City Desert a Guarantee of Survival; ENVIRONMENT Editor TONY HENDERSON on a Hot Topic amid the Ice and Snow

Article excerpt

DURING the big freeze there has been no better place to be than a patch of desert in the middle of Newcastle.

The newly restored cacti desert beds are inside a glass houses complex at Newcastle University's Moorbank Botanic Garden off Claremont Road.

Volunteers have helped rejuvenate the beds of cacti and succulents - plants which specialise in surviving in dry and often hot and arid conditions.

The glasshouses, which also include a tropical rainforest section, were built after a substantial bequest to Moorbank in 1973 by North East businessman and plant collector Randle Cooke.

But over the years the cacti and succulent beds deteriorated, as the soil became exhausted and the plants were affected by pests.

It was decided to dig out the old beds and 40 tonnes of material was removed by volunteers using wheelbarrows.

Volunteers included members of the British Cactus and Succulent Society's Northumbria branch and landscape students from Newcastle College.

New African, South American, and Central and North American beds have been created, with many new plants being raised and donated by BSCC members.

Society chairman Dr George Wake and member Doug Berkley, who lives in Gateshead, are key volunteers who help maintain the beds.

The beds now accommodate 50 species of cacti and another 50 of succulents in the African bed.

The beds are expected to mature in five to 10 years time.

Dr Wake has created a Madagascan bed - kept at a temperature of 22C - featuring 24 varieties of succulents - which store water in fat stems, leaves, and roots - from the Indian Ocean island. …