Born in the Netherlands, Paul won his first cactus show at school in 1959. His Opa (Grandad) gave him his first subscription to Succulenta, the Dutch C&S Society, as a birthday present in 1963 – he had been a member himself since 1933 but WWII had destroyed his collection.
He moved with his family from the Netherlands to Denmark where his collection continued to grow, under artificial lights. He remembers: “In 1967 we moved to England, supposedly just for two years. I still live there today. As I discovered girls, Irish Guinness and rock ‘n’ roll, my cactus collection went downhill, but a beaten up Ferocactus histrix somehow followed me around as I got married and moved around, from Surrey to Bristol and back to Dorking in Surrey, growing my own family. A move in 1988 gave me my own study, with my own windowsill for the lonely F. histrix. It was soon joined by many other cacti.”
Paul joined the British Cactus & Succulent Society (BCSS) and not long after found himself in the role of Secretary of BCSS Crawley Branch before moving on to Wiltshire in 2003, living some 5 km from iconic Stonehenge. A house move now also included a collection of 3,500 cacti – quite a challenge!
In 1997 Paul made his first trip to Cactus Country, three weeks with my two teenage sons travelling through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado in pursuit of cacti, before a final week of theme parks and tourist attractions around Los Angeles. This first trip fired up a passion to see cacti in their habitat in preference to pots at home. Since then Paul has explored for cacti and other succulent plants in their habitats in South Africa and Namibia, South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru) and North America (USA, Mexico and Cuba).
These trips occur mainly during the UK winter time, while during the summer months Paul tours the UK to share what he saw in presentations entitled What I Saw Last Winter.
Paul is a published author: The Plantfinders Guide to Cacti & Other Succulents by Keith Grantham & Paul Klaassen (1999) (David & Charles Publishing in the UK, Timber Press in the USA)
Studies continue for a monograph on the Genus Eulychnia.
One feature of Paul’s trips has been the publication of his Trip Diaries on the internet, first on internet forums, then as Blogs: pkcactus.wordpress.com
Paul says: ‘The Cactus Trip Diaries started off as emails to my sister in the UK, to read out to my elderly parents so they could follow my exploits. They proved very useful as notes from which I could produce my presentations. My fellow travelers soon caught on, either racing me to get their own versions out or by printing out copies from which they could produce their own presentations. Then, friends from continental Europe brought photobooks of their trips to the annual ELK festival in Belgium. It was easy to merge images from my presentations with text from the Blog to produce my own souvenir books. They are available from the on-line Blurb Book store .