Cactus Cult


Ferocactus stainesii - Shewell-Cooper 1950 cropped

The ABC of Cacti and Succulents, 1950

According to the philosophy of W. E. Shewell-Cooper, I might be the only person who has killed a cactus.

In the 1950s he said ‘there are no plants which survive mis-handling better than the cacti’ and they ‘can be badly treated and yet which will go on growing and giving pleasure to their owners.’  I must have done something seriously wrong with mine then, and I’ve been quite afraid to try again since.

However, the current trend for cacti has got me thinking – and more than once recently I’ve been tempted by their familiar curves and spines.  There are cacti everywhere at the moment and this made me wonder if this might be the height of cactus-fever.

1910 TW Sanders A Group of Cacti and Succulents [153211]

Window and Indoor Gardening, TW Sanders, 1910

However, as early as 1910 they were part of the window and indoor gardening scene and by the 1930s a ‘genuine Cactus cult’ had been established in an otherwise dark period for house plants.  The heated greenhouse was, of course, a major help in their cultivation and survival year-round.

Mr Shewell-Cooper’s top tip for cacti is sunshine, light and air, there being ‘something more in the sun’s rays than just the light produced.’  With rain water at room temperature, ventilation but not draughts, and of course an avoidance of over-watering, I might be ready to try again.  In his words: ‘mis-use them and they come up smiling.’  Let’s see.

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