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Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre
Chamaerops No. 18, published online 23-07-2002

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Brief Encounter

It seems that London's romance with 'real exotica' is over. Well, less of a romance, more of a brief encounter really. How the hearts of London's palm enthusiasts - native and visitors lifted when a line of Phoenix canariensis appeared down the centre of Park Lane, one of the capital's major thoroughfares. Not large plants, it must be said, about 4 or 5 feet high, but at least a start. Protected from the north and east by the tall buildings of Oxford Street and the West End, and open to the west and south with a clear view of Hyde Park, it seemed the ideal location. If they would thrive anywhere it would be here. We imagined the scene twenty years on. But now, after only a couple of years (just establishing nicely) I see they've been ripped out and unceremoniously dumped in a communal planter (grave was the first word that sprang to mind) by Marble Arch. Worse, they've been replaced by - you've guessed it - Cordylines. Including some lovely stripey ones! Of course they do make such attractive dot plants. And so exotic. Yuk!

The other thread of hope was the Phoenix canariensis in the middle of the roundabout at Lambeth Bridge. This was much bigger, in an equally protected spot, and looked very good. Now however, after a similar period of time, I see it was never actually even planted in the ground, but has been confined all this time to a pot. Probably to make it easier to remove at the appropriate moment to make way for a nice dot plant.

It may be that the only way to introduce exotica into London parks and gardens is to 'Do It Yourself. Thus the famous Chelsea Physic Garden in Chelsea now sports a good-sized young Jubaea chilensis, courtesy of The Palm Centre. I figure that in about 50 years, it should be a dominant feature of the garden, if not of London, and I'll still be young. I've also offered a couple of dozen Trachycarpus to Richmond Park, but I can't seem to get them to take the bait. Short of going there and planting them myself, I wonder if they will ever get into the ground. They would look fabulous, especially if planted amongst the Rhododendrons there.

Open Day

Following many requests I'm going to throw my own garden open to all and any members of the European Palm Society who would care to visit. After its appearance on BBC's 'Gardener's World' recently, I have been inundated with requests from so many people who would like to see it that I can resist no longer! It will open all day on Saturday 2nd September, from lOam to 6pm, and all are welcome. I've no idea how many visitors will make the journey into deepest Stockwell (south London), so you will have to take pot luck on how soon you get in as it's not a huge garden and can only accommodate a limited number of people at a time. The patient will be able to see, among other treasures, Trithrinax acanthocoma, Parajubaea cocoides, Chamaerops and blue Chamaerops. Trachy's of a few different species, even a small Ceroxylon, squillions of bamboos and ferns and lots of other plants too numerous to mention. The address is 22 Guildford Road, London 5W8 (nearest Underground: Stockwell). If you would like a sketch map, please send me a s.a.e. to the Palm Centre. Thanks, and see you then!

Where Waggies?

I am often asked if there are any mature 'Waggies' (Trachycarpus wagnerianus) growing outside in this country. I am pleased to be able to tell you that Leonardslee Gardens in Sussex boasts a very great number of these wonderful palms. At one time there was talk that the two main groups of them there were in fact a suckering form, even a suckering species. My personal opinion is that several plants were simply planted together, or several seeds, and as they sprouted, gave the impression that were all part of the same plant. One sure way to tell would be to check the sex of each trunk as it flowers. If all the stems on one clump turn out to be the same sex, I'll just have to eat my words.

Musella Lasiocarpa

Since the beginnings of The European Palm Society I've striven to keep my business interests separate from the EPS and its magazine, Chamaerops. I hope you'll agree that I've largely succeeded. However, I can't pass up this opportunity to tell you about a plant that many members have asked about since it was first described in these pages.
It is Muse/la lasiocarpa, from Yunnan, in China, and an article about it was published in edition 9, January 1993. A lot of people asked whether it would ever become available. Well, since then I've been working on that particular project, and I'm glad to say that at last, I do have some plants ready now for anyone who is interested.
It is an incredible plant, yet I've never seen it in any magazine or book and I just can't understand why. A banana-relative, it grows to about 6 feet in height, then develops a big yellow flower on top of the thick, conical stem. Peeling back the petals of this flower reveals dozens of 'bananas' each full of shiny black seeds. Amazing! Perfect as a conservatory plant, root-hardy, too. Phone me! M.G.

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