Letters

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Bananadrama

I read with interest the article 'Mum basjoo the Hardy Banana' (Chamaerops October 91). In 1960 I purchased a small plant of this species from Tresco Gardens (isles of Scilly) and planted it in a large tub in our heated Victorian conservatory.

In 1964 we moved house to Swimbridge, near Barnstaple in North Devon, but as we had only a very small area under glass, the banana was left out of doors in a sheltered corner. It survived the first winter and was then planted out in the middle of the lawn.

It remained there until the garden was taken by compulsory purchase in 1987, growing larger each year and forming a clump some 2m across, and up to 2m tall in a good year. They were featured in The Sunday Times a few years ago.

Throughout this 23-year period we gave them no protection whatsoever. Most winters would see them cut back to ground level, and in early 1987, when our numerous Cordylines suffered serious frost damage we thought that this must surely be the end, but there they were, poking their sterns up through the grass again by early April.

In September 1987 I dug up their massive root system with a pickaxe, divided them up and transplanted them into our new garden on a windswept hillside in the nearby village of Goodleigh. The soil is heavy, stony, shallow, and over hard rock, and the winds attack from every direction, but most have survived, and with the help of the shelter-belt trees now gaining height, and some humus in the soil, I have no doubt that they will soon be back to the same strong condition as before.

P.S. I have been informed that there is a banana plant growing wild alongside the A361 near to where our former garden existed. I have not been able to locate it myself, but it obviously arrived there with topsoil from our former garden!
Rev. Geoffrey Squire - N. Devon

Foxed

I am a new member and congratulate you on your most interesting magazine and the very high standard of the photos.

I grow many palms in my conservatory and have grown Yuccas from seed, also a date palm that had to be removed to my husband's office, as it grew too tall for the conservatory!

I wonder if anyone can identify the plant in the enclosed photograph? Unfortunately the foxes devour our plant labels and I have forgotten which species it is.

It has been in the garden for years, it is bone hardy, surviving all snow and frost etc. It is much admired but alas, we cannot give it a name. It is not a very good photo I'm afraid, but I hope someone can identify it.
Maureen Thompson - Kent

Growing Point

I refer to the article by W.G. Takken, (Chamaerops April '92) and specifically to the rotted growing point on the Trachycarpus.

During the horrendous and unprecedented frosts over the western central half of England and Wales experienced during the 81/82 winter, my then 2.5m Trachycarpus fortunei was subjected to -17°C on two successive nights. All of the foliage was killed and it appeared that the plant was dead, seemingly confirmed by a total lack of growth during the following summer.

I recall that in late June of the following summer (1983) I decided to dig up the plant and dispose of it. During a final close inspection before commencing work I was amazed to see the stump of a fan leaf, with woodlice as the supporting cast, appearing from the trunk.

The Trachy made a complete recovery, is now 3.5m tall, and has suffered no further damage in the last 10 winters.

My advice is quite simple: do not assume that a defoliated palm has been killed.
Geoffrey Cooper - Oxford

Bio-logical

In reply to the letter 'Soap Opera-tion' about natural pest control, (Chamaerops April '92), here at Kew Gardens in all the public glasshouses we now have a policy of using Biological, instead of chemical, control, in all but exceptional circumstances (it'll be a long time before there's a natural predator of cockroaches!). The one product that we do use frequently is Savona (made by Koppert UK), an insecticidal soap, similar to 'Safers' soap. It is mixed 1:100 with water and sprayed on the plants early on in the season. It's very good against all the more commonly encountered plant pests, especially Red Spider Mite. It should be repeated every 10 days or so, but not in direct sunlight or when the plant is dry at the roots.

We also use Phytoseiulus - the Red Spider Mite predator - from April onwards. Temperatures need to be at least 20°C if possible. These insects will consume hundreds of mites. If whitefly is the problem, we use Encarsia, a small parasitic wasp that attacks and destroys whitefly very successfully.

I'm still trying to track down some more information on the two Trachycarpus by the main gate of Kew Gardens. They are certainly original introductions from 1846, but I've yet to discover who donated them.

Keep up the good work with Chamaerops!
David Cooke - Palm House - Kew Gardens

Flat Top

Can anyone out there enlighten me as to the cause and cure of a condition on Cordylines that is just crying out to be called 'Flat Top' where the bunch of leaves forming the growing point takes it into its head to start leaning over at 900 to the vertical?

It's not caused by soft growth as the leaves are still quite stiff and hard, and it does grow out. However it happens rather quickly, and spoils the appearance of the plant. It may be a response to a cold wind.
Torren Edwards, Peterborough

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  08-12-19 - 08:42GMT
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