Catch up with a fellow plant nut.
When I worked at my previous job, sometimes I needed to escape the place and talk to someone who was at least as nutty about plants as I am. It was through Twitter I got in touch with Tom Hart-Dyke of Lullingstone Castle, and the World Garden. Tom is a great plantsman and he is one of those plant hunters who get into trouble whilst exploring the rain forest to find a special orchid. Nowadays it seems there are people who like to label themselves as plant hunters, when all they do is go to nurseries on the continent and buy plants there which have not been released in the UK yet. In my opinion this is derogatory to the plant hunters of the past (and present), who would go into undiscovered territory and try and find that new special plant that has never been identified before, whilst endangering their own lives. Going to a Dutch garden centre is not plant hunting.
The cactus greenhouse at Lullingstone Castle is amazing. I have always loved succulents and to see them here in their mature state is just wonderful. Some of these plants are often grown as houseplants as well, though they tend to be a bit smaller then! One of the ones I noticed was Opuntia monacantha ‘Variegata’. I have seen these a couple of times lately as a houseplant. They are so variegated that they are also very slow growing due to their lack of chlorophyll. There was another common species near this plant as well, and this had reached about 3 meters in height. The variegated plant however was barely 30 centimetres tall. Another great thing about this variegated Opuntia is that it hasn’t got those nasty spikes! We moved the normal species at work the other day, and two weeks later I could still feel the tiny needles in my skin, which had gone through thick gloves and trousers.
Another plant I saw in the cactus house was Euphorbia millii, the Crown of Thorns. It is one of those plants that I have known all my life. At the primary school I went to, they had houseplants in the classrooms. When I think back to that now, I do find it funny that we had so many poisonous plants with thorns at the time. We had several kinds of Euphorbia which all had the milky sap: not something we would subject our 6-11 year old children to now. I also remember very well what happened to the plants during the summer holiday as most pupils took a plant home and looked after it during the summer. I think this was a great way of getting children to look after plants and get some sort of connection with horticulture, be it in a very small way (and probably grown more out of convenience than with that in mind).