Book Review: 'The Diamond Lane Guide to Growing Palms in a Temperate
Climate' by Don Tollefson
Could this be the ultimate book on the subject?
Toby Spanner has been reading between the lines.
Tobias W. Spanner, Tizianstr. 44, 80638 Mčnchen, Germany
Chamaerops No.22, Spring Edition 1996
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Did it ever occur to you that there is actually no
hook on the market today that is entirely devoted to all the practical
problems of how to grow a palm in your garden? Of course, all the
major palm books give advice on cultivation in their introductory
sections and usually additionally under the individual species,
but this is usually short and very general and often rather unsatisfying
when dealing with a specific problem.
When looking for the first time through Don Tollefson's
recently published book, "The Diamond Lane Guide to Growing
Palms in a Temperate Climate", I thought, finally, palm enthusiasts
in temperate climates can get a comprehensive guide on how to successfully
grow palms outdoors. The author has included nearly everything you
need to know to get started: How to get a collection started, collecting,
importing and germinating seeds, all the many aspects of growing
and planting and how to run a greenhouse, the problems with pests,
climatic considerations and cold hardiness. Any questions? Unfortunately,
The more I got into the book, the more uneasy I felt
about it. Firstly, the general presentation is rather poor. Actually,
it is more a stack of photocopies held together by a plastic binder
than a book. Also, there seems to be no concept of layout. If the
author had only invested in an up-to-date layout programme for his
computer, used sensible typefaces for the titles as well as the
text, and omitted the double spacing of the text, the whole book
would have been much nicer in appearance, easier to read and would
have filled only half of the 151 pages it has now. There are but
two colour pages within. Not such a good deal for US$29.95.
However, looks aside, more important are the contents.
The first thing that sprang to my eye were the many spelling mistakes
and typing errors. Botanical names are also frequently misspelled
(Archontophoenix alexandria instead of A. alexandrae; Livistona
cariensis instead of L. carinensis; Chamaedorea geomaeformis instead
of C. geonomaeformis; Wallachia instead of Wallichia - there are
many more examples) . Also, names of forms or varieties are usually
not referred to as such but are treated as though they were valid
species' names: Archontophoenix 'Illawarra', Phoenix 'Reasoneri',
Sabal 'Riverside', etc.). The nomenclature could have done with
a proper review. By the way, the cover picture shows Prestoea acuminata
(growing with Geonoma undata and Wettinia praemorsa), not an undescribed
Prestoea species. At least it should have been called an 'unidentified'
Following an introduction are various chapters on
books, travelling, collecting and the like. As we read on, advice
about fertilizing, watering, potting mixes and soils, albeit simple
to understand are generally superficial and not very helpful when
problems arise. In the chapter 'Temperate Verses Tropical Palms",
the term 'temperate palms' seems to be applied mainly to species
from temperate rainforests or tropical high mountain areas. Certainly
many of these, as the author states, are difficult to grow, so he
draws the strange conclusion that the climatically marginal but
easier to grow 'tropical palms' have 'become the mainstay of temperate
climate palm collections', and accordingly, concentrates his further
advice manly on how to grow these marginal species. But what about
all the many Braheas, Butias, Phoenix, Sabals, etc. which after
all are still the most reliable in a temperate climate? Aren't these
essentially temperate palms the easiest and most frequently planted?
Curiously, they are largely omitted from this hook.
What I particularly enjoyed were the detailed explanations
on temperature related problems in establishing small palms, where
many myths, like the one that palms need to be 'grown hardy' from
early age, are set right. Various suggestions oin how to get a palm
to a plantable size as quickly as possible, including the use of
greenhouse and coldframe, are presented in detail. A complete misconception
in this chapter however is the lengthy explanation on how to provide
plants with 'fresh' carbon dioxide through exhaust ventilation in
a greenhouse. Seriously, there is no way to collect carbon dioxide
(fresh or otherwise) from the air in a greenhouse as Don Tollefson
Information is given on when, how and where to plant
palms in the ground. This is extremely useful, first hand information.
But again, Don Tollefson's 'Cold Hardiness Palm List' in the back
of the hook, in which he rates the different species according to
their performance in various (Californian) climatic zones is very
difficult to understand as well as being short of some important
and well-tried species, such as Sabal minor, Phoenix canariensis
and P. dactylifera. In short, the hook is too California-centred
and, in ignoring the rest of the world, often not very helpful if
you live in a different temperate zone. It would have been better
with a title such as: "Growing Tropical Palms in California".
In conclusion, I think the book is well worth buying
as a collection of fresh and useful ideas on growing palms outside
the tropics. As a complete guide to growing palms in temperate climates
it does not serve, and I would not recommend it as such.
"The Diamond Lane Guide to Growing Palms in a
Temperate Climate" is available at US$29.95 plus shipping cost
of $2.95 from the author: Don Tollefson, 599 California Avenue,
Venice, CA 90291, U.S.A.
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