Monday, June 21, 2021

Palm trees are so depressing

An interesting thread developed recently on a PNW Gardening group on Facebook. The person who posted was moving some bamboo. He shared a dramatic photo of a stock tank full of bamboo in the air, being lifted off the back of a truck. However, I quickly lost track of what the original poster had even intended with his post, as the haters started hating on bamboo and things kind of spiraled downward from there. 

Then this comment showed up: “I find bamboo, as well as palms, very depressing to see in the PNW.”

What? Depressing? You find palm trees (and bamboo) depressing? How is that even possible. How can you look at a palm tree and feel anything other than happy? I mean, you know, as long as it’s happy. A palm tree planted somewhere it can’t grow and half dead… not happy. But we can grow palms here on the western half of the PNW so why the heck not do it? 
My oldest, tallest, Trachycarpus fortunei

More folks commented… “I know what you mean! Sometimes it’s depressing and sometimes it’s just… off. Like seeing an awkward tourist amongst the locals.” 

And about bamboo specifically: “Exactly… A very carefully crafted overwhelmingly Asian garden is the only place it belongs.” And… “As a screening plant, it screams “I am entirely unable to think outside the box”. Blech.” 
Another of my palms, this a Trachycarpus fortunei 'Wagnerianus' 

I was left shaking my head. A few open-minded folks tried to point out that very few of the plants we see as standards in our American (and Pacific Northwestern) gardens (hello, lilacs!!!) are truly native to the area. Most of them are tourists, “awkward” or otherwise. 

A few days later Mike Darcy’s newsletter (Mike is a local gardening icon) showed up in my inbox. Within its pages were these words written by Dave Eckerdt (I visited the Eckerdt’s garden as part of the 2016 Study Weekend in Salem, OR, here), Dave summed up my feelings about what a garden can be… 

I have always wanted our garden to be a botanical museum. A collection of interesting plants from faraway places. Why grow the local stuff? How much fun can a plant be that already grows all around you? Non natives for me, Condemn the common.” He then went on to praise a native, Lonicera involucrata that he's growing, still, his point had been made. 
An Instagram post from me, from last December

So… where do you fall on this continuum? Are there plants that grow well when planted in your climate, that you still you find so wrong, so unwelcome, that they are actually depressing? And where do palms truly belong? And before you say Southern California know that only California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is native to the area, the others were imported and planted out in the 1920’s and 30’s…

—   —   —

All material © 2009-2021 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

43 comments:

  1. Crazy talk. I might just add another palm--and more bamboo too!

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  2. Anyone who find any plant depressing needs professional help. I reject plant fundamentalism and would avoid a group that is so unforgiving in its comments and attitude. I plant what I love and makes me happy.

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    1. Oh the group (and the admins) are great, but there are always a few outliers...

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  3. I'm completely baffled by these comments. "Tourists amongst the locals" sounds like a "native" gardener on purist rampage. We have a LOT of these folks here in California.

    I plant what I like. Period. I have many plants native to the California Floristic Province, but even more non-natives. As long they're appropriate for my climate and are happy here, I welcome them. Provided they "do it" for me.

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    1. "As long they're appropriate for my climate"... I think that's the only thing I could use the word depressing for, plants not appropriate to the climate they're growing in and a lot of resources being wasted to keep them alive (water). Well, and dead plants...they're depressing.

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  4. I can't say I've ever found a healthy plant "depressing," even if it's a plant I don't care for. In its native state, my own area would be coastal sage scrub and while I grow some of those plants in my garden, I wouldn't be very happy if it didn't also include the wide range of Mediterranean plants that are perfectly adapted to my climate. I know that strict nativists in the gardening community claim that native plants are required to support local wildlife but the insects and birds that enjoy my South African and Australian plants suggest otherwise.

    My mother literally hated the tall palm trees that were everywhere in the SoCal neighborhood I grew up in but that was mainly because they created a mess when not properly maintained (which was/is prevalent). The Washingtonia filifera are actually native to the Colorado and Mohave Deserts rather than inland Los Angeles suburbs but that's another matter.

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    1. "the insects and birds that enjoy my South African and Australian plants suggest otherwise"... another great point!

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  5. I grew up in, and lived in until I was 30, southern California. I found palm trees very boring, because I wanted more variety. Now, in the very top of Idaho, I'd kill to be able to have a palm tree or two! (I do now have bamboo, something else I grew up with, but it's not the same really huge stuff that was in our yard) I crave unusual plants; I am of the "plant zoo" frame of mind rather than the naturalistic.

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    1. Wow, I don't even know what Zone the very top of Idaho is, sound colder than the Zone 5 I grew up with outside of Spokane. Good luck with your plant zoo!

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  6. What is it about people, on Facebook, IG, etc.,that makes them so dogmatic about their particular choice of appropriate plants for the garden? You know I love my palms, and all the other zone-pushing Australian and South African and wherever plants I grow. I'm firmly in the camp of "if it will grow here, enjoy it!"

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    1. Hiding behind the screen brings out all the strong feelings...

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  7. I recently moved to a new home and was thrilled to see a very large fan palm growing by the seasonal pond. I immediately started planning to put my hardy banana, cannas, and ferns with it. To each their own, we should plant what makes US happy. If someone shares their garden with you, compliment what you like, and shut up about what you don't. Negitivity is bad for everyone. Gardens make us feel good.

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    1. Well said Lucy! (and the garden you describe sounds lovely.

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  8. Jeanne M DeBenedetti-KeyesJune 21, 2021

    Don't hate me because I am beautiful! LOL. Wow, I didn't see that comment about being "depressed" about seeing bamboo and palms. Maybe they think climate change is making it so these plants thrive in the PNW while the natives decline? Shows their ignorance. Some bamboo and palms are hardy to USDA zone 5. If you don't like bamboo and palms, don't grow them. Grow what you like and what will grow in your climate. Grow lots of natives too for the wildlife. HAVE it all!

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    1. That's my motto! I want all the cool plants.

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  9. I always planted what was interesting and made me happy in Denver, no matter the preferred zone. Even if the plant didn't survive it didn't matter because the list of possibilities was always growing. In Tucson, it's a different story because of our extreme heat and possible 20 degree nights in the winter. Now, I am sticking to natives... but they are all new to me so it's still an adventure. Change and the challenge to find different beauty is always good in my mind.

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    1. That temperature range is insane! It takes truly amazing plant to withstand those highs and lows (and ditto for the gardener).

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  10. Depressing are all the palms planted every spring in Ocean City Maryland. They die over the winter and more brought in in the spring. but the tacky bars want to pretend they are in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the native pitch pines have all been cut down.

    Your palms and bamboo are grat.

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    1. Wow... sacrificial palm trees! That sounds expensive.

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  11. I love tropicals mixed in with our Native plants and trees. So many of our big trees are perfect partners for the more interesting and maybe tender tropicals. I only wish those Birds Nest Ferns would grow here, they are magical in Thailand!

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    1. Oh ya! It would be amazing to be able to grow those ferns!

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  12. There are a couple plants I find depressing too: like Traveler’s Joy Clematis or Reed Canarygrass choking a wetland. Palms? LOVE. They evoke places that have enchanted me, like Hawaii and Nice. And they are happy in our ever-hotter summers. Bamboo has never been my love, but to each their own I say.

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    1. Yes you're right, thugs taking over former natural areas are always a sad sight to see.

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  13. Although palm trees are found all over CA, they especially remind me of Southern California. Sunshine. Sand. Warmth. Palms make me S-M-I-L-E.

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  14. For me, not in PNW, but addicted to trying things from everywhere, its about the discovery of how a plant grows, what its needs are, and watching it if lucky thrive. I love my native plants as well, and grow them, but by no means exclusively. One of the things I enjoy about reading your blog is discovering a world of plants that are entirely foreign to me. To each their own.

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    1. It is so exciting to discover a new plant, especially when it can grow happily in your area and thrive! Thank you for being a long time reader.

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  15. To each their own, is my motto. Lori did a marvelous Zoom presentation a few months ago and made the comment that she didn’t like pink in gardens which made me chuckle because I adore all things pink in my garden. A joy of our world is that everyone is unique and different.

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    1. You know what, I'm coming around on the pink thing. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

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    2. What's next, roses? ;^)

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  16. I don't really find any plants "depressing." Regarding natives vs. non-natives: I'm trying to add more natives, but I'm having mixed results. My property is so rabbit-infested, with few predators, that they tend to eat a large proportion of the native plants (and some of the non-natives). What does depress me is invasive plants that take over. In my garden, these tend to be non-natives like garlic mustard and creeping bellflower. So I have to pull these if I want a decent garden. Also, there are very few early spring plants that would thrive in my garden, so I have quite a few crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and other spring-blooming bulbs. If I lived in a place where palm trees would grow, I might grow one.

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    1. Darn rabbits! How frustrating it mush be to have them wipe out a large amount of plants.

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  17. Smoke from forest fires is depressing. The heat dome and our drought is depressing. The pandemic and politics are depressing. Gardening + healthy plants are not depressing. They bring pure unadulterated joy. They are the antidote for all of those truly depressing things. They are the exact opposite of depressing for me.

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  18. Still fascinates and baffles me with some of the odd comments some gardeners come out with...

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  19. There is an over abundance of rhododendrons in Atlantic Canada... I find them boring - never depressing, how can anything thriving be depressing? - except for the week or so they're blooming. Then I am rhododendron's biggest fan. Who can hate a plant in bloom?

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    1. Oh yes... boring vs. depressing. There's an interesting discussion!

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  20. Just trolls, maybe? I wonder if a few people go on FB just to make someone else angry. Now that's depressing.

    I admit to hating one particular species of palm tree, because of the problems they cause (fires and rat infestations, among other things). But in my defense, who is pro-fire and pro-rat infestation?

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  21. FB isn't one of my favorite platforms, this post only reinforces that. Haters, don't they have something better to do?

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  22. AnonymousJune 23, 2021

    I think the problem is that so many people associate palm trees with SoCal (even though as noted most of the palms are native to that area either). And that association makes them feel like palms are "wrong" if planted elsewhere.
    For me, I find it depressing when people populate their own gardens with the kind of "ubiquitous" plants that are used to landscape apartment complexes, shopping areas and the like where I live in NorCal: agapanthus, Nandina, 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies, Eonymus, Photinia, etc. And why anyone would plant oleander in their gardens here I don't know; it reminds me of freeway medians, and not in any good kind of way! But overall, I think gardens with any kind of plants are better than the "typical" California front yard lawn, though people in the last few years have begun to swap out their lawns for "drought-tolerant" landscapes, due to water restrictions and the harshness of our warming climate.

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  23. I wanted to plant a garden that wouldn't look like what I see when I drive around Spokane. So I have a HUGE grove of bamboo, Choysia x 'Aztec Pearl' (now 8' tall), a 20' Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', various Aucuba japonica varieties, wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), Mahonia bealei, English and Portuguese laurels, and the surprisingly invasive Cashmere Bouquet (Clerodendrum bungei). This beauty has colonized a 600 square foot area in front of my house! Michael in Spokane

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