1978 Biennial – California

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Date(s) - 07/05/1978 - 07/15/1978
All Day


California here we come, and come we did from many states of the U.S. and from foreign countries to what surely was one of the most enjoyable biennial meetings ever.  The hospitality shown us by our various hosts was overwhelming.  Those of you who were not there missed seeing an astonishing variety of both large and small areas, landscaped imaginatively with palms and many other plants, and the excitement of getting to know other members.

Arriving in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 5, a small group from S. Florida found a mini-bus waiting to take us to our hotel and the reception for the early birds set the tone for the following days.  Dinner at a Chinatown restaurant gave us a chance to catch a glimpse of life in the largest Chinese colony outside of China.  Next day a privately conducted bus tour showed us the highlights of the San Francisco area where Washingtonia, Trachycarpus, and Phoenix canariensis are used in street and garden areas.  The showy red-blooming eucalyptus was a glorious sight along the streets.  At the conservatory of the huge Golden Gate Park the display of tuberous begonias with up to 6” blooms were much photographed.  Palms – especially Chamaedorea – were to be seen in large planters – where they could be protected in cold weather.  Unfortunately the variety of outdoor palms is not yet large, but the San Francisco members are trying to remedy that situation.

Later we visited Jack Dane’s city garden with a full-sized Howea belmoreana as a focal point.  A vigorous Rhopalostylis sapida introduced us to the many we were to see during the following days.  These palms have an astonishingly long crownshaft and large fronds even before the trunk forms; and they bloom with but a foot of trunk.  They give an impression of vigor and strength. Chamaedorea monostachys seems to do well as do C. microspadix, and C. radicalis and crosses of these three.  Of course, Trachycarpus is very much at home as are Trithrinax andRhapidophyllum hystrix for those fortunate enough to have them.  Jack provided an exotic buffet dinner in the setting of a delightful, restored Victorian house.

Next day, Friday, a bus took the group, now enlarged to 22, to the Berkeley Campus of the University of California to see the interesting plant collections used for botanical studies, with a rather small number of immature palms.  Later we went to Warren Dolby’s garden on a hillside in Oakland, which was a perfect setting for the delicious luncheon.  His combination of palms, apples and citrus gave evidence of the microclimate in his immediate area.  He has fine Rhopalostylis sapida, Trithrinax, a hardy Caryota urens, Parajubaea coccoides, the same hardy Chamaedoreaas Jack Dane, but also Chamaedorea metallica, Livistona mariae, L. chinensis, Howea forsteriana, and H. belmoreana.  His garden, like those we were to see in the next days, also featured many other lovely plants – cycads, orchids, sultanas, bougainvilleas and fuchias – which have become naturalized and provide a wide range of forms and colors.

Going from Oakland to Dick Douglas’ place in Walnut Creek took us to another type of climate – hot and dry in daytime (no rain all summer) but often below freezing in the rainy winter season.  Dick grows his large collection of exquisitely cared Chamaedoreas indoors, on a protected patio or in his greenhouse.  He is doing some hybridizing of these palms with interesting results.  Outdoors he has Arecastrum, Butia (plus hybrids of these), Jubaea, Trithrinax, Rhopalostylis, Chamaerops, Nannorrhops, and others.  A highlight of the day was the planting of a choice specimen of an Arecastrum-Butia hybrid in honor of Lucita Wait.  Lucita threw in the first shovel of dirt to the sounds of applause and clicking of cameras.

Dick served a most delicious buffet around the pool.  Worthy of special mention was the enormous bowl of fresh fruit salad with plump blueberries hand-carried from the Georgia garden of his parents.  An exhibit of original illustrations on acetate for Bob Read’s forthcoming book on the Palms of the Antilles drew much attention.  The return to town via the famous BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit system – elevated where it is in the open country, underground in San Francisco) provided a fitting end to the warm hospitality of the Northern California Chapter of The Palm Society.

Next day, Southern California!

Southern California

On Saturday, July 8 at the Kona Inn on Shelter Island in San Diego, a warm welcome was extended by California members and was continued at the reception from 5 to 7 p.m. given by the Southern California Chapter.  It was great to see so many old friends, and to meet new ones.  That evening Mardy Darien showed slides and told of his misadventures during a plant-hunting trip to Madagascar.

On Sunday a delicious brunch was served at the Café Del Rey Morro in Balboa Park, where the Biennial Meeting was held in the afternoon.  The formal banquet, with a very large attendance, took place at the Kona Inn that evening.  The raffle for the two copies of CULTIVATED PALMS was held.  The lucky winners were: for the new copy, Robert W. Maurice of Houston, and for the other, John Covacevitch of Cairns, Australia.  Outgoing President Kimnach introduced the newly-elected President Donn Carlsmith and Board members.  Member Dick Philips from Fiji, had brought seeds of a nearly extinct palm and offered packets of them to all interested.  New member Rolf Kyburz had come the greatest distance, all the way from Australia.  We hope many of our Australian and other Far East members are planning to attend the 1980 Biennial, which is to be held in Hawaii.

The rest of the evening was given over to Ken Foster for his program on a recent trip to the Pacific.  Ken is an outstanding speaker and his pictures are always of the highest quality.

Monday was spent at the San Diego Zoo, with a box lunch outdoors courtesy of the Zoo and Ernie Chew, one of our new Board members.  We saw a surprising number of palms in the famous gardens and there are plans to enlarge the collection.  It was a beautiful day with much of interest to see.  That evening De Hull showed slides and told about the Florida freeze of January 1977.  His talk was most interesting and informative, even if the subject was not one to make palm lovers happy.

Herewith the program for Tuesday as described by Mrs. U.A. Young.

On Tuesday we had our final glimpse of private gardens in the San Diego area.  The first we visited was Jim Specht’s.  Standing in front of the Specht garden you are welcomed by the scene of a tall Caryota ochlandra against the skyline, in the middle a Neodypsis decaryi with its graceful arching fronds and at the left two tall well grown Arecastrum romanzoffianum.  Following the inviting path your eye is soon caught by a seeding Howea forsteriana with its brilliant green crownshaft – then on up and into the garden, which runs like a contrapuntal rhythm, along the side of the house to the back area, over a bridge spanning the pool to a loggia, where we were served refreshments.  We proceeded around the pool, and through the house to a tall greenhouse with many rare palms and plants.

Then to Jim Wright’s, where, as at the Specht’s, and later at Ed Moore’s, we saw every inch of a relatively small garden, utilized to the utmost to grow and show a large number of palms in a beautiful way.  We were impressed with the stout tall Brahea armata with silver leaves, and by the front entrance, a seeding Rhopalostylis sapida.  As you walk through Jim’s house you look up and into his garden – and if I were a butterfly cocoon that was transported from some far off exotic place and dropped into Jim’s garden, when I metamorphosed, I am certain I would feel I had found a hospitable jungle environment where I could float from trunk to trunk of many palms.

Later, in Ed Moore’s garden we encountered the largest specimen of a Parajubaea coccoides we had ever seen, with a 15-foot fiber-covered trunk, two old 25-foot seeding Brahea armata, a flowering Sabal minor and a Livistona with a branched trunk.

Lunch, at Theresa Yianilos’ Spanish Colonial home, surrounding an open court, accented by a large olive tree, was an outstanding affair – and their greenhouse was packed with potted palms that we all would have liked to take home with us.  We were impressed by the lovely lunch and this lovely lady with her concern and action in perpetuating our love – PALMS.

Ben Young

After lunch most of us went to see the delightful garden of Ralph McAfee.  He is still developing his garden but has already done a wonderful job of transforming a steep hillside into an exotic garden with a narrow footbridge spanning the deepest part of the ravine.  The legs of those of us who are used to walking on level terrain were quite sore by this time – California certainly provided many ups and downs!

Tuesday evening Theresa Yianilos told us about her experiences in dealing with officialdom.  She has been battling to keep old palms in public areas in San Diego and to have more planted.  She had good suggestions about how to tackle the powers at city hall.

Wednesday was another full day, as written here by Mrs. Byron Besse.

By 7:30 Wednesday July 12, we were sleepily traveling north through the early mist to Bill Gunther’s where we were greeted in his courtyard with a delicious Mexican breakfast.  The sun broke through and we spent a delightful hour zigzagging up and down the paths of his hillside, amazed at the extent of the stone terracing forming tiny pools and pocket gardens, and pleased with this easy view of the numerous, well-marked palms and exotic plants.

Our day was a progressive party and we next reconvened at the Darien’s hilltop home near Vista.  Mardy and Cherie are expansive hosts and took delight in showing up their huge atrium and extensive grounds with its fine collection of palms, many of which they had collected in Madagascar.  We wandered in the woods envying the large Howea and Rhopalostylis and aChambeyronia macrocarpa; we were astonished at the size of a Caryota urens along the driveway and noted a fine Lepidorrhachis by the front door.  Certainly all of us coveted a magnificent specimen of Neodypsis lastelliana with its smooth green trunk and suede brown internodes and crownshaft.  A colorful collection of Koi fish, alligators, and tortoises briefly diverted us from our plants.

Lunch was two hours away after a drive through the golden California hills, past modern factories and shopping centers, and into lovely residential Huntington Beach to where large clumps ofChamaerops made looking for door numbers unnecessary.  Lois and Ken Rossten treated more than 80 of us to cold meats and salads and homemade peach ice cream.  We sat in their garden, chatted with our friends, and delighted in seeing palms collected on trips to Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Jamaica.  Next door at Frankie and Frank Ketchum’s we stood in the shade of an olive tree, enjoying the palms about us, and again those of us from out-of-state remarked on the enormous success of these California patio gardens.

A few blocks away the crown of a tall Areca catechu pointed our way to the home of Ralph and Nilda Velez.  On the corner an Archontophoenix cunninghamiana signaled us with a perfect lavender inflorescence, and we admired a vigorous Copernicia alba by its side.  Every available space was used for beautifully grown specimens: along the house, between the sidewalk and the street, in the patio, and under a protective greenhouse.  Our tour was highly informative and we would have liked to linger enjoying our hosts’ gracious hospitality.

Again it was time to separate in our various cars and find our way to the Huntington Sheraton, a fine old hotel located in the midst of the homes and gardens of Pasadena.  It was the perfect lodging for our group; for even in the dusk we could admire the immaculate lawns and flowerbeds, and pick out in the skyline the silhouettes of Phoenix, Brahea and Washingtonia.  Dinner revived us and the day had a special ending.  Fred Boutin of Huntington Botanical Gardens talked of “Symbolism in Palms”, showing us an excellent series of slides, reminding us of the unique combination of art, manuscripts, and plants that is Huntington’s pride.

This day was certainly used to the fullest!
Libby Besse

Thursday we were treated to a tour of the world-famous Huntington Garden, guided by Director Myron Kimnach and Fred Boutin.  The palm collection is mostly an old one with impressive trees in full maturity.  A lunch, as good to taste as it was to look at, was served al fresco by the ladies connected with the Garden and even though it was a hot day with temperatures supposedly just over 100° F mark, it was pleasant in the Garden under the shade of the huge trees.  It was a most beautiful setting.

From here we proceeded to Loren Whitelock’s garden with its fantastic collection of cycads, one of the largest private collections in the world.  A number of palms helped set off the cycads.  By the time we got to A.J. Vance’s garden and the coolness of the closely planted hillside below the house we much appreciated the lemonade Dr. Vance so kindly provided.  In fact, we drank it all and finally resorted to water to quench our thirst!  Dr. Vance is a painter.  His house was a treasure of interesting art, and his garden contains many palms that were happily growing under conditions that seemed rather crowded.  The day ended with a talk by Al Bredeson who showed slides taken on a recent trip to Costa Rica.  Those going on the trips to that delightful country were most interested in Al’s descriptions.

Friday was another full day, with a visit to Pauleen Sullivan’s small but exquisite garden.  Pauleen has a closed-in swimming pool and around it grow many tender exotics, including beautiful palms, such as Cyrtostachys, that could not survive outdoors.  She also has lovely palms planted at the two apartment houses she owns.  All her plants are in top condition and a joy to behold.  Lunch was served while we regained our strength for a visit to the estate of Madame Ganna Walska.  Lotusland is indeed all that word-of-mouth has reputed it to be.  A short report such as this cannot do justice to such a garden.  Outstanding is the Blue Garden with its blue grass, Erythea armata palms, blue cedars and spruce.  It was like a fairyland.  The enormous trunks of the six or seven Jubaea spectabilis in another area dwarfed all who stood near them.  The cycad collection contains many rare specimens.  We regretted that Madame Walska’s health did not permit us to meet her.

Afterwards a walk to see a very old stand of Howea forsteriana nearby brought a memorable California visit to a fitting end and we thank all those whose efforts helped make this an outstanding Biennial Meeting.  A special word of commendation is due those who set up the Newsletter containing interesting palm articles and details about the daily programs.  Thank you, California members!

Teddie Buhler