Cactus collection

Derek Garden Centre boasts a collection of cactus which is considered to be the 4th largest in all Europe. The cactuses are between 50 and 80 years of age and today some species are over 10 metres high. Our cactus collection is listed as the largest and only free standing one in the Malta records list. 

The entrance to the cactus exhibit is free, and is very popular with tourists from all over the world. The following is an interview with Mr Salvino Galea who is the founder of this great collection published on the Times of Malta in 2006.

What had started off as a "playful hobby" for a seven-year-old boy, playing with cactus seeds in his father's fields 70 years ago, has now become the fourth largest collection of cacti in Europe!

For Saviour Galea, his cactus collection is the love of his life. It contains over 120 different species but what makes it unique is the large number of free-standing cacti ranging in size from 6 to nearly 10 metres and in age from 40 to 70 years old. Some 80 per cent of the cacti were grown from seed. All of them are in the open air.

Mr Galea's father Carmelo was a live-cattle importer and the field where the garden now stands formed part of his farm. An old hunting lodge dating back to the time of the knights was also located on the farm and this has been converted into the Derek Garden Centre by Mr Galea's nephew Melosaul Balzan.

Mr Galea goes to the garden every day and keeps himself occupied planting seeds and re-potting plants.

"I like to grow cactus from seeds. The trick is in washing them because unless you wash the seeds well, the mould that is naturally found on the seeds kills them soon after they shoot. Fresh seeds should sprout in a matter of days and it is a joy to watch them grow," he said.

Hearing Mr Galea talk is like listening to a veritable walking encyclopedia: "Nature is just fantastic. Some of the pods the seeds are in bear spines, which in the wild protect them from being eaten by animals. When the seeds are ripe enough, the pod sheds the spines and cracks. The seeds that fall from the pods on the ground just die. Those that are pecked by birds are actually cleaned of the mould in the process and the seeds passed in bird droppings are the ones that end up growing."

Standing behind impressive giant cacti known as Mother-in-law's Chair, Mr Galea says some are 70 years old and can still be seen growing each year.

"When I got them as a child, some of the plants you see here were already a few years old. And take it from me, time flies," he joked.

Mr Galea said the trick in helping cacti grow is re-potting them every year or two. "And they need adequate watering too."

It's not just cacti that he can boast of but also a collection of hibiscus trees of all shades and colours as well as several exotic trees which, according to many, he had been wasting his time on trying to grow in Malta's climate.

The collection is making a name for itself among plant lovers across the world - after it featured on a number of web sites, tourists often turn up at the garden centre asking to see it.

People from far-flung places such as Russia and California have visited the collection and expressed amazement at the size of the trees as well as the length of the spines on some of the plants.

"I have been interested in cacti since childhood. I used to dream about having a cactus garden and my dream came true. I find a lot of comfort here and the thought that my nephew is here to keep taking care of it gives me great pleasure too," he said.

Anyone wishing to visit the garden can call at the Derek Garden Centre on +356 21449754.