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Palm growing circa 1990: a blast from the past

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Before we moved to Cape Coral nearly 21 years ago, we lived the previous 14 years in Fairfax County, Va, about 3 miles from Mount Vernon and 1 mile north of Woodlawn Plantation (a wedding gift George Washington gave one of Martha's daughters). Our house was a Cape Cod to which a previous contractor owner had added on a small foyer, family room and 1.5-car garage. The front door opened into a drafty 10x10 alcove that collected litter and our garbage cans.

In the mid-80s we undertook more home improvement. We widened the driveway to 3 cars to hold all our vehicles (we were self-employed). And we closed in the alcove as part of the house and added two windows on each side of the front door. We called our new space - wait for it - the "Florida Room." And what's a Florida room without plants, i.e., palms?

I acquired the common "bamboo palm", i.e., Chamaedorea seifrizii, a parlor palm (Cham. elegans nee Neanthe bella) and somehow, a Caryota. I even fell head over heels for a red hibiscus I found at a nursery. But one day while we drove a back road on our way to Springfield I passed a small nursery/vegetable stand that had the most fabulous palms lining the road. I flipped out. What were they?

We stopped in.The owner told me they were "princess palms" (in the real Florida they are known as "queen palms.") Yes, that Category II invasive: Syagrus romanzoffiana. Except in the 1980s it was known as Cocos plumosa or Astrocaryum or some such obsolete moniker. The cost of one of those 6' beauties? $60. A lot of money in the 1980s for a family with 2 small boys. But, eventually, we took the hit.

Now I didn't know a lot about palms back then and any research started and ended at the local library. No internet, no forums. And what chowderhead would grow palms in VA? I did know that no palm available to me could survive a metro Washington winter. The handsome queens the nursery planted in the spring were dead by the following January.

I had to make assumptions. I knew coconut palms were tropical, ergo, all palms were tropical, esp. my coconut-like "princess palm." So I established a regimen: palms went outdoors in April and came indoors to the Florida Room in October. I didn't know queens were a bit hardier and could take more cold. But inside a centrally heated house with fireplace and insert, it was a spider mite magnet.I fought those beasties all winter long. My poor queen was so chewed up and dried up by April I coudn't wait to set it free. It just managed to come back a bit just in time for October confinement.

Anyway, in January 1990 I took the following photos of my Florida Room jungle. It sure did brighten up cold winter days.

Florida Room of 8121 Keeler St, January 1990





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Thank you for the trip down memory lane. Cool story and I love the photos.

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