Cacti and succulent purchases

In the last blog, I described my visit to Wassand Hall. I came away with a good haul from the British cactus and succulent society stall. For tonight’s blog, I thought I’d take a look at a few of these in a little bit more detail to get a better sense of how to care for them.


I have attempted lithops from seed before and they’ve germinated well, started to put on growth and then just frozen at a small size. But I do like their strange brain-like form so I happily choose three different ones. These are a succulent that often goes by the name of living stone. In the wild, they are native to South Africa and survive in habitats with rainfall from almost 0 to 700mm a year. So, as houseplants, they survive on neglect. Watering is avoided from October until the old pair of leaves die away which can be as late as May. They go dormant in the heat of summer and then start growing in autumn. So need a little water around September. They were first described to science in 1811 by William John Burchell, a botanist and artist when he accidentally picked up a curious pebble from the ground.

The adaptation to look like rocks camouflages them against being eaten. They survive in the heat of the desert by mainly existing underground and just having the top surface of the leaves above ground. The leaves can shrink below ground if it gets particularly hot.

Lithops hookeri var. marginata

The first Lithops hookeri var. marginata is the first form from around the Cape Town area. It varies slightly, but the face (the top) is usually a speckled rust brown.

Lithops hookeri var. dabneri cv. Annarosa

Lithops hookeri var. dabneri cv. Annarosa is a greener variety.

Lithops schwantesii var. rugosa

Lithops schwantesii var. rugosa comes from the Namibia area at north west of Helmeringhausen. I like how plants these take you on a trip around the world to show different niches plants can live in. People become very obsessed with collecting Lithops with their small size they make for a nice windowsill or greenhouse collection.

Crassula columella

This grows in cliff faces in the Northern Cape of South Africa up to Namibia. It forms small upright columns. It forms four-angled compact velvety leaves. This reduces the leaf surface and thus the evaporation so it can survive in the heat of its native habitat. They are susceptible to mealy bugs and fungal infections. Overwatering is the commonest mistake growing them as a houseplant. I have a few other forms of Crassula and they have generally been fairly easy-care plants.

Mammillaria gracilis

Known as the thimble cactus, it is a slow-growing small cactus from Eastern Mexico. This was one of my favourite purchases. I love how the spines spread to give a web-like effect. It’s listed as an easy-care cactus so hopefully, this one will thrive.

Oreocereus trolli var. majus

This just looked to be a fabulous cactus. It’s got the spines to prevent the water loss and protect and then the hairy strands to create the humidity trap. It’s a South American species from South Boliva and North Argentina. It’s one of the bigger ones I bought. It’s frost hardy and should be fairly tough in theory.

Anacampseros papyracea

This is another South African species. The scales act in two ways. They reflect some of the suns light away from the plant and shade the small leaves underneath. They grow amongst rocks in their natural habitat. It’s recommended they are grown in a small shallow pot.

Sedum hernandezii

This is a little Mexican species forming jelly bean like succulent stems.

Gasteria huttoniae

A relative of aloes, huttoniae has been renamed as excelsa in some sources. It is another South African succulent. It grows within shady thickets, on cliff edges and slopes. It has been found inland and in coastal positions. The leaves are brittle and new plants form from broken leaf fragments. The speckled dark green is one of the more attractive looking succulents I purchased. Alice choose a smaller one she fancied.

Oreocereus hendriksenianus

Unlike the other Oreocereus this one has the potential to grow big. In the wild they can grow 1-2m but I doubt I’ll be seeing any growth that big for a good while as growth is slow.

I’m going to need to work out how to display them to make the most of such interesting plants. I was wondering about putting them in terracotta pots and sinking them into a larger sand tray. A bit like the Wassand Hall display on a smaller scale but I’ll have to see what I can get hold of. I rather fancy a monkey tail cactus too though I’d then be adding to my problems of where to put all these plants. The furry hanging cactus at the front. Though this would probably be an accident waiting to happen. I can see how people can be obsessive about collecting these plants. They are fascinating, though luckily for my family I am limited to a few suitable windowsills. I hope you’ve enjoyed a closer look at the weekends purchases. I feel I’ve got a better grasp of conditions and watering from writing this. Hopefully they will survive and thrive.

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Wassand Hall

It’s been a good while since I wrote a blog but this week I finished my last RHS exams. Hopefully, I passed and won’t need to resit. The first exam covered fruit and veg which isn’t my strongest knowledge area but it didn’t feel too bad. The second is on protected environments. They had changed the exam from any of the previous past papers. You usually have a good few questions where you write profiles of particular houseplants. There weren’t any of these questions but a lot more of growing veg in protected structures. A bit disappointed as I know houseplants better but so it goes. Now I’ve got the exams out the way I can get back to actually focussing on my own garden so expect a few updates.

Yesterday I made it out with Alice to Wassand Hall. It’s our closest country house and garden open to the public and we’ve visited it plenty of times before so I’m not going to go into lots of detail about the gardens in this blog. Check the previous blogs for more information. After a few weekends of revision, it was good to get out and to get Alice outside into nature.


We began with a walk around the meadow land that surrounds the house. The grassland was filled with butterflies and damselflies. Countless speckled browns and meadow browns and a few more colourful butterflies on the wing. I’ve spotted the deer quite a few times while I’ve been out on my own but no sign today. We did see a good few orchids though.

Alice walked much further than I thought she would, enjoying everything we saw. This area is such a valuable habitat for so much wildlife I’m glad we have it on our doorstep. I’m glad it’s managed as it is creating a variety of niches for different wildlife.

Walled garden

After a snack refuel we headed into the walled gardens. The walled garden is roughly split into four beds with a tropical corner, a more cottage garden feel, a shaded corner and a more mixed one. Alice loves a water feature. Whenever we visit the garden centre she loves spending her time on the water fountain aisle. She spent a good while watching the fish in the central pond.

The tropical corner is probably my favourite area. The large foliage plants mixed with spectacular lilies and dahlias are just so lush to be irresistible.

With the heat, an ice cream break was needed.

Hot house

After cooling off with ice cream we headed into the hot house. Every time we visit I am very envious of the hothouse. They have a fabulous collection of plants growing in there at sizes I could never achieve without the heat and humidity they can create in here. As the last exam was on protected environments it was good to see it all in action.

Alice loved walking through the mist of the humidifier which with the heat outside was quite refreshing. I don’t think Amy will allow me to do this with the summer room though sadly.

Fabulous gloriosa.

Mandevilla growing from a large pot.

The carnivorous pitcher, sarracenia guards the door against insects.

And a few more carnivorous nepenthes protecting the greenhouse from pests.

Back to the outside world Alice was attracted to the rill. As I said she is fascinated by the water features.

Woodland Walk

I thought Alice would have had enough of walking by this point but she was determined to do the woodland walk. It takes you in a circle around the woodland surrounding the walled garden. Along the way you look for animals doors and record the colour on a sheet.

It takes you to the stumpery, which any long term readers will know I like a lot. The mix of ferns and gunnery and wonderful foliage plants makes for a wonderfully calm environment.

I’m glad Alice still enjoys doing activities as basic as these trails. It’s valuable time together and she still found such pleasure in finding each door. At the end, we returned the clipboard to the cafe for a reward of a bag of sweets.

Cactus house

To the side of the cafe is a long thin glass-ceilinged room with the cactus and succulents collection. A stark contrast to the hot house. From warm and humid to super dry. Cactus and succulents are fascinating if strange-looking things. My A-level biology teacher had a love of them and had them dotted around the lab. At least I assume she loved them from the quantity. I also have a suspicion that they were out so the more annoying students would end up touching when they decided to give the furry-looking ones a stroke. She did have a bit of a sadistic sense of humour, though a very good teacher. For adaptations, there are few plants as interesting botanically.

While I’m sure most readers understand the cactus and succulent distinction a few might not. Succulents are defined as plants with water-storing adaptations such as fleshy leaves or fleshy trunks. While cacti are succulents with leaves that have adapted to become spines or scales to suit desert conditions.

While it is only the one stretch of plants there is an amazing variety of plants that have adapted differently for dry conditions. The spines forming micro climates to conserve water and protect the plant from anything that might eat it.

While the succulents have fleshy leaves for water storage in all manners of configurations.

I think this little one was one of my favourites, Mammillaria gracillis. I like how the spines are adapted to flatten over the cactus stems to make a web.

Plant sales

OK, I’ll be honest this was one of the main reasons we came out. I was looking to take Alice out for a nice day but no reason that couldn’t cross over with me seeing some interesting plant stalls. There were a few local nurseries there with a mix of perennials and bedding plants. Long Riston plants are very reasonably priced. The Hardy Plant Society were there with a good selection of perennials. But as we visited the local open gardens a few weeks back I already have a good pile of plants needing planting so I resisted these. I couldn’t resist the Hull branch of the British Cactus and Succulents society stand.

I think they have involvement with the display at Wassand and they had brought out a great selection for the display table.

Alice likes the ones which look like they are covered in wool as mum likes to needle felt and she felt it looked like the wool she uses.

Best of all, all of the pots were £1 each regardless of size and rarity value meaning we could pick many just based on what we liked. We both picked a good few. Then a picked up a not-so-mini tetrapanax. This is capable of becoming a large-leaved tropical-looking tree. In milder areas, they can remain evergreen. I expect mine to be deciduous dying to the ground in winter. Accounts online differ in how it copes with the wind. But I have seen a good few accounts saying it can manage with sea salt winds so I’m going to risk it. If it works out it will make for an impressive specimen within the front garden jungle.

Glad I managed to find my favourite cactus from the cactus house. I can see how people become obsessed with collecting and growing these wonderful plants. Their small nature means anyone can fit a good few. The great variety makes them very interesting. I’m tempted to join the society as they look to have a good number of online lectures each month making it easy for me to fit it around Alice. Then they meet once a month close enough for me to get to. If they ever have a press office job going I’d leap at that for the amount of bad puns that can be made. “They’re a bit of a prickly bunch with dry sense of humours.”

It was a great day out and wonderful seeing Alice taking such enjoyment from the wildlife in the meadow, to the plants in the garden, to the woodland trail, to simple pleasures such as watching the water. Despite dragging her around for over 16,000 steps, during the whole day out the only whine was when I said it was time to go.