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A Prickly Subject

By Martin Coombes
March 2003, Talsarnau
A digital story from Capture Wales

From Small Seeds Grow Big Dreams

Martin Coombes looks at his mothers growing passion for cacti and how their roots finally settled in Glanrafon.

"This is the home I share with my mum. A mile and a mountain inland from Talsarnau. My great grandparents bought it for £200 in 1916 to escape the real or imagined threat to Birmingham of the Kaiser's dreaded Zeppelin. Great grand-dad was a keen gardener and had a small greenhouse of which a corner was devoted to cacti. Mum first visited the place at an early age when she came to see her grandparents.

Used to the restricted accommodation at the back of a small shop in Birmingham, she was fascinated to be able to make all the noise she wanted. She was especially drawn to the cacti and would invariably take one home to Birmingham.

Her collection grew as she learned the secrets of propagation and, needing extra space and always glad pocket money. Mum - who was still at school - offered the local florist a box of cacti for half a crown. He accepted. When his stocks ran low he rang up for replacements.

Her father - himself a businessman - took the call. This was his first inkling of her entrepreneurial skill, but he was immediately caught up with the idea and built her a greenhouse - so began a business. Later - married and living in Coventry - she raised a family, starting with me.

Often throughout the summer Dad would come home from work and then have to ferry her plants to one show site or another. In the early fifties great grandma died and for the next twenty years her home became our holiday home. I was in the Air Force and already in Wales, when at 60, Dad took early retirement and they moved to Glanrafon - but not before Dad had built a greenhouse encompassing the site of the old one.

The cacti collection had now completed a full circle - from the six foot greenhouse that spawned it, to the thousand square feet that now houses it. We started the tale with a young girl visiting my great-grandma, now the girl is herself a great-grandma."

Martin Coombes

Please tell us about yourself?
I am nearly 60, and I've been divorced for a long time. I am living with my widowed Mum who is an avid propagator of cacti and succulents. I have worked, generally on short term contracts, in manufacturing or aircraft maintenance for many years but I am now effectively a full time carer. I am interested in more or less anything to do with computers.

What's your story about?
Mum is still growing cacti and succulents at the age of eighty eight and still selling enough to cover the electricity bills. The hobby started on the current site and grew in the midlands. On retirement the collection returned to the site of its foundation. When I attended the initial introduction to this workshop, everyone's response was always the same, "Talk about the cactus".

What did you enjoy most about the workshop experience?
I don't get out much and the workshop gave me the opportunity to meet a few new people and to play with some fascinating new software. I had a story to tell and am sure it will reach a greater audience on the BBC website than it would on my own.

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