each winter, Moskow very carefully transports each plant inside so it’s safe from the cold and snow.
“They can stay inside all winter without water,” he said. Gail, who grows tons of vegetables each summer in her vegetable garden, tolerates his cactus obsession. “She has quite a green thumb, more so than me,” he said.
Some of the plants can be a hazard with their sharp needles. He often has to warn people not to touch. In fact, Wilton’s Cactus Rose restaurant was interested in having some of his plants, but he told them no. “They were going to have a lot of people waiting in that room, these things are dangerous,” he said.
In addition to caring for his cacti, Moskow has enjoyed being close to his grandchildren, watching them grow up, and spending summers in Maine teaching them to waterski. Many of his grandchildren have inherited his love of cacti. “They have lots of plants themselves, most of which have come from me,” he said.
Moskow remains fascinated by the cactus. “I’m drawn to their strength and individuality,” he said. He has a story for almost every plant he owns.
And that very first cactus? He still has it.