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anaheimpalmguy

Lakeside Palmetum, Oakland

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anaheimpalmguy

We were in the San Francisco Bay area over Christmas and stopped by the Lakeside Palmetum on Lake Merritt in Oakland.  We had never known of its existence until we joined the Palm Talk Forum and saw it mentioned several times.

The palm collection was terrific, good collection of cool weather palms.  Unfortunately the garden was in pretty bad shape when we were there, as recent maintenance and upkeep had been minimal.  Most of the palms had skirts of dead fronds and the undergrowth was crowded and weedy.  To make matters worse, there were few ID tags in the Palmetum.  In general, the Oakland Botanical Garden (inside of which the Palmetum is located) didn’t look that well maintained either, although the succulent section looked pretty good and we observed volunteers (presumably from the local succulent society) cleaning and grooming it on a Friday morning.   There was a sign at the entrance that said that the Palmetum was established by the Northern California Palm Society, maybe they could get more maintenance for the garden and/or volunteer their services to provide better upkeep.  Anyway, I'm glad we stopped by, it was a worthwhile stop. 

By the way, we weren't sure exactly where within the Lake Merritt Park system the Palmetum was located, so we asked asked several park and two Botanical Garden workers where the palm garden was.  No one could tell us the location, so we proceeded and finally saw some palm tree foliage above the other foliage and there it was.

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Yunder Wækraus

Pix? I visited it 5-6 years ago, and it was rough then, but it was still impressive for NorCal.

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Darold Petty

I have been the chairperson for this garden for about 28 years, and will have more detailed comments later today. :)

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Darold Petty

The Lakeside Palmetum is the result of one man's dream for a public palm garden in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Our founder of the Northern California affiliate of the IPS was the late Warren Dolby.  He was frustrated by the small number of species available at the retail nursery level.  He wanted to show the many species suitable for our very mild climate. Warren approached several cities but none were interested in his idea, including Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  At that time, circa 1980, the management of GGP was hostile to palms in general.  The small number of palms at retail has always suffered the 'chicken or egg' problem.  People don't recognize rare and choice species, and thus don't purchase them.  The nurseries won't stock plant material that doesn't sell.  I once made the mistake of pressuring a nursery to offer some Rhopalostylis sapida palms I had grown.  They languished at the nursery for a very long time.  The rare palms may be more choice, but nurseries are in business to sell product.

  Warren eventually found the City of Oakland to be receptive to his idea, Lakeside Park at Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland is a city park dedicated to horticulture. Many plant groups have demonstration gardens there.  We were allotted a plot which was formerly a truck parking lot.  The City provides water and debris removal, the Palm Society is responsible for everything else.

Construction began in 1982 with soil imported for a small berm and installation of an irrigation system with three circuits covering the 0.6 acres of our plot.  We had the formal dedication in 1984, hosting the IPS Bienial, and then a post-bienial trip to Australia.  At last count there are approximately 60 palm species present.  One of my goals for 2019 is to do an accurate inventory of current species.  The first chairperson of the Palmetum was my palm mentor, the late Garrin Fullington.  I have been the chair since Garrin retired to Hawaii about 1992.  The garden has three defined areas, the northern shady area with ample irrigation, the middle section with some irrigation, and the full sun south section with minimal irrigation.  The middle section has very poor drainage and some some sort  of toxic condition in the soil, as easy growing palms have failed to thrive, including queen palms and sabals.

WEEDS

  The current problems of the Palmetum include this toxic mid-section, lack of maintenance and lack of labels.  Our NorCal group has suffered a profound lack of interest and enthusiasm since the passing of the original group. Warren Dolby, Dick Douglas, Inge & Hans Hoffmann, Herb Weber, and Garrin Fullington. They have all died, and their gardens are no longer available for meetings.  We now struggle to obtain one or two sites per year for meetings.  At these meetings I always exhort the members to help with the Palmetum maintenance, but no one ever shows up.  Our work party is the first Saturday of each month.  For several years now the only two participants are myself and our NorCal president, Richard Quiroz.  We struggle with weeds and previously used herbicide.  The City of Oakland banned herbicide use.  Then we started to use a weed mower and string trimmer. The City banned our use of these tools, arguing that they could launch a projectile with the potential of striking a person.  Now weed abatement is only by hand pulling or sheet mulching.  The sheet mulch looks good for a few months but afterward is the perfect substrate for a new generation of weeds.  The City gardeners do not have the labor resources to help us with weeds. 

LABELS

 We have purchase and installed labels for all the palms twice.  These have been destroyed by vandalism, usually in just a few months after installation.  I have also witnessed persons vandalizing the palms by twisting off the fronds. I grew five Juania palms and installed them as a grove.  These were destroyed also. There is no admission charge to these gardens, so the gardens are frequented by many persons of dubious character, not into gardening.

IRRIGATION

  The middle section has poor drainage and a high water table.  This has led to runoff onto an adjacent turfgrass area.  The City has repeatedly turned off our irrigation without informing me. We have tried to address this problem by using sprinklers with a lower delivery rate for the water.   Last year the City actually complained to me that the palms looked 'poorly'.  Upon investigation I found the irrigation turned off in August.  The previous City manager was palm positive but she recently retired.  The City of Oakland itself is extremely stressed financially, and has approximately half the gardeners assigned to this park now as it did in 1982.

CONCLUSIONS

  I live in the southwest corner of San Francisco.  It take me 45 minutes to drive to the Palmetum and 75 minutes to return home.  The period of Saturday early afternoon is often gridlocked westbound on the Bay Bridge.  I have been doing this since 1982.  I feel the responsibility to produce an accurate list of current palms, but my enthusiasm is waning. The palms that survive at the Palmetum are basically feral, and will never look as good as palms in someone's private garden. Please remember this in future comments about the unkempt nature of the Lakeside Palmetum.   Thanks to all who read all this venting by me ! :) 

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Josue Diaz

The Oakland Palmetum has been on my to-go list since I became interested in palms. Unfortunately, I've never made the time to take a day to spend a morning or afternoon there - though I've made flash visits to garden centers off of Grand Ave and all throughout the Berkeley Hills. I wish I lived closer, I think I'd enjoy spending time clearing weeds and doing maintenance there. Thank you for doing all that you do Darold. 

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kylecawazafla

Thank you, Darold, for the very detailed response! It is so interesting to learn the history of a place that I absolutely adore. I have visited it many times and always enjoy the collection. It never gets old! That is so sad to hear about the lack of enthusiasm in palm trees and how there are such few places to host meetings. That's particularly sad to hear about the Juania! I don't understand why people would vandalize a garden. 

If anyone is interested in what the collection contains, here are photos from May 2017.

Click here for the photos

 

34685747675_5b06d28d8e_c.jpg

 

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joe_OC

Darold,

I commend you on your efforts.  .6 acres is a lot to take care of with limited support and resources.  If you are not getting support from the  Northern California Palm members, may I suggest you reach out to different voluntary organizations for their help?  It sounds like the main thing you are short on is labor to weed and clean up the palmatem.  I am sure there are groups who would contribute their time to help beautify the city of Oakland.  

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Darold Petty

The previous City manager, Tora Rocha, was effective at enlisting volunteer work parties to spread the sheet mulch.  These were generally employees of some company, this would be regarded as a "team building" exercise.

  Part of the problem is ME.  After 36 years of involvement, faced with an indifferent or hostile City, and the lack of assistance from fellow members I am almost out of any further care about this garden.  :(

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Yunder Wækraus
On 1/12/2019, 5:39:14, Darold Petty said:

The Lakeside Palmetum is the result of one man's dream for a public palm garden in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Our founder of the Northern California affiliate of the IPS was the late Warren Dolby.  He was frustrated by the small number of species available at the retail nursery level.  He wanted to show the many species suitable for our very mild climate. Warren approached several cities but none were interested in his idea, including Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  At that time, circa 1980, the management of GGP was hostile to palms in general.  The small number of palms at retail has always suffered the 'chicken or egg' problem.  People don't recognize rare and choice species, and thus don't purchase them.  The nurseries won't stock plant material that doesn't sell.  I once made the mistake of pressuring a nursery to offer some Rhopalostylis sapida palms I had grown.  They languished at the nursery for a very long time.  The rare palms may be more choice, but nurseries are in business to sell product.

  Warren eventually found the City of Oakland to be receptive to his idea, Lakeside Park at Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland is a city park dedicated to horticulture. Many plant groups have demonstration gardens there.  We were allotted a plot which was formerly a truck parking lot.  The City provides water and debris removal, the Palm Society is responsible for everything else.

Construction began in 1982 with soil imported for a small berm and installation of an irrigation system with three circuits covering the 0.6 acres of our plot.  We had the formal dedication in 1984, hosting the IPS Bienial, and then a post-bienial trip to Australia.  At last count there are approximately 60 palm species present.  One of my goals for 2019 is to do an accurate inventory of current species.  The first chairperson of the Palmetum was my palm mentor, the late Garrin Fullington.  I have been the chair since Garrin retired to Hawaii about 1992.  The garden has three defined areas, the northern shady area with ample irrigation, the middle section with some irrigation, and the full sun south section with minimal irrigation.  The middle section has very poor drainage and some some sort  of toxic condition in the soil, as easy growing palms have failed to thrive, including queen palms and sabals.

WEEDS

  The current problems of the Palmetum include this toxic mid-section, lack of maintenance and lack of labels.  Our NorCal group has suffered a profound lack of interest and enthusiasm since the passing of the original group. Warren Dolby, Dick Douglas, Inge & Hans Hoffmann, Herb Weber, and Garrin Fullington. They have all died, and their gardens are no longer available for meetings.  We now struggle to obtain one or two sites per year for meetings.  At these meetings I always exhort the members to help with the Palmetum maintenance, but no one ever shows up.  Our work party is the first Saturday of each month.  For several years now the only two participants are myself and our NorCal president, Richard Quiroz.  We struggle with weeds and previously used herbicide.  The City of Oakland banned herbicide use.  Then we started to use a weed mower and string trimmer. The City banned our use of these tools, arguing that they could launch a projectile with the potential of striking a person.  Now weed abatement is only by hand pulling or sheet mulching.  The sheet mulch looks good for a few months but afterward is the perfect substrate for a new generation of weeds.  The City gardeners do not have the labor resources to help us with weeds. 

LABELS

 We have purchase and installed labels for all the palms twice.  These have been destroyed by vandalism, usually in just a few months after installation.  I have also witnessed persons vandalizing the palms by twisting off the fronds. I grew five Juania palms and installed them as a grove.  These were destroyed also. There is no admission charge to these gardens, so the gardens are frequented by many persons of dubious character, not into gardening.

IRRIGATION

  The middle section has poor drainage and a high water table.  This has led to runoff onto an adjacent turfgrass area.  The City has repeatedly turned off our irrigation without informing me. We have tried to address this problem by using sprinklers with a lower delivery rate for the water.   Last year the City actually complained to me that the palms looked 'poorly'.  Upon investigation I found the irrigation turned off in August.  The previous City manager was palm positive but she recently retired.  The City of Oakland itself is extremely stressed financially, and has approximately half the gardeners assigned to this park now as it did in 1982.

CONCLUSIONS

  I live in the southwest corner of San Francisco.  It take me 45 minutes to drive to the Palmetum and 75 minutes to return home.  The period of Saturday early afternoon is often gridlocked westbound on the Bay Bridge.  I have been doing this since 1982.  I feel the responsibility to produce an accurate list of current palms, but my enthusiasm is waning. The palms that survive at the Palmetum are basically feral, and will never look as good as palms in someone's private garden. Please remember this in future comments about the unkempt nature of the Lakeside Palmetum.   Thanks to all who read all this venting by me ! :) 

Wonderful to know the history. Wish I’d known during the 3 years I recently lived in Fairfield. I would have loved the chance to help. The city’s ridiculous rules clearly make it hard to do much more. I still enjoyed my visit 5 or 6 years ago.

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anaheimpalmguy

Darold -- Thank you for posting the story of the founding and history of the Palmetum.  I was very sorry to read about the serious trials and tribulations of its maintenance history.  I guess there is a lot less interest in palms in northern California than further south.  At least the Palmetum proves one point that the founders wanted to get across.  You mention that the garden is "basically feral" at this point, and yet a large variety of cooler climate palms are surviving and thriving with very little care, which proves the founders' goal that a surprising number of palms can flourish in northern California climates beyond the handful of commonly-planted ones.  

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Darold Petty

Thanks to all for the supportive comments !  :) 

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