Some of my aeonium and succulent loving readers may be familiar with Holly Gate Cactus nursery in West Sussex - it holds a huge collection of cacti and succulents built up over 40 years and housed in a large glasshouse and sells a variety of smaller versions of these in it's shop. A couple of weeks ago the Socks, in search of unusual aeoniums to replace the winter losses, decide to pay them a visit. Worryingly, the brown visitor attraction road signs for Holly Gate Cactus had been painted over and driving up to the glass houses the area, never pristine, looked even more decayed and overgrown than usual.
A lady greeted us and explained that they weren't really open any more and that the winter snow had broken through many of the glass roof panes rendering the area unsafe. Undeterred the Socks wandered around the glasshouse with the plants for sale but there was little there of interest. We had never visited the large glasshouse housing the cactus collection and although this area was now closed off the Socks were curious to see how it was faring. The lady owner agreed saying we could wander around if we were careful and that if there was anything we wanted she was selling everything she could off and would dig stuff up for us.
A forlorn and astonishing sight greeted us as we entered what had once been a fabulous and unique collection of over 30,000 exotic plants was now a neglected, overgrown, decaying cactus cemetery! What had once boasted "rare plants from the more arid areas of the world, USA, Mexico, South America and Africa as well as sub-tropical epiphytic cactic from the Central and Southern American jungles" was now a scene of death and dereliction.
But not all of it!! In between the dried out carcasses of cacti there was life or half life calling out to be saved!
Some of the larger specimens, like the once magnificent beast below, had been bought low but had somehow still survived the broken roof panes that had set a cold, cold winter upon them.
It wasn't just the winter though - this process of neglect and decay had clearly been going on for some time and the Socks wondered at the sad story behind it but didn't like to ask. Clearly the original cactus collector was no longer able to take care of it.
We found one beautiful blue 4ft specimen which seemed to be surviving intact. On asking the owner how much she would want for it we were told it would be over a hundred pounds - still much cheaper than at the fabulous Architectural Plants but too big for our garden in any case and no obvious way we could have moved it.
We did take one of its tiny 'pups' though. We found another medium-sized agave with not too much damage which we were offered for £20 but unfortunately it was so deeply rooted we were unable to dig it up. (Note: if you visit with a view to saving an agave take a decent garden fork/spade with you.) Eventually we found another one in a toppled over pot and paid £20 for that. It didn't look much until I stripped off the decaying and damaged growth to find a decent plant with 'pups' springing from it. The brute is now about to be planted in our front gravel garden.
The owner said we were welcome to just help ourselves to some of the pots of 'possibly' live succulents - to literally take pot-luck that they may have survived and regrow.
The Socks hardened their hearts. Viewing cactus is one thing. Taking them home and filling the already burgeoning greenhouse with half dead plants and nursing them back to health is another.
If you want to save a succulent then you could try contacting the owner at the address on this website link.
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