Contents of the summer 2009 Northants News

The 2009 N&MK Show                                                                             Trevor Wray        

The Cactus Show at Billing Garden Store

The 2009 Northampton and Milton Keynes Show was a great success in many ways….

Billing Garden Store were most helpful as ever. They provided the venue, staging, some advance publicity and… would the Show secretary like a table? No problem. A deluxe patio table was found for his convenience. Thanks.

2009 stood out for us as the weekend when a great many people dropped by because the Show was on. We get the passing Garden Centre trade anyway but many people with small collections and a fascination with cacti responded to our radio and press advertising. We were the first thing they saw as they entered the centre and their eyes lit up when they saw the plants. Stewards were on hand to explain some simple facts about succulents, which include the cacti, for those who had just a passing interest in plants. (Surely they had that – they were in a Garden Centre!) Those who visited with existing small collections were shown more details of our plant’s adaptation to dry conditions, and given the guided tour.

Many of our most interested visitors were children who have a major fascination with our kind of plants. But there were also some of ‘mature’ years. Some of our plants are decades old, some so slow growing it would seem pointless to sow seeds when we passed  a certain age. However when we are enthusiastic to succeed and grow a rare and difficult plant for even a few years it can still give us great pleasure.

In this brief report we have chosen to highlight the plants that were especially popular with the public and those with small collections but a nascent interest for greater detail.

This Astrophytum ornatum is a big cactus by UK collection standards, but just a small one by comparison with those in its Mexican habitat. It did have the benefit of attracting our visitors with its glowing yellow flowers. One open on Saturday and a second on Sunday. We were able to explain that cacti flower from special structures called areoles and that some cacti, like Astrophytum, flowered from new areoles through the growing season. (Most flower from the last year’s areoles in the Spring)



Astrophytum ornatum in flower

Astrophytum ornatum at the N&MK Show

Espostoa melanostele cristate

This eye catching cristate (or crest) of Espostoa (left) was an immediate attraction when seen. Young children wanted to pat it. OK… just gently. We were able to explain that the soft woolly hairs of these high mountain plants were insulation from cold and sun-shield from high altitude sun. In the wool were the usual spikes that discourage grazing animals. But that cristate growth? No one knows what causes it but we were able to explain that instead of growing from a single point; (there were many normal plants to demonstrate – see the spiral arrangement of areoles?), these grew along a line. Initially as a fan but then turning back and forth to produce what we called the ‘chairman’s brain’. Sorry Barry.

Near these was the class for the Opuntia Group and dominating these was Jim Lewis’ superb plant of Opuntia clavarioides (Right). Weird, really weird. The cognoscenti of cacti, including the Judge who wrote ‘first’ on the card almost before looking at the others, drooled over it. Morsels that fell off (and Jim told us they were shed every time he moved the plant) were begged by other exhibiters. Jim told us he had grown the plant for thirty years and it was big when he acquired it from Reg Collis, one of the founders of our branch. One of the oldest plants in the show and a credit to careful cultivation.

Opuntia clavarioides

This well grown Espostoa cristate attracted all, but especially children.

Jim's Opuntia clavarioides. You can click here or the image for a better view and more information on this curious plant.


Lithops otzeniana

young Lithops plants

Left: Lithops otzeniana - best other succulent at the Show. Above: Some sales plants of Lithops.

Stone plants. As it happened our Judge, Alice Vanden Bon, chose a plant of Lithops otzeniana as the best (other) succulent in the show. A wise choice, and not just because it was the Ed’s plant. These are plants that fascinate people who like unusual plants. They are among the easiest of succulents to raise from seed. The Ed was successful with Lithops from seed for several years (and that L. otzeniana was 30 years old) before he learnt how to grow cacti from seed.  We were able to talk about the especial adaptation of Lithops to the dry winter season in South Africa and Namibia. New leaves take nutrients and water from the old leaves in the ‘dormant’ period. The old leaves remain as just a thin sheath to protect the new until the rain (or the watering can) comes. There is growth during the summer and autumn, flowers in the autumn, before the cycle repeats. Some species proliferate with two heads from one. Some do not. Never mind, they are all interesting.

Finally our visitors had to pass the sales area. Many attractive plants at attractive prices. Those who had small collections were pleased to add more. There were certainly some interesting plants. Children pleaded with parents or grand parents. OK, they are young, but there is a potential to develop an interest to last a lifetime. Then the tombola – just a quid. Better than an evens chance to win a cactus or succulent. Choose your own. You didn’t win… here’s one anyway.

Sales area at the Show

Left: The sales area was busy throughout the weekend.

Euphorbia gymnocalycioides

Euphorbia obesa

This plant of Euphorbia gymnocalycioides was one of the gems at the Show, but the public hardly noticed it.

By contrast this plant of Euphorbia obesa attracted attention - a Tartan cactus? Well not really!

Above you see Barry's tip for carrying show plants. Each plant fits its space and a note shows the name and intended show class. Crumpled newspaper provides a cheap packing.

The Show was a financial success. The profit will help us to bring the best speakers who are prepared to travel to NMK country, will print out branch magazine and stock our reference library. The Branch BBQ (or picnic) will be free. We were glad to bring our hobby to potential new growers. But we were also pleased to see our members who find it difficult to come to meetings. Doug and Vivi Rowland were there, Terry who has been in poor health and hopes to exhibit again and Nick Thomson. It was great to see you again. Come to the meetings if you can, enjoy the open days… if not we’ll see you at the Show next year.

Members of the branch just had time to pack up the Show before joining the evening flight at the Northampton Balloon Festival. Note our balloon is decorated with the latest BCSS logo.

BCSS at the Northampton Balloon Festival

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