About me

About me
🌿 I've been gardening ever since a child, when I spent time with my father in his vegetable garden. But my fascination with Echeverias started in the 1980's, when my father gave me a pot with five Echeverias, which turned out to be E. imbricata. At first I wasn't much interested in them and planted them in some obscure corner of the garden and completely forgot about them. How great was my surprise when, a couple of months later, I noticed that they had spread and made a beautiful display - I was hooked!
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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Aloe ferox - a healing wonder


Aloe ferox (also known as Bitter Aloe) is a plant indigenous to one province in South Africa, and nowhere else on earth! There are over 100 species of aloe in South Africa, but Aloe ferox is the one that had been used by the indigenous people long before the arrival of Europeans to what is now the Cape Province.

Unlike most aloe vera products, aloe ferox never has to be filtered and thus retains all the natural present active ingredients. The bitter aloe is most famous for its medicinal qualities. In parts of South Africa, the bitter yellow juice found just below the skin has been harvested as a renewable resource for two hundred years. The hard, black, resinous product is known as Cape aloes or aloe lump and is used mainly for its laxative properties but is also taken for arthritis.“Schwedenbitters” which is found in many pharmacies, contains bitter aloe.

The gel-like flesh from the inside of the leaves is used in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound healing properties. Interestingly Aloe ferox, along with Aloe broomii, is depicted in a rock painting which was painted over 250 years ago.

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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Building up a collection of Succulents and cacti

(A warning: If you have any propensity towards cactus love to begin with, moving to the desert will increase it exponentially!) 

Echeveria glauca spp. imbricata

A long-standing passion - a passion most people find utterly boring and something only a cactus-lover will understand - THE LOVE OF CACTUS. So maybe this post is not for you, but if it is, read on!

It all started in the 1980's, when my (well-meaning) father gave me three Echeverias in a pot. I couldn't turn them down and hurt his feelings, but I had NO interest in those three succulents! When I got home, I hastily stuck them in the ground in some far-away corner in the garden, hoping they would disappear.

A few months later I was working in the garden and decided to do something about that 'little lost corner' of my garden. Upon investigating, to my surprise, the three Echeverias had multiplied and there were dozens of them, all displaying the most gorgeous little pink bell-shaped flowers on long stalks. I was hooked! I mean, forgotten and neglected, NO attention whatsoever, yet they blossomed forth with the most gorgeous gifts. I felt so guilty I almost cried!

Now those spiky flat coins and furry ground knobs make me go nuts. Finding a new specie not in my collection is like striking gold - my stomach churns, my heart starts pounding and I just HAVE to have it!

I can spend hours fiddling with my cacti and succulents, removing seedlings and siblings from the garden and potting them in terracotta pots, I have displays all over the house, on various patios and in my garden shed. You'll find them on window sills, tree stumps, on little tables, in terracotta pots, jam tins, glass jars, buckets, cracked coffee mugs, on wooden palettes, on my desk, next to my computer, in fact, anywhere there is a flat surface! And heaven forbid I come across someone selling them at a market stand, I could buy up all their stock!

'They' say "It takes real guts to love a cactus!", but I have found it the easiest thing in the world!

I need to get some more!

On the left and right some Crassula and in the centre some Cacti and Haworthia in an enamel bowl on my patio table.

Succulents and cacti are such prolific growers that it provides a lovely opportunity of planting them in pots and building up a beautiful collection without damaging your garden or spending a fortune. Many succulents and cacti spread by making babies, or pups, which are easily removed without damaging the parent plants. Another method is by merely taking off leaves from your plants and sticking them in a pot in damp soil to grow.

Separating plants also gives one a chance to really study them, perhaps do some research and get names and some interesting information you might not have known before.

Echeverias in an old dog basket 

Besides using bought or brand-new pots, it's a lovely challenge coming up with some innovative ideas of what to plant them in. Old shoes, baskets, wheelbarrows, enamelware, wooden crates, hollowed out logs, tea cups, coffee mugs (if they're not going to be standing out in the rain), the possibilities are endless. Many succulents and cacti can grow in very shallow soil so even a chipped vintage saucer can be used.

Obviously one thing to keep in mind is that the container needs adequate drainage. Normally, apart from a few exceptions, cacti and succulents don't need all that much water as many of them store water in their leaves, very water-wise plants! And they are so easy to care for. As long as they have adequate sun, or enough light if you are keeping them indoors, a bit of water, maybe some dappled shade, they will provide you with years of beauty and enjoyment.

Do not use regular potting soil. Succulent plants have a need for a well draining soil, whereas most house plant soil is the opposite. Succulent soil should be approximately 1/3 regular soil, 1/3 horticultural pumice or gravel, placed right at the bottom of the pot to aid drainage, and 1/3 horticultural, coarse sand. Compost is not necessary as this can do more harm to your succulent than good. Too much compost can kill your plant.

You can find some more information on caring for your cacti and succulents at "Cactus and Succulent Society" 

Crassula Imperialis - this dainty succulent grows and spreads beautifully in the garden provided it gets enough water. They are also self-seeding.

Crassula and an aloe in a bread baking tin on the patio 

Bunny Ears cactus - a fairly new acquisition so I'm still not quite sure what its preferences are. The yellow parts is the original part and all the green is new growth over the past two seasons.

A new Rattail Cactus in the making. Just stick one of the tails in some soil and soon it will make new ones. But be careful, not matter how careful I am, gloves and all, I ALWAYS manage to get some thorns on my hands! The only thing I have found that helps to get rid of them, is scrubbing my hands with a nail brush and soap.

Echeveria imbricata cascading out of an old piece of found concrete 

Echeveria glauca growing in my wooden wheelbarrow 

Echeveria imbricata planted in an old printers' tray 

Echeverias in a wheelbarrow enjoying the companionship of the Nasturtiums 

Aloe aristate (Guineafowl aloe) and cacti sharing space in an enamel bowl

Gasteria - these no-fuss little succulents need shade or dappled sunlight, so are often found in the wild growing under bigger plants for protection

Aloe aristata in a terracotta pot

Aeonium arboreum in pots in the garden

Old Man (or bearded) cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) – is native to Guanajuato and Hidalgo in eastern Mexico. It is threatened in the wild, but widespread propagation and popularity in cultivation have reduced the demand on wild populations.
I still need to gather some more info on him. But I do know he likes sun and a fair amount of water.

Austrocylindropuntia subulata monstrosa in my bathroom where it gets morning sun

A collection of succulents on a plant stand under some trees awaiting a perfect space 

Pachyveria and Crassula in miniature terracotta pots 

Crassula and some garden tools on my potting table

Echinopsis cactus in my garden with lots of babies ready to be harvested!

A transplanted baby Echinopsis cactus 

Echinopsis cacti in full flower - these large flowers completely dwarf the cactus and unfortunately only last a day or two.

One of my Rattail cacti (Aporocactus flagelliformis) before flowering

 One of my Rattail cacti in full flower standing on a white-painted log on the patio. I bring them inside every winter and as soon as I take them outside in spring, the flowering starts.

My other Rattail Cactus in full flower on the patio table. These cacti tend to get a bit messy-looking, with spent flowers (and seeds) sticking to the tails, which also sometimes die on their tips, so I usually do a good clean-up at the end of summer and early spring by removing spent flowers with a pair of long tweezers and cutting off any dead pieces.

My Barrel cactus in the garden before the shade over-took it


After a severe winter about two years ago, the main barrel seemed to be dying because it was now in too much shade. After transplanting it (with great difficulty!) to a sunny spot, lots of pups started  forming on the head. They are extremely slow growers and a four year old barrel can be only 3 inches high and 2.5 inches wide. I have had my Barrel for about 10 years and they can get to a massive size. I would have liked to have seen that... They can also live up to 130 years old. 

One should approach a Barrel Cactus with extreme caution. A puncture to human skin from one of the spines is considered a 'dirty wound'. If the puncture is deep enough to draw blood, antibiotics may be needed; and could take several months for the wound to heal properly. Barrel Cactus plants are one of the more dangerous Cacti.

My Barrel Cactus now completely covered in new babies - hmmmm, now how on earth can I steal one to start a new one...?

Using an old table outside 

"Reach for the stars, even if you have to stand on a cactus!" 

You can see my book Building up a collection of Succulents by clicking on the link.

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