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Sally Beale

The Balearic Islands Branch of the MGS

Past Events   2013   2012    2011    Older

June 2010
Visit to Jaime Coll's Cactus Garden

Jaime gave us a fascinating account of the biology and cultivation of cacti. Cacti are an American group of plants and are found in a wide range of semi-arid habitats from Canada to Patagonia, from 4000m to sea level. Some even grow on trees in tropical forests but few occur in real deserts. Cacti are divided into three large subgroups:

  1. tall and unbranched with rudimentary leaves and thorns, the most primitive form
  2. branched cacti which evolved from 1.
  3. spherical cacti, the most recent and most water-efficient subgroup (a sphere is the shape that holds the greatest volume per surface area).

All xerophytic plants have developed special water-saving features to make them drought-resistant, but none of them can live completely without water. Jaime showed us amazing examples of the water-saving features of some succulents, which include fleshy and/or light-reflecting silver leaves, enormous roots and swollen trunks.

Moving on to cacti, he discussed their water-saving adaptations which include:

  • Leaves replaced by spines in order to reduce transpiration (this, however, impacts negatively on photosynthetic capacity, thus causing a slow growth rate).
  • Dense spines, "hair" and ridges that produce shade.
  • "Hair" can trap moisture in fog, which is then guided toward the roots by the ridges.
  • Night-flowering. Some flower as little as one night a year. Those that flower during the day generally have much smaller flowers.
  • Respiration occurs only at night. During the day, while photosynthesis is in progress, the stomata remain tightly closed and there is no gas exchange.

In order to germinate cactus seeds need shelter from the sun – provided either by the mother plant or by another host shrub.


  • Drainage: most important! Water well once totally dry (pots usually need to be watered once per week.)
  • Water: very important during growth in spring. Cacti go dormant in late summer and water can be withheld from August. Cacti in the garden need much less water and tend to withstand wind better if watered less rather than more.
  • Soil: ordinary soil (2/3), fine gravel/coarse sand (1/3)
  • Feeding: Jaime uses a thick layer of cow or goat manure once a year, usually in autumn. Wood ash adds important nutrients.
  • Weeds: can be reduced with a thick mulch of pine needles or stones. Special implements: long surgical tweezers, barbecue tongs.
  • Pests: few. For cochineal, paint on a mixture of beer and washing-up liquid.

At the end of his presentation Jaime generously conducted a little raffle and … won a container of echeverias.
Brigitte Berg.

A selection of Jaime's cacti.

Happy browsers amongst the cacti.

Photos by Sally Beale

March 2010
Talks by Jim Gardiner and Roy Lancaster

On Friday 12 March the Balearic branch of the MGS was extremely privileged to host two of the UK's best-known horticulturists and gardeners. Jim Gardiner, a cousin of one of our branch members, and Roy Lancaster gave a talk in Sóller to 90 MGS members in the College of the Sacred Heart. The two had brought their wives to Mallorca for a few days' break and a spot of plant-hunting, and they generously gave up a morning of their stay to talk to us.

Jim Gardiner has been curator of RHS Wisley for over 20 years and since last November is the chief curator of all the RHS gardens. He kicked off the morning with a fascinating talk about the evolution of Wisley, the jewel in the crown of the RHS. He described the painstaking redevelopment of the Wisley gardens, including the building of the pioneering and vast glass house, which cost 7.7m pounds and covers an area the size of ten tennis courts. He talked about the future of gardening in the modern world, and told us about the many courses the RHS runs to encourage enthusiasm and skill in young people.

Roy Lancaster is a well-known panelist on BBC Gardener's Question Time, a best-selling author, and a world-travelled plant hunter. In a fascinating talk, accompanied by slides, he told us of his love for the native plants of China, of his travels in Nepal, and of the 1,000 plants he grows in his own garden in England. As a child, Roy catalogued all the wild flowers growing within a ten-mile radius of his home, and from there went on to become a dedicated and committed gardener and plantsman.

Both Jim's and Roy's talks were inspiring and humbling, and we at the Balearic branch of the MGS enjoyed them enormously. We hope to be able to tempt them back to us again one day.

MGS makes headlines

February 2010
MGS Balearic Branch visit to Sa Canova Experimental Farm and Sa Teulera Organic Farm

Sa Canova Experimental Farm
is a joint venture with the Balearic Government's department of agriculture and fishing and the Obra Social de Sa Nostra. The finca explores a wide range of experimental practices which provide data to Central Government and also on a more local scale to the island's farmers.

We were given a tour by one of only five permanent staff who look after the 160,000 square metre finca. One of the most important functions of the farm is the investigations being carried out on almond varieties. They grow 90 varieties of almond on the finca, whose flowers cover a spectrum from white through pink to almost purple. At harvest half a kilo is collected from each tree and analysed by the Consell for weight, dimensions and thickness of husk. The almond trees are crowned in March to enable easy harvest and watered in August to swell the harvest.

Further experiments are also being carried out on rosemary; an astounding 97 varieties are grown of which the flowers are harvested and sent to Germany for processing and research as regards their medicinal use. We were also shown the weather station where a range of data is recorded and sent automatically to the Consell in Palma and Madrid.

A large olive grove is also used for experimentation into new varieties. The 350 trees yield around 5,000 kg of olives each season. Education is evidently very important at the farm: the agricultural college is closely linked to work on the farm and while we were visiting students from a local school from Sa Pobla were being shown the organic vegetable plots. These are based on the principles introduced by Mallorcan Gaspar Caballero. A simple rotation system is used with very specific principles where soil in the beds must never be trodden on and beds have central stepping stones, from honeycomb roof tiles, providing shelter to beneficial insects. We were told that these beds are not used for production but to enable children to plant seedlings - with so many school visits it would not be possible to let the plants grow to maturity.

Commercially the farm grows roses and other cut flowers for sale to florists, thus helping to sustain the valuable experimental work.

The day also took us to Sa Teulera Organic Farm near Manacor. Before having a tour of the new greenhouse we raided the organic farm shop. I think much of the delicious range of bread and cakes, fresh cheeses and vegetables were cleared from the shelves before we were shown the newly constructed greenhouses. Following organic rotation practices, the greenhouse was split into four sections, one of which hosts several hundred chickens that help to clear the soil and provide excellent fertilizer. Due to the confined nature of greenhouse production they have experienced a tough learning curve dealing with the pests and diseases which thrive in such conditions. Despite this, they are following their beliefs and maintaining the organic principles on which the farm is based. We should all wish them every success.

Greenhouses at Sa Canova
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