INTRODUCING CACTUS CLUB "AYLOSTERA"
OF AALST, BELGIUM
By Igor Tchernodola, Belgium
Translated from Russian by Irina Ten
Photo 1. Jef Keymeulen (left) with the author on cactus show "Namiddag Vrije Tijd" in Destelbergen.
Nowadays there are over 20 clubs and associations of cactus and succulent enthusiasts in Belgium.1 Some time ago, in the "Cactus Club" magazine I have introduced the Belgian club "Grusonia" to which I belong. Recently I happened to learn about the other Belgian cactus club which is club "Aylostera" of Aalst. In fact, I have met only the president of the club Jef Keymeulen yet and he told me about his club. When I've heard Jef's story about his club, I saw much in common between "Aylostera" and "Grusonia". "Why not? - I thought then, - after all, the majority of cacti and succulents lovers are similar in their hobby, so the managements and organizations of the clubs could be similar too." But let's not run ahead. So what is the club "Aylostera" of Aalst?
The cactus club "Aylostera" (Aalst) is an association founded by a few fellow cactus and succulent enthusiasts of Aalst. In October 1981, the first meeting of the club was held, and from then, meetings are held regularly on the second Friday of every month. The club owns a vast library containing over 250 books on cacti and a lot of cactus journals. Usually a meeting is opened by the president of the club and after an opening speech and few announcements we have talks. Usually a talk is presented as a slide show. Sometimes talks are devoted to plants other than cacti, for example, orchids, bonsai, Alpine species etc. In the hall there is a counter with different cactus supplies and during breaks members can buy everything they need for cacti: pots, labels, fertilizers etc. The meeting is ended by a fascinating "tombola"! "Tombola" is a traditional lottery of Belgians taken place not only in cactus clubs. During the meeting breaks or before the tombola starts you can buy tickets (price is approximately 2-2.5 euro for 10 tickets). In the hall on counters many cacti are presented - they are the prizes! Then tombola begins and the secretary announce a ticket number picked from the basket and if it coincides with yours you can go to the counters and pick any plant you like. Tombola is a very useful lottery; it helps to raise an interest of members and to replenish a treasury of the club.
In spring, usually in April, the club arranges one day trip to cacti nurseries inside Belgium, or in neighbor countries - Holland or Germany. For amateurs it's a good opportunity to consult with professionals and see large collections.
In June, the club has an "open house" day. The owners of big collections can show them to public. That day everyone, even not a cacti lover, could visit the club. And in August, the club holds "Planten en hobbybeurs" - "hobby bureau". All members of the club could exchange or sell their cacti, books, pins etc.
The club publishes its own magazine with coverage of club's events. And if you missed a meeting or other event you can stay informed -- thanks to the magazine.
For ten years the club has owned a greenhouse of 300 sq. m. where the club's collection is located. Over 10,000 plants, from the smallest ones up to 5.5 meters in height are maintained there. Every Saturday volunteer members work in the greenhouse. And every Saturday in May, June and September the greenhouse is open for all visitors. The club's collection includes many different genera of Cactaceae such as Astrophytum, Aylostera, Gymnocalycium, Notocactus, Parodia, Mammillaria, Echinocereus, Echinocactus, Neoporteria, Lobivia, Leuchtenbergia, Ferocactus, Epiphylum, Wigginsia, Copiapoa, Matucana, Lophophora, Ariocarpus etc. And such genera as Cereus, Trichocereus, Eriocereus, Cleistocactus, Opuntia, Carnegia, Ferocactus, Echinocactus, Aloe, Euphorbia and Agave are planted in the ground not in pots.2
The club also holds different public events in cooperation with other town organizations. The greater exhibition " Namiddag Vrije Tijd " which organized by the city Aalst together with adjoining communities (villages). Also in city park of small town Destelbergen, together with "Hydrangea" the big bureau-sale of various plants is organized. Plants sold there are not only cacti but also house plants, plants for container, rock and Alpine gardening. The annual conference ELK - Europese Landen Conferentie - which takes place in Blankenberge (Belgium) in September provides very good opportunities for purchasing cacti and other plants, obtaining books and information from the professionals.
In conclusion Jef sent his best greetings to all cacti lovers and wished them luck in their wonderful hobby.
1 In Belgium all clubs and associations are independent. As I told above, there are over 20 ones of them in the country. On the other hand in Holland there is only one association - "Succulenta". The full name is "Nederlands Belgische vereniging van liefhebbers van cactussen en andere vetplanten - SUCCULENTA", translated as "Dutch-Belgian association of cacti and the other succulents enthusiasts "Succulenta". However "Succulenta" contains 40(!) subdivisions in different towns.
2 By the way, our club "Grusonia" owns a greenhouse similar to "Aylostera"'s. It is maintained by volunteers. The work is not paid for but very appreciated and we, volunteers, have some privileges. We get together once a month, prior to a meeting to prepare plants for prizes and "tombola", clean the club, water and repot the plants. During breaks we drink coffee and wonderful Belgian beer. Well, how having those conditions can one resist to work for the club and your favorite hobby?