1985, Louise Bustard, Study Tour Of Cacti And Succulent Collections In Europe

Suchard, succulents and strudel, Kew Guild Award 1985

By Louise Bustard

As any cactophile will admit, once these plants penetrate your interest, you’re hooked and usually for life. I first became fascinated by Cacti and Succulents as a student at Kew and eventually spent one year out of the three working with the reserve collection. Then in September 1984 I began my new job as the person responsible for the maintenance of the reserve collection. Having spent the winter months settling in and familiarising myself with the plants and their needs, I began to realise that I had no knowledge of any other Botanic collection of Cacti and Succulents with which to compare and judge the results of my work with the collection at Kew.

To rectify this, I set off in June 1985 partly sponsored by the Kew Guild, to visit some of the best Cacti and Succulent collections in Europe. The four collections I went specifically to see were: The Palmengarten, Frankfurt, West Germany; The State Succulent Collection (Stadtische Sukkulenten-Sammlung), Zurich, Switzerland; Munich Botanic Garden, West Germany and the Bundesgarten at Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria. In an unofficial capacity I also visited Zurich Botanic Garden and the Botanic Gardens of Vienna University within the grounds of Belvedere Palace.

As gardens it would be unfair to compare them as they are all very different in their layout, functions and aims. The Palmengarten is an extremely successful combination of pleasure park and Botanic Garden, quite the best of its kind I have ever seen.

The State Succulent Collection in Zurich is for the specialist. It consists only of Cacti and Succulents and constitutes probably the best reference collection within Europe. However, it also caters more than adequately for the casual visitor. On the day of my visit a Selenicereus grandiflorus or more commonly known as “Queen of the Night”, had 19 buds ready to open that night. The gardens publicised this fact in the local newspaper and to accommodate the massive interest shown by literally hundreds of phone calls, the garden remained open until midnight to allow people to view the magnificent spectacle of this night-flowering Cactus. The devotee will discover the sin of covetousness whilst among this collection.

The Munich Botanic Garden is laid out and maintained with Germanic precision and fulfils its botanic ro1e superbly whilst also endeavouring to satisfy the horticulturist.

The gardens of Schloss Schonbrunn are as beautiful and grand as one would expect from such an historic and artistic city as Vienna. Once the home of the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which stretched as far a field as Mexico, this garden and its fantastic collection of hothouses are responsible for the introduction to cultivation of many plants into Europe. But if Schloss Schonbrunn is famous for just one plant it is the specimen of Fokea crispa it has cultivated for the past 200 years making it the oldest cultivated in Europe. The palace hothouses are used largely for the cultivation of houseplants but they also have a quite spectacular Cacti collection.

As a result of this two week tour I put on weight because of sampling the Strudel; felt thirsty after being plied with pretzels; discovered that German syrup waffles are different from the Dutch and realised that one should never go to Europe without a packet of Rennies.

Also as a result of the tour experiments are being undertaken at Kew to produce a compost mix with a much lower soil and peat content and a much higher solid mineral content.

Cacti and succulents are plants which people either love or hate, they are rarely viewed with indifference. By the very bizarre nature of the plants they attract interest, fascination and sometimes even revulsion, but either way they get a reaction. More than any other plants they create in the publics’ imagination a definitive environment- the desert. They are immensely popular as houseplants for, on the whole, they are easily grown. Yet, because of this popularity with both amateurs and professionals alike they are probably more endangered than almost any other group of plants. Thus, it is extremely important that a botanic collection of these plants be of the very highest quality for us to gain as much knowledge as possible about these plants before the day comes when botanic garden specimens are the only remnants of an environment and its inhabitants.

Editor’s Note: A more comprehensive report was also kindly provided but for reasons of space was not used.


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