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How an Attic Discovery Leads to the Origins of the Merwin Garden on Maui

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In January 2020 The Merwin Conservancy officially took on the stewardship of the house and palm garden of poet W.S. Merwin on Maui.  As we have been cataloging personal items in the house, we discovered boxes of files containing letters about the early days of seed exchanges, conservation work, and friendships revolving around palms.  Some of these letters written more than 30 years ago include correspondence between Inga Hoffman coordinating the IPS seedbank out of the Southern California Palm Society Chapter, Grant Hawley from Aitkenvale North Queensland, and Norm Patterson in Western Australia (he mentions the Western Australia Palm and Cycad Society being only 2 years old).  We are just starting to go through these now, and I hope those in the PalmTalk community might help me put more context around these pen pals.  Grant Hawley's letters include descriptions of his own gardening situation, it would be interesting to find out what happened since those letters.  William had been working on a Pritchardia project and mentions sending a few wild collected seeds to his network.    I've only scratched the surface and I assume there will be many more kindred spirits in the piles of correspondence.  The letters are an interesting snapshot of the world of serious amateur palm collecting - species lists, wish lists, and old certificates like the photo attached.







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Some incredible and important Palm world history right there.


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Wow. Keep the stories coming!

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Very cool find I have watched videos on this garden and interviews with this man. The garden is on my bucket list of things to see next time I am back in Maui keep the pictures coming and if you have any pictures of this particular Palm cyphophoenx nucele It would be great to see what it looks like now . Thank you for sharing aloha

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Thanks Akamu,

I am making a list of palms to try to match up with the seed certificates, it will be a fun treasure hunt to find these trees in the forest!  Today I went through a thick folder of correspondence from Dr. Sampurno Kadarsan from Botanic Gardens of Indonesia.  I've attached a booklet indexing species in their seed exchange program in 1986-1987, and the list of palm seeds sent in December 1987 and another list from July 1988.  I'm pretty sure where I can find the Sabal mauritiiformis...maybe.

In case you didn't see, I added a virtual event to the calendar, on September 30th in celebration of William Merwin's birthday there will be a crowdcast event that features a virtual peek inside the house and garden with some of my favorite poets reading William's poems.  You can register here. 

Until we can go to the garden in person, you should check it out.  And let me know if you dare the Covid bullet flight to Maui, with a negative test within 72 hours of the flight you will not have to quarantine starting in October - provided we keep our numbers down here.  I would love to show you around the garden. 

I'll do some sleuthing and post photos of palms I think might be from these seed exchanges, but these would only be guesses as they were sadly not labeled with origin.



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