At 10.30 sharp, Dr. John Dransfield, eminent botanist,
palm authority, and co-editor of Principes, the journal of the International
Palm Society, welcomed all present. He then introduced Sue Minter,
formerly with Kew, and now with the Chelsea Physic Garden. Sue was
in charge of the reconstruction of the famous Palm House and gave
a lecture on its history and rebuilding. Her interesting talk was
accompanied by slides which enabled us to follow the evolution of
the Palm House from the initial planning stages, through its heyday
in Victorian times, and up until its reconstruction, followed by
the official reopening on November 6th 1990. She rose to the challenge
of condensing years of work and the subject of the book she has
authored "The Greatest Glasshouse - the Rainforests Recreated"
into a fascinating 20 minute talk quite a feat I must say.
Sue Minter's talk led naturally to her introduction
of David Cooke, the 'hands-on' man in charge of the Palm House,
who gets his own dirty in his duties. He spoke to us in detail about
"The Replanting and Day-to-day Maintenance of the Palm House
Palms", and also showed us slides during his talk. It was fascinating
to learn how the fantastic palm collection was completely removed
from the Palm House and temporarily stored, while the restoration
work, which took 4 years, was undertaken.
One major change was made, which was agreed to only
with reluctance by the Victorian Society, and that was to replace
the containers in which the palms had been growing, with beds. The
new arrangement would finally give the palms longed-for foot room
and enable them to stretch out and flourish. Once the rebuilding
was complete, David supervised the replanting. We learned that the
first plant to be brought back in was not a palm at all, but a cycad:
Encephalartos altensteinii. It was 'watered' as we say in France,
by Champagne all round. I wonder if the plant got some too?