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A world of cacti Down Under

I received a lot of positive feedback on my two recent articles on our Society’s recent sojourn to Bangkok, Thailand, and the amazing cactus and succulent growers we met over there. I still have two more great growers to feature from that trip, but maybe it’s time to take a little breather from Bangkok and move back to another excellent grower I met in another part of the world. This is Hamilton’s World of Cacti in Llandilo, a western suburb of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia.

Hamilton’s World of Cacti is owned and run by – you guessed it – the Hamilton family. The owners I met that day are April and her daughter Kim Hamilton. They are among the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. They’ve been collecting cacti and succulents for over 30 years now and have amassed a large collection and variety of rare and beautiful specimens, not to mention literally hundreds of thousands of seedlings.

Hamilton’s World of Cacti is one of the largest growers of C&S in Australia. While they are mainly a wholesale nursery selling products to other C&S nurseries in New South Wales and Queensland, they also sell products to large retailers such as Bunnings Warehouse and K-Mart. In fact, they dominate the C&S business in most supermarkets, garden centers and grocery stores in this part of the world.

Having said that, Hamilton’s also has a retail nursery on its premises in Llandilo, where they offer a wide range of C&S for beginners and advanced collectors alike. When I visited their retail nursery, I noticed a good variety of your regular Mammillarias, Haworthias and Stapeliads. But I also eyed some very special and rarer plants, such as the beautiful Aloe polyphylla and specimen-sized Leuchtenbergia principis. Aloe polyphylla is also known as the spiral Aloe for its habit of forming a very tight (and beautiful) spiral mass with age. It was once one of the rarest Aloes to be found in the C&S trade. It comes from mountains and higher altitudes in Lesotho, a country in Southern Africa. Propagation for this species has been enhanced given worldwide collector interest in this taxon, so the species is now more readily available. And Hamilton’s had beautiful specimens available for sale.

The highlight for me during my visit was seeing the Hamiltons’ private collection of specimen C&S in one of their 20 or so "bubble" plastic greenhouses. Inside this special exhibit (which, by the way, had a sign in English and Japanese – or was it Chinese? – stating that the plants in the exhibit are not for sale), are mouthwatering specimens of Pachypodiums, Copiapoas, Mammillarias, Mesembryanthemums, and just about any other C&S genera you can think of. Many of the plants are quite old and sizeable. And not surprisingly, many of the plants were raised from seed by the Hamiltons. One seed-grown plant that really caught my eye was a beautiful, huge specimen of Aloe plicatilis. It was all of 10 or so years old, but from its size, I thought it was a lot older. It was blemish-free and absolutely perfect.

Speaking of seed-raising, the Hamiltons are experts in this area. I visited a few of their greenhouses where Kim showed me their seed-rearing process. They literally sow hundreds of thousands of seeds each year which they source from all over the world, including the Netherlands and the US. When the seedlings are a bit larger, they are transplanted into well-prepared beds that are in the ground. The extra root room allows the seedlings to really grow faster and stronger in a shorter period of time. Once these seedlings have achieved an acceptable size, they are potted up in individual pots and shipped to various retail establishments like K-mart and Bunnings.

You may think that the Hamiltons have been so successful growing C&S because of their ideal microenvironment in the western suburbs of Sydney along the way to the Blue Mountains. But this seeming oasis for C&S does have its own challenges, too. While we worry about all the rain and high humidity we get each year, the Hamiltons worry about something we will never see in Manila (at least during our lifetime, barring any huge atmospheric calamity shift), hail the size of bricks! Last year, large bits of hail wreaked havoc on the Hamilton greenhouses. These bits tore into the plastic bubble greenhouses, destroying several and killing and damaging numerous plants, including some prized specimens. I saw the damage on some specimen Copiapoas and I can tell you, I would have literally cried if they were my plants.

But April and Kim have since rebuilt these greenhouses (at quite a cost, mind you) and the plants are all doing a lot better again. I was treated to a highly educational and entertaining afternoon during my visit with Kim and April. They are extremely knowledgeable about C&S and I learned quite a bit that day. Seeing their seed-raising operation, I am really tempted to spend more time on this part of the hobby in the future. I may not have the patience or the temperament to do this well, but that’s another story. It is truly so gratifying to raise a nice specimen from seed. And parlaying this into a sustainable business venture is even better. April and Kim have done exactly that. If you are ever in the Sydney area, have half a day to kill and you fancy C&S, I would strongly suggest a visit to Hamilton’s World of Cacti.

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