The Cactus Patch
Volume 10       December 2007      Number 12

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Only a few noteworthy events happened in October. (And I missed out Polly’s birthday treat - a performance of “Queen” courtesy of Anne -- at the end of September. I’ll get back to that when we get to Toronto. ) On 12th Oct. the Beale library had its annual book sale. They sell the most amazing things! I bought (among a lot of others) a book called “A Country Herbal” by Lesley Gordon (1980, Mayflower Books, N.Y.) for a mere $3. It has a lot of old illustrations as well as information on many common and not so common herbs. Among these is a whole page on Samphire. I learned:

1) The name probably derives from St. Peter. [Peter means belonging to the rock.]

2) It can be cultivated, but only in soil treated with Kelp (brown seaweed).

3) It has a “hot spicy flavour” and may be eaten fresh or pickled.

4) Shakespeare mentions it in King Lear –
           Half way down
           Hangs one who gathers samphire, dreadful trade!

The next day, of course, was the annual BCSS show & sale. I had taken one of the poster displays and redone it (to emphasize that the Karoo is actually drier than the Kgalagadi) and then noted a full page ad in the Californian for a new drug for appetite suppression. The plant used is a Caralluma which is another carrion flower related to Hoodia. Anne helped me find pictures on the internet and I whipped up another poster for the show on “Drugs from Succulents”.

Finally, on 25th Oct. Polly, Anne & I went to Tehachapi. The first stop was on Sand Creek Road for red and green rocks. We were startled to see antelope ( pronghorn & African) as well as a grizzly bear! For some reason, none of them moved. Next we went back into town for Quilting stores, an antique store and lunch. Then we went out to Mourning Cloak Ranch to see how the garden is doing. Even taking into account the season, it looks a bit rundown. The fall colors were the best thing there. There was no sign of the Delospermas except for the labels! We returned by the old road and watched a train on the Loop. Anne recalled having actually traveled on a train around it! (I missed my chance in 1961 when they still ran passenger trains because I wanted to sleep in and the bus left later.) Finally, we stopped at Murray Family Farms and bought weird gourds.

But back to our journey home from Botswana: On the 16th of July we took a bus from Plymouth to Newquay in Cornwall. We were met at the bus station by Hazel Meredith who was our mountainside neighbor 30 years ago in Malawi. (She also taught Biology at the University.) Every year she has added a note to her Christmas newsletter inviting us to visit. We finally did so. Her house is delightfully situated overlooking Fistral Beach with a good view of bathers, seagulls and the occasional northern gannet. At sunset we walked up the road with her black Labrador, Pitch. Almost immediately we came to a patch of succulents in flower. They turned out to be a variety of the common beet! At the end of the road I found a Sedum in flower. We looked it up in Hazel’s vast library (she monitors plants for the British National Trust) and it keyed out to Sedum kamtschaticum. Unfortunately there was no illustration and the book said the plants in Britain had narrow leaves. (The plant I found had broad ones.)

Next morning Hazel took us to the village of Reskadinnick and found a delightful cottage among the brambles on a winding lane. The sign on the gate said “Shangri-La” and the living room was filled with Asian artifacts. We met Rose Murphey and Stella M. Turk, a book was brought out showing the Sedum in question, and the garden out back yielded the narrow-leaved form as well as a pink-flowered S. spurium and the white flowered Crassula alba. Although small, the garden had two sheds squeezed in - one with books and the other with seashells. Our visit ended, of course, with tea.

From Shangri-La we visited the sea shore at Godrevy Point. Hazel was admitted free with her National Trust card and we proceeded to a hill slope covered in blooming purple heather. A rock wall there had wall pennyworts with scalloped round succulent leaves. They are in the Portulaca family and are said to be useful for cuts, chilblains, inflammation and “the stone”. On the cliff side were succulents of “pink purslane”, Claytonia sibirica, of the same family. There were also succulent white-flowered sea spurreys of the Carnation family. We had a picnic lunch overlooking the light house which is just off shore on a small island.

After lunch we visited nearby Gwithian which has a lichen-covered stone church. The church yard has an old Celtic cross and Crassula alba on an old grave. Inside the church the pews were decorated with colorful needlework kneeling cushions. A nearby garden had Agave americana! We then had drinks at the village of Cubert where there was more pennywort on the walls. We walked around the nearby dunes (another National Trust) and found the sea spurge, Euphorbia paralias, which was being eaten by snails which Hazel says were brought in from the Mediterranean. There were also plants of the smaller Portland spurge, E. portlandica. Another plant in bloom was the sea bindweed which has typical convolvulus flowers. Sea holly is not succulent, but the pale bluish green color of this thistle is striking. Plants of ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, were being eaten by caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. Despite numerous dogs, there were plenty of rabbits in warrens in the dunes.

We reached Hazel’s house at 6:46 and the two large suitcases which had followed us from London arrived at 7. I felt sorry for the delivery man who lugged them up the steep steps. One final note is that Hazel’s garden had the common orpine (Sedum telephium) as well as that ubiquitous weed Euphorbia peplus. We did a lot more in Cornwall, but I’ll write about that later.




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