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Summer Meeting in Ticino

Jörg relates the palmy adventures of 50 of our members who got together for an exciting summer meeting in southern Switzerland, seeing some of Europe's finest palms and gardens. Shoulda been there!
Jörg Witticke, Am Eulenberg 13, 06528 Beyernaumburg, Germany

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Finally, at the end of the year 2000, I have some time to sit down and write an article about our summer meeting in Ticino from August 21-25. First I can say that the number of people and countries represented indicates how successful it was. Fifty people from eight countries came together for one hobby. We made interesting trips and saw wonderful gardens, the weather was excellent, and the hosts did a superior job organizing it.

On Monday August 21 we started with our meeting in the "Kursaal" of the casino of Locarno with a short welcome. On this evening there were some dark clouds in the sky, and during the night we had a thunderstorm. I was prepared for the worst when Tuesday morning came, but it was just beautiful; the sky was blue and the sun was shining. So, we started at 9:30 a.m. with a guided tour through the city of Locarno. Our guide was one of the city gardeners. He showed us the interesting places in Locarno with excellent palms like Brahea armata, Chamaerops humilis, Butia capitata, and, very important for any participant, Jubaea chilensis. Other exotic plants we saw were Cordyline australis green and red, Agaves, and Cacti. He told us some things about the history of the city gardens in Locarno and also about his intentions for the future to make the city more attractive. Plans include planting an avenue with different kinds of camelias, as well as planting more palms to give the city a more tropical touch. Also interesting was the history of a big Jubaea, which was transplanted some years ago. On the place where this palm used to grow is an underground car park, to which the very old and big Jubaea had to give way. The new site of the Jubaea is not far from the old, but it was a great expenditure to make the transplantation. To give these palms good conditions in which to survive, the gardeners use electric heaters to heat the soil in the winter. The palms continue to grow and bear fruit every year.

After lunch, we met on the port of Locarno to go by boat to the Brissago Island. We visited the nice botanical garden of the Brissago Island, unfortunately without a guide; however, it gave the participants a chance to look around individually at the plants that were of special interest to them. There you can find Mediterranean plants like palms, Yuccas, cacti, flowering plants, and so much more. At the end of the visit to Brissago Island, many participants used the time to collect some seedlings of Trachycarpus fortunei, which grows everywhere on the Island. By the time we drove back to Locarno, it was nearly 6:00 p.m.

On the 23rd we started at 9:00 a.m. and took a bus to the garden of long-time EPS member Manfred Walder in Versico. The bus parked in the center of the village and we walked through an alley to his house. The garden is on a very steep plot. The arboretum behind the house is planted in a very natural fashion could well be a forested slope in the Himalayan foothills. There are many Trachys, camelias, exotic oaks and hundreds of other exotic plants from all over the world that Manfred Walder collected over the last decades. In front of his house is his palm collection, which includes Brahea armata, Washingtonia robusta, Trachycarpus wagnerianus, Chamaedorea radicalis, and some others. Very interesting is a Trachycarpus fortunei with yellow stripes on the leaves, although he did not know the reason for this interesting variegation. Everybody went through the garden collecting his or her own impressions. Dr. Walder and his wife provided us with some snacks and drinks--welcome refreshment on a sunny day. For lunch we went to the Grotto "Mai morire" where we had ordered a meal for the participants.

We got more then enough to satisfy our hunger, and two hours later we drove to our next station, the fabulous garden of Carl Schell in Brissago. There are just two ways to get to his house: a very steep staircase or a lift for just four persons. When we were all in the garden, Carl Schell greeted us and told us some things about his amazing garden with many rare plants and special palms. He has a breathtaking view of the Lago Maggiore. Carl gave us a little guided tour through his garden, and his wife provided us with fresh drinks. After a friendly discharge, we departed back to Locarno.

We met at 9:00 a.m. on the 24th on the port of Locarno to go by boat to the Isola Madré, further south on the lake in Italy. The drive lasted three hours. We passed this time on the boat in discussions about different things, not limited to palms. On the Isola Madré we had enough time to explore the sights, but there was one object from which some of the participants could not break away. The fruits of one Jubaea chilens were ripe and they would drop down, not all together, but piece by piece. So, they waited for the next piece to drop to get one of them. Besides this one Jubaea chilensis there were also some other palms like Butia, Washingtonia, Phoenix, Brahea, and others in a beautifully landscaped setting. After refreshments we went back to Verbánia by boat, and from Verbánia to Locarno by hydrofoil. When we changed in Verbánia into the hydrofoil we lost one of our participants, but he was from Italy so it was not a problem for him to get back to Locarno, and he arrived just a half hour later than we did.

On the last day we started at 8:00 a.m. First, we drove to the nice little garden of Fredy Ruethemann in Cimo. His garden is not as large as the gardens of Manfred Walder or Carl Schell, but very nice and well groomed, clearly with love. The big attraction at his house was the crocodile, which he fed for the benefit of the children in our group. After having a lovely brunch of sandwiches and drinks ourselves, we went to our next stop, the garden of Marco Pfister. This garden was also not as big as some of the others, but very lovely nonetheless. We got a fresh welcome even though we arrived earlier than he had expected, and he and his wife were excellent hosts. They offered us snacks and drinks, with and without alcohol. The best was the wine from the Pfisters' own vineyard. Then we started our big plant buying tour. Marco Pfister has a little greenhouse and offered many little palms. Many people in our group bought something, and so the first plants of the tour joined us on the bus.

The next stop was for lunch in a good restaurant in Malcantone. We stayed there a little while and had a nice meal. During this time, we made the decision to make a stop at the Palmetto Nursery of Domenica and Urs Blatter, where we also bought some plants. Our bus was beginning to look like a plant transporter. The last station on the bus tour was the Parco Botanico del Gambarogne and famous Eisenhut nursery. There we had a very good guided tour through the garden by Mister Eisenhut himself. After the guided tour, we again had the opportunity to buy some plants, and many people used this chance. By the end of our bus tour, there were more plants than there were people on the bus! As this was our last evening together, we had a farewell meal in the Ristorante Svizzero in Locarno, where many people sat talking and having fun together deep into the night.

In conclusion, I would like to say thank you to everyone involved. I want to thank all the people in Ticino who helped me organize this meeting, namely Manfred Walder, who did most of the organization, Urs and Domenica Blatter, and Fredy Ruethemann. Also thanks to Marko Pfister and Carl Schell for their hospitality in the gardens, thanks to all the participants for the fun, and thanks to whomever was responsible for the nice weather! I'm hoping it will be possible to make the next meeting in 2003, as there is little time left for a meeting in 2001, and in 2002 there is the meeting of the International Palm Society in the south of France, and it is not a good idea to have another meeting in the same year. Therefore, I think 2003 is a good year for the next meeting, and I would like to suggest it be held in southwest England.

If you are interested in helping to organize such an event, or if you have other suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail Joerg.Witticke@t-online.de or regular mail.

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