My collection

I’ve always been a bit of a collector, and in my childhood I went through everything from stamps, coins, bottle tops, bullets, to rocks and shells and everything in between. I was an avid collector of all these things, but it wasn’t until I discovered cacti that I finally landed on one single hobby (though I’m certainly not averse to collecting the odd rock or fossil!). I started collecting cacti when I was around 7 years old, helped along by a plant loving father.

I grew up in Kristiansand, Norway, and as it happens the local natural museum and botanical garden keeps one of the largest public succulent plant collections in Norway. We would often go there and look at the cacti and other succulents when I was little, and these trips certainly inspired me to keep collecting. Of particular note they keep a magnificent specimen of Echinocactus grusonii that is at least 350 years old.

My collection began as a number of random species without any Latin descriptions, bought partly from local flower shops and partly grown from seed mixes bought at the same stores. A sprinkling of plants from the above mentioned museum were the only ones with proper names. At that time it was all about buying whatever I could get my hands on (which my father would fund). In no time at all our glass veranda was filled up with cacti on the window sills and in wooden beds my father made that took up most of the floor space.

But, as so often happens to those who fall to that succulent spell, available space has a tendency to run out. And the immediate answer is, of course, never to adjust the collection to one’s available space, but to increase the available space so that one may increase one’s collection. And so on and so forth. We (I and my plants) were lucky enough to live in a big house with a big yard, so when I was 9 years old in 1992 I got my first greenhouse. At this point my father was very much invested in the hobby himself which was definitely a good thing since he is quite knowledgeable about most sorts of plants (and had infinitely more money than me).

We began sowing seeds in earnest which we harvested from our own plants. The flowers were far too tempting not to pollinate, preferably with as many other flowers as possible (never mind about hybridising). It was great fun to sow about a thousand Rebutia sp. or Gymnocalycium baldianum seeds – they all germinated so very willingly! We also bought seed from the local botanical garden and from the Nordic Cactus and Succulent Society. Some of these plants are still alive and well.

The greenhouse soon became a size too small at around 4 m2, and only a couple of years later, in 1995, I got my second greenhouse. A size up at close to 6 m2, it was all a twelve year old boy could wish for. At this point the collection grew steadily with plants bought from various nurseries in Europe and from seed bought from Europe and the US.

View of greenhouse nr. 2 (1996). 

Another view of greenhouse nr. 2 (1997). 

Graciously obliging with flowers on a sunny summer day.
From left: Gymnocalycium horstii, Echinopsis sp., Pyrrhocactus jussieui,
Mammillaria guelzowiana, Gymnocalycium anisitsii
 (1996).

On parade in the garden.
In the back: Leuchtenbergia principis.
The first one on the left in the front I’m not sure about. I think it may be Echinocereus subinermis.
Following this one: Astrophytum capricorne, Thelocactus bicolor var. schwarzii,
Hamatocactus sinuatus, Astrophytum myriostigma
 (1997).

Sometimes we went on holiday to our cabin in the mountains but the cacti didn’t schedule their flowering accordingly.
Naturally the only option was to bring some of them along!
From the left: Acanthocalycium spiniflorum, an Echinopsis flower completely hiding the plant,
Acanthocalycium thionanthum var. glaucum, Acanthocalycium thionanthum var. brevispinum, and probably Hamatocactus hamatacanthus in the back (1996).
(Note the insects exploring the new and exotic flowers.)

Still on holiday, the Echinopsis flower seen above now with a glorious
Norwegian sunset in the background (1996).

In my late teens I began finding less and less time for the plants on account of school and parties and all the things teenagers usually like to do. Then I left my home town to go to university and for many years I would only visit my plants a few times a year. When I finished university and got my first real job (in Oslo) I suddenly found I had an acute need to fill up the windowsill with cacti. Apparently my lack of regular close contact with the plants had left me very much dissatisfied with the state of things, and a cactus-filled windowsill simply wasn’t enough. So when my wife and I bought our first apartment a year ago, I immediately saw the potential in our spare bedroom and annexed it.

This bedroom has now become more or less the third greenhouse (if you discount the mini greenhouse on the balcony…). Light and heat is provided by two 400 W HID bulbs. All the plants are grown from seed sown over the past 14 months, and already many of them have flowered. I am continually amazed at how quickly it is possible to grow some of these plants when given more or less optimum conditions year round.

In fact, they grow so quickly that I’m dangerously close to running out of space…!

And on that note I will end this rather long entry. The next one will be about the hundreds of tiny squatters in the spare bedroom (or so I imagine my wife sees them).

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