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Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre
Chamaerops No. 15, published online 23-08-2002

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Chicken & Egg

A photographer phoned me up a few days ago and said he was working for a firm that was about to publish a book on houseplants. He needed to borrow some palms to illustrate the new hook. In fact this happens quite regularly, not only for books but for magazine articles too. I'm usually happy to oblige but I have started to get a bit irritated by the fact that it's always the same plants that people want to write about. It's always Kentias (Howeia) and Parlour palms (Chamaedorea elegans). Just occasionally I will be asked, if the publisher is really daring, for Caryota (always C. mitis, which in my experience doesn't perform well as a house plant), or Phoenix roebelenii.

I began to ponder on why nobody ever wants to write about some of the more unusual palms, which make excellent houseplants. I have asked one or two publishers about this and of course the answer is always, 'Nobody's ever heard of them' to which I reply, 'well, nobody ever will hear of them if you don't write about them'. To which they invariably say, 'What's the point in writing about plants that are not generally available?' to which I always respond, 'Nobody can go into a garden centre or plant shop and ask for a plant that they've never heard of or read about'. Which is why I called this bit 'Chicken & Egg'; how is a demand created? Is it up to garden centres to stock 'new' species and hope to sell them, or is it up to authors to write about these new' plants and hope that interested readers will ask around for them and create a demand that way.

Now I'm going to let you in on a Trade Secret. With all the 'rare & unusual' palms that I sell here at the Palm Centre, 80% of my sales are on just two species: Trachycarpus (an obvious one, and one that I'm very happy about) and - you've guessed it - the Kentia palm! I've nothing against these; they are indeed very elegant, very durable and very easy, but why do so few people want to try anything a bit more out of the ordinary? One of the big disappointments of this business is that I sell so few 'exotics' and by that I certainly don't mean 'tropical' plants that need high humidity to survive. I don't blame anyone for avoiding such treasures as Licuala grandis, Livistona rotundifolia and - yes - Caryota mitis, but, even though I push, push, push, it's very difficult to interest the average customer in Neodypsis decaryi, Chambeyronia macrocarpa, Pritchardia hillebrandii, Chamaedorea plumosa, Mascarena verschaffeltii and others even though they make fabulous indoor plants. If people don't ask for these palms, then garden centres will make no attempt to stock them, and if they don't stock them they certainly won't sell them. And if customers want to stick all the time with Kentias and Parlour palms, we'll never see any change.

Binder Bit

A big apology now to all those who ordered binders for Chamaerops. These are now imminent and we will waste no time in distributing them as soon as they arrive. As seems to be usual, they took much longer to produce than expected and are still not quite ready. As far as I am aware (and correct me if I'm wrong), we are the only Palm Society or Chapter to have a binder for our journal and if you haven't ordered one yet, please do so now. They hold 24 issues of our magazine, they are top quality, blocked and printed with our logo and the name of the society in gold and cost £6.95 including post and packing for U.K. members and £8.50 for those on the continent. If you would like more details, just phone for a leaflet. They will also be on sale at our meeting in France.

Meeting In France

Which brings me, spookily enough, to:
Our meeting in France. Due in no small part to the efforts of our French colleagues, plans are now about finalized for our programme: transport arranged, venues booked, speakers signed up. We will have a good number of 'attendees' and I for one am looking forward to meeting all those people whom I don't yet know. And in case they want to meet me, I'm the tall one with the moustache! So, there's just time to polish up your français, put some film in the camera, arid make sure your passport is still valid, and off we go.

With This Issue

Woody Allen once said, 'A love affair is like a shark; it has to keep moving forward to survive'. Well, Chamaerops is a bit like that, so that's why with this issue we have a new typeface, new layout, new design and even new page numbers. If you like it, you can thank me, if you hate it, you can blame our designer, Jeff Goddard! M.G.

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