California - Stop Dreaming, Start Packing
John & family fulfil a long-held dream of visiting
this palm paradise, on the USA West Coast.
John Woodhead, 2 Canton Close, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO21
Chamaerops No.31 Summer 1998
Hot Spot: Washingtonia filifera, Furnace Creek
Ranch, Death Valley, California
I have been very fortunate in the past to take family
holidays in palmy areas such as Spain, Greece and France
in the Mediterranean area and the Canary Islands. For some years
it had been our desire, for a number of a reasons, to visit the
West Coast of the U.S.A., in particular Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Members may recall Don Tollefsons article California
Dreaming in Issue 23 -Summer 96 which gave an insight
into four Californian gardens in that locality.
After reading his article and subsequently booking our Fly/Drive
holiday I made contact with Ralph Velez and Pauleen Sullivan to
arrange a convenient time to visit their yards.
In October we left Heathrow for Los Angeles and I
had arranged to meet with Ralph on 11th October and Pauleen on 13th
October. After having a brief word before leaving with our Editor,
Martin, he suggested that I endeavour to visit Huntington Botanic
Gardens in L.A. which has an outstanding collection of palms.
After an extremely boring flight (as they all are) and settling
into the motel, I set off for Pasadena/San Marino the following
day whilst other members of our party when to Disneyland!
With camcorder at the ready, and after paying the
princely sum of $5, I explored Huntington. Martin was
right, the collection of palms was outstanding and they were located
in an excellent setting, not too close together but just right.
I spent about four hours in the garden but time was
running out and I had to visit Ralph Velez some fifty miles south
in Westminster (no there isnt a Big Ben there!). An hour later,
I reached Westminster and from some distance away it was clearly
evident which resident in the neighbourhood was a palm fanatic.
Ralphs plot has literally taken over, that is the highway
verges and other gardens in his cul-de-sac. There is barely a square
foot on his patch that has not been planted with a palm. The tallest,
as you would expect, are the Washingtonias closely followed
now by many other varieties. The highway verge adjacent contains
many interesting varieties but the poorest specimen, I thought,
was unfortunately a Trachy, Trachycarpus martianus, which Ralph
said had been in the ground many years but had grown very slowly
indeed with a trunk height now no more than four feet (perhaps its
I spent about three hours at Ralphs place and
he was extremely interesting for all that time and his wife provided
welcome refreshments, I was fully charged on palms on Saturday 11th
After spending a day in San Diego we set off on the
13th for Ventura, North of Los Angeles to visit Pauleens yard.
It was quite easy to locate, just off the main Interstate and the
day was beautiful. Again, it was indeed obvious from a distance
where the palm fanatic lived.
What Pauleen has done, considering she is wheelchair
bound, can only be described as incredible. Her yard is planted
out with an outstanding collection of palms (far too many to attempt
to list) with a little more space than Ralphs to inspect at
closer quarters. You may recall Don Tollefson mentioning her greenhouse/pool
slider, in which is her exercise pool kept at a temperature of 92
deg. F. In here is a number of more tender specimens with Chamaedorea
sullivaniorum having pride of place which Don Hodel named after
Pauleen and her late husband.
An interesting talking point, and one which I believe
Martin Gibbons is still sceptical about, was the suckering specimen
of Trachycarpus fortunei (Surculosa), an outstanding plant with
indeed at least five separate trunks. Is it suckering or are the
seeds falling and germinating to give that impression? Well, I didnt
argue the point with Pauleen. Again, Pauleen was extremely knowledgeable
and after spending two to three hours on site I was again recharged
The following day it was time to leave the L.A. area
for Las Vegas, Nevada, an incredible city which you either love
or hate. Only one palmy statement to make which was that the central
reservation on the strip was excellent with Phoenix
canariensis dominating, underplanted with Butia capitata and Trachycarpus
fortunei. The lighting at night showed off these palms to their
The last three days of our holiday were spent in San
Francisco, a city clearly not abundant in palms, although a visit
to Golden Gate Park had been recommended.
On the penultimate day of the holiday, after visiting the Golden
Gate Bridge, I made for the Park, an excellent oasis of greenery
in what I thought was a quite plain and repetitive city environment.
The park is massive and has many trees, a number of
which are palms, i.e. Phoenix sp, Jubaea chilensis, Trachycarpus
and an inspiring grove of Dicksonia tree ferns opposite the Conservatory
of Flowers (closed due to broken glass). For a little more variety
a visit to the parks Strybring Arboretum Botanic Garden
revealed a display of plants from all over the world with several
uncommon palms, cycads and tree ferns.
In all, this holiday provided me with a rare opportunity
to see how Californians do it and I returned awe inspired
but in reality faced with sweeping up leaves from deciduous trees
and viewing my palms that look, in truth, totally out of place in
my cold Northern windswept garden (Oh, to win the lottery!!).
On each garden visit I had used my camcorder and have
produced a collection of views from Huntington, Ralph and Pauleens
places and Golden Gate Park, albeit fairly amateurish but I think
quite comprehensive vistas. If any members would like a copy, bearing
in mind what I just said, I would be happy to distribute VHS (PAL)
format copies for £8.00, including post & packing. I have
also videoed Tenerife Botanic Garden and Kew and would be happy,
if requested, to include these on the tapes also. Members on the
continent should sent an extra £1.00 to cover the additional
cost of postage.
16-12-19 - 12:18GMT
|| What's New?
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| Date: 24-05-2004
of Cultivated Palms
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