First Steps in Exotica

Personal experiences on the rocky road to palmdom.
Silvia Knödler, Oberwilerstrasse 25, CH-4103, Bottmingen, Switzerland.
Chamaerops No.25 Winter 1996/97

As a relatively new member of the European Palm Society I read my first couple of "Chamaerops" issues with great interest and joy, and I would just like to tell all the authors how very helpful and inspiring their articles are for me. It is so good to know that there are other people around with the same, ah, how should I put it: hobby? Or is-it already an obsession?

Until now I made all my experiments on my own, often enough feeling somewhat guilty towards the plants which I left out in the cold and also even towards the environment because I thought it a bit weird, as if to forcibly transplant complete strangers into a foreign world. The only encouragement and ideas (and many plants) I got from another palm enthusiast in southern Switzerland, Mr. Carl Schell, who has a fantastic exotic park around his house. I must admit that at first I sometimes doubted his words when he told me which plants I could also try, since the climate there in Ticino is, of course, milder than ours. But all his plants survived here well, since compared to other regions north of the Alps - our climate is not too bad and fortunately some plants are hardier than we think or know.

In the vicinity of Basel the temperatures are usually higher than those of the surrounding regions (tulips and other early spring flowers, for example, bloom here about two weeks earlier than 20 km around us), with in general not too much rain, and snow is quite rare. Last winter, however, was long and cold like everywhere in Europe with below zero temperatures for quite a while (sometimes as low as -9C), and also the winter before had some very cold nights, during a few even as low as -12C. A clump of three Livistona chinensis (which were planted by a gardener in the course of a garden-rearrangement, who mistook them for Trachycarpus fortunei) survived both winters albeit with no leaves left. The first winter I wrapped them in some layers of plastic. Too many and too tightly, as I discovered later, because all the leaves were destroyed by mildew, but new green spear tips appeared. Then last winter I simply covered the ground around the stems with about 10 cms of fallen leaves and put some fir twigs around the new spears. Early January 1996 the plants between them had eight still green leaves but they all turned brown later that month as it got colder. In spring I transplanted them to a hopefully better place and now hope that in the future they will have more than just a few leaves each. Now as I write this, November 1996. each stem has only one leaf and one spear tip, due to the bad summer, I guess.

With the same method of protection (only during a short period of freezing rain did I cover some of the plants - however, none of the T. fortunei - with plastic) the following plants survived last winter too: 8 Trachycarpus fortunei (various sizes, from 10 cm to nearly 3m), I T. wagnerianus, I Chamaerops humilis, 2 Nerum oleander, I Cordyline australis (around the stems of these last 2 I additionally wrapped a rush mat), I Italian cypress, various Camellia japonica, I Tasmanian fern tree, Dicksonia antarctica, and some Aloes, Agave americana and Opuntias. A fig tree (about 10 years old and always full of edible fruit), a Eucalyptus gunnii (about 5 years old and now nearly 10m in height) and one young Acacia dealbata got no protection at all and were undamaged.

Unfortunately the leaves of a Cycas revoluta (which outgrew its previous winter space in the house) turned brown and so far has not grown new ones. However, as the trunk (about 20 cm high and 20 cm in diameter) 'is still firm I hope that it is not dead and that perhaps next year it will get new leaves. I lost -one lemon tree (home grown from a seed many years ago) and one small kind of a Phoenix (with softer leaves than P canariensis or P. dactylifera) received from Spain.

During this year I have planted I Butia capitata, I Punica granatum, I Chamaedorea radicalis, I small home grown Phoenix dactylifera and Sabal palmetto each, I Citrus ichangensis, I Albizia and 2 more Oleander. Now, since all those previous articles in "Chamaerops" have enhanced my palm addiction, my further wishes are huge (Washingtonia filifera, Brahea armata, Phoenix canariensis - and others) and my garden is tiny, I think I have to dig out some plants of which I have several specimen, like Rhododendrons and Hibiscus syriacus. I began already to give away smile hedge-roses which grew by a sheltered wall where next spring I intend to plant a Chamaedorea metallica and some Chamaedorea costaricana - a risk, I know, but the pot of C. costaricana contains about 20 little palms I can try with a few of them. Furthermore I hope to find some space for a Musa basjoo, an Eryobotrya and a Fatsia japonica. I wonder whether this garden will ever be finished!

Finally I have a question which perhaps somebody can answer. As I said before, I have eight Trachycarpus fortunei of various sizes. As the first one planted out about six years ago survived its first winter well, I planted two more, very small Trachy's which I received from a garden in southern Switzerland where they grew 'wild'. They are now approx. 7 years old. I saw no difference between them until this summer. One of them still looks lite all other Trachy's in the garden. The new leaves - and only these - of the other one, however, appear not only to be more compact and have a silvery-white rim partially around the somewhat broader single segments (simillar to a T. wagnerianus) but they are also rather oval shaped (broad oval). The tips of the segments are rounder than of the other Trachy's and the underside of the leaves is greyish-green. And unlike all other Trachy's and the Waggy, the upper halves of the first two new leaves that appeared alter the last winter were damaged and turned brown. In comparison to the other plant of the same age, the stem is somewhat shorter and thicker and the leaves are straighter and tighter upright with shorter stalks. Its location is southeastern, whereas the other one stands in a southwestern position. Can this be the reason for the difference, or does someone have another solution?

I now hope that this winter has a heart for us palm freaks and that in spring we don't have to report too many losses.


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