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My Exotic Collection

by Tony Walker, 16 Dunstall Road, London SW20 0HR, England

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Outside, bedded out, my less-than-ten-years-old Trachycarpus fortunei grows excessively fast. Its trunk is now about 1m tall. It is at the base of our front (SSE-facing) rockery, so may get some water drain off, and I put a few gelatin granules amongst the roots when planting it. The slightly older Trachycarpus wagerianus is much slower, but it is in the middle of a sloping lawn that readily dries out, and was not given gelatine granules. Slower still is my Butia capitata, but it is at the top of the front rockery, which can be very dry, though it does have gelatine granules. My Chamaerops grows steadily, but not quickly. It is in a slightly damper patch of grass than the Trachycarpus wagnerianus, on the back lawn. None of the above receive weather protection. Over the years the only trouble I've noted is frost damage to new growth on the Butia in spring after a late frost.

Potted and indoors in winter, my Caryota 'Himalaya' grows steadily but had a set back last winter when I left it outside. It lost all its leaves in Nov/Dec 1999, when there were some frosts, but the roots in the not-insulated pot were fine. Now, a year later, the first of the new lot of leaves is about to unfold. A Phoenix (from a date stone), just about hangs on, and it is very slow. Maybe it needs more feeding, or more heat. The two 'parlour palms', Chamaedorea elegans and Chamaedorea metallica, seem fine and grow steadily. I'm afraid I always cut the flower buds off the former, mainly to prevent a later mess, but also maybe to promote leaf growth.

I do not seem to manage to grow Cycads, despite germinating Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi from seed and keeping it a year. I managed to keep plants for up to four or five years, but then they slowly fade away and die. While living, new leaves are produced, though maybe still from seed reserves. They need something else later on, and I don't know what. Is it chemical or physical? Am I getting the compost wrong, the watering, or are they too cold? I find them more difficult than palms, most cacti and succulents, my terrestrial orchids, or anything else I grow. Yet in some non-specialist garden centers one can find Cycads almost 'two a penny' - in old money! It would be interesting to know people's respective abilities to keep Cycads in the house in a sunny window or in the green house. Even some hotels seem to have no problem, often having several in the foyer for a long time. And they probably use tap water too! All for now, more news as it breaks.

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