California Dreaming

Don, whose book 'The Diamond Lane Guide to Growing Palms in a Temperate Climate' was reviewed in the last issue gives a guided tour round some West Coast USA gardens.
Don Tollefson, 599 California Avenue, Venice, California, 90291, USA
Chamaerops No.23, Summer Edition 1996

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Left, above: The San Francisco garden of Mrs Inge Hoffmann, 'The Seed Lady'
Left, below: Your smiling editor with Dypsis decipiens, in Lakeside Arboretum, Oakland, CA.
Right, above: The high-level San Diego garden of Jim Wright
Right, below left: Bearded Jim Wright with Rhopalostylis.
Right, below right: Pauleen Sullivan's Hedyscepe canterburyana

It must be admitted that for one reason and another, the following article is a bit of a mish-mash! It was originally submitted by Don Tollefson with the title '1996 IPS Biennial Private Garden Tours'. IPS is of course The International Palm Society, and the Biennial is . the 1996 meeting that took place in Los Angeles in early August just passed. A number of EPS members were there, including Tony King, Toby Spanner, Jacques Deleuze and myself. The article should of course have been published prior to the meeting, but due to lack of space, it was not. We all visited some of the gardens described, at this time, or previously, plus others, and there is so much to learn from the way Californians 'do it', I thought I'd risk publishing it late in a edited form, along with a few photos that may or may not have been taken during the meeting! Much of California has a near-perfect climate for palm growing, and many of the species listed here would be ideal for the warmer parts of Europe. Remember 'Temperate' covers a very wide range of temperatures, but then so does our membership! (Martin Gibbons)

California is one of the world's leaders in the cultivation of temperate climate grown palms, and there are many Californian gardens that are now among the best in the world. It's a sophisticated skill to grow tropical palms in a temperate climate, but once you obtain the basic know-how it's surprisingly easy, and you'll be amazed byhow lush and tropical-looking a garden you can develop.

Now the opportunity to see some of these gardens is near. The August schedule for the 1996 International Palm Society Biennial in California includes four private gardens and the oportunityto see first hand some of the many exotic and beautiful palms that can be grown in a temperate climate. There is no substitute for learning from experienced growers, and seeing their mature collections. These gardens and these growers are among the best anywhere. The four gardens are those of Lois Rossten, Ralph Velez, Pauleen Sullivan and Louis Hooper. What follows is a summation of each garden and the unique growing techniques of each grower.

Lois Rossten emphasizes the importance of a greenhouse, and the ease with which you can grow beautiful, lush palms once you have a basic concept of growing tropical palms in a temperate climate. Lois has a small greenhouse which is shaded from sunlight by the canopy formed by her mature palms. She keeps the temperature warm during the winter months with a natural gas heater. The temperature seldom exceeds 80°F (25°C), or drops below 60°F (15°C). Lois finds that most small palms will not grow well in a temperate climate without winter protection and greenhouse-induced size. She heaves the palms in the greenhouse until they are ready to move from a four inch into a one gallon container at which time she places them outdoors to harden off. Lois hikes to bring the palms out of the greenhouse in the spring after the night-time temperatures stabilize at or above the high 5O°F(13-15° C) . She then allows the palms to grow to a large one gallon size outdoors and plants them in the ground during the spring and summer months as a one gallon, digging a hole just large enough for the palm to fit into.

Lois' philosophy is basically to plant the palm and wait. Nothing happens at first. Nothing happens next. Nothing might happen after a year. And just when it seems that the plant is going to remain a runt forever it begins to grow and it continues to grow, becoming a large, fast-growing palm. Her system is simple and highly successful, but it does require more patience than most other systems. Lois has a fabulous palm collection with over 150 species on her standard city lot. Included in her collection of specimen palms are Veitchia joannis, V. arecina, Dictyosperma album var. rubrum, Wallichia disticha, Carpentaria acuminata, Roystonea regia, R. elata and Parajubea cocoides.

Ralph Velez also stresses the importance of a greenhouse, and the ultimate size and time to plant most palms outdoors. Ralph has two greenhouses, and a palm growing career which has included some form of greenhouse from the beginning. Ralph's lower greenhouse is his cool greenhouse in which he grows many 'greenhouse only' palms. His upper greenhouse is the warm one in which he grows his seedlings to planting size. Ralph installed his upper greenhouse because the sunlight to the lower greenhouse became blocked by his mature palms.

Ralph feels that it's not productive to attempt to grow small tropical palms without the benefit of greenhouse heat. They simply will not grow satisfactorily, and a normally two year effort can turn into a ten or twelve year odyssey, with the probable loss of the palm before it obtains planting size.

Ralph prefers to grow the palms to a five gallon size in the greenhouse. He notices the palms obtain a large five gallon size much more quickly in a greenhouse than outdoors and feehs that a rapidly grown greenhouse palm is far more suitable for temperate climate adaptation than a show outdoor grown palm. Ralph places the palms outdoors in the spring when the night-time temperatures remain in the high 50° or above, and plants them in the ground from hate spring to late summer. Ralph has discovered that there is a perfect size for planting out palms and that is from a large five gallon to a small seven gallon. He avoids planting harger greenhouse grown palms that have developed trunk; they often suffer "post greenhouse shrink," from which they can never recover.

Ralph's is probabhy the most extensive small private collection anywhere. On a standard corner plot, Ralph has over 200 species, and he has palms growing throughout his neighbourhood. Some of his most significant mature palms are Roystonea regia, R. oloraceae, R. elata, R. borinqueana, Marojejya darianii, Prestoea acummata, Arenga pinnata, Dypsis (Chrysalidocar pus) madagascariensis, Rhopalostylis baueri, and Rhopalostylis sapida.

Pauleen Sullivan emphasizes the importance of of a small greenhouse "slider" and her indoor heated pool room. Pauleen calls her small greenhouse slider her "hot house" which consists of sliding patio doors in which she raises the small palms, and a heated poolroom into which she moves the palms after they reach a one gallon or larger size. Pauleen prefers to plant the palms outdoors in the ground after they obtain a three to five gallon size, although she has planted many at smaller sizes.

She believes that most palms do best with an abundant supply of water. Her theory is that you can't overwater a palm, which makes sense because in habitat, most palms come from areas of 100 to 300 inches of annual rainfall. Pauleen even allows some of her palms to sit in an inch or so of water, and she has developed a system of swirling out the old water so that fresh, oxygenated water is provided to the palms each time she waters.

Pauleen's collection includes some species that no one else has been able to grow, so be certain to make a note to see them. Most significantly, Pauleen has Ceroxylon ventricosum. lt has about 18 feet of trunk with upright fronds extending shaving brush style up to about 33 feet tall overall. It's easy to miss this tall plant because at Pauleen's garden your eyes are constantly drawn towards the many beautiful shorter palms. Nowhere else in the northern hemisphere can such a large and majestic Geroxylon be found except at one of Pauleen's other gardens which is not on the tour. Pauleen planted her Ceroxylon in the ground in its present location as a two leaf seedling! Also of significance is a Dypsis (Chrysalidocarpus) decipiens, Chambeyronia macrocarpa, Kentiopsis oliviformis, Hedyscepe canterburyana, Dypsis (Neodypis) leptocheilos, Ravenea madagascariensis var. monticola, Ceroxylon vogelianum, Basselinia favierii, Normanbya normanbyi, Lepidorrhachis mooreana, Ptychococcus elatum Pinangajavana,and many other specimens.

Louis Hooper also emphasizes the importance of a greenhouse, and he has developed an excellent system for potting up the palms. Louis has discovered that the palms just can't seem to survive outdoors in California unless they have obtained three or four leaves in the greenhouse. Louis' potting system is very effective. He starts with a rose pot, and goes from that size to a four inch, to a gallon, to a five gallon, potting up the palms after they become a large plant with a solid, substantially rootbound rootball.

He moves the palms out of the greenhouse as a large one gallon potting them into a five gallon size and growing them under 70% shade cloth until they reach a good size at which time he plants them outdoors in the ground. Louis likes to prop open his greenhouse door in the summer, and expresses great appreciation for the heat that he enjoys at his La Habra, California growing area.

Louis has a splendid outdoor palm collection which includes Roystonea regia, Ravenea madascariensis var. monticola, R. rivularis, Pseudophoenix sargentii, Licuala ramsayi and several other beautiful species, including a splendid collection of Chamaedoreas.

Growing exotic palms in a temperate climate requires some basic knowledge. At past biennials I've met many members from areas throughout the world that should be capable of producing gardens similar to those of Southern California. People from the southeastern United States, South Africa, South Australia, New Zealand, Southern Europe, and Israel for instance that could have palm collections equal to or better than those in California, but when they tell what they are growing, their collections are lacking. Often they state that their climate is too cold to grow what can be grown in California, but the true cut off point should be cold temperature and not a psychological one.

Most California gardens have little or no frost or freezing temperatures, and some have none at all so if your area fits this description, there is no reason why you can't grow the same palms. Plan to visit the four private gardens on the Biennial tour. And go home prepared to develop a fabulous temperate climate palm collection of your own.

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