Jungle Music Palms and Cycads Nursery

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Phone: (619) 291-4605
Fax: (619) 574-1595
Email: phil.bergman@junglemusic.net

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Palm Gardens

Part 2



The title of this section might take you by surprise, but "predictability" is a very important characteristic of palms.  What do I mean?  What is meant is that, if you successfully grow any given species, you can predict what it will look like when it is mature.  This fact is quite useful to the palm enthusiast.  You can easily fit a given species into your plans.  For instance, if you grow a Caryota urens, a Fishtail Palm, it is predictable what it is going to look like.  It will have a thick trunk, be very tall, have long leaves, and a huge crown size. So, a Caryota would need some space and room.  Oppose this to the species Chamaedorea geonomiformis, a dwarf shade palm, rarely over 2 feet tall.  This species easily fits into an understory area with limited room.

This is why palm books come in handy.  The nurseryman says "you can grow this".  The book shows you what it will look like if you grow it correctly.  Because palms are predictable, you "fit" a given species that you like into your design.  In contrast, many other trees have a wide diversity of mature sizes depending on their culture, care and pruning.  As an example, you could find two Ficus nitida of comparable age: one is huge and the other is small from pruning and culture.  It is not possible to "prune palms to be small".  Yes, you can thin out suckers or stems.  But, a palm is going to mature into that predictable appearance you see in the book.  Cutting off the top crown will kill it.  Poor culture can stunt a palm, but if treated well and in the proper climate, it has a predictable look when mature.  Another interesting thing is that once a palm starts to get big and displays its crown size and trunk, these typically don't change much over time.  The plant just gets taller.  Contrast this to the Ficus above that increases not only its trunk size dramatically but also the width of the crown.



small palm tree 
This palm will remain fairly small no matter
how long you grow it
tall palm tree 
Short of chopping it down, such a tree will get
tall no matter what you do.


In my experience, most palm enthusiasts have a vague plan for their garden but not a precise one.  They don't have an intricate design with every species dedicated to a given spot.  And, it develops over time and is coordinated with the availability of manpower, resources and finances.  One might get five or ten plants and put them "here and there".  Later such a person gets some more and adds them to the garden. Thus, it is more of a "work in progress" for most people.  Contrast this with a landscape architect who will almost always deliver a set of plans that calls for every plant in every location.  As mentioned previously, the plants chosen with plans are typically from a cookie-cutter program and boring and routine species.  With this said, however, there are some people who, by themselves, want to plan out the entire garden and buy all their plants at one time.  If financial resources permit, this is a great way to do it because your entire garden will be growing from day one.  Regardless of which technique you utilize, there are some general suggestions below that one might consider.  This includes things (in my opinion) that are the "do's" and "don'ts" when designing your palm garden.

  • Consider first putting in species that will eventually become your upper canopy.  Canopies are horizontal layers of the garden.  Typically people talk about the "upper" canopy of plants.  These are the plants that are tallest in your garden.  This upper area will create shade for the lower growing palms and also give winter warmth below.  They'll also provide you some relief from the sun on a hot day.  These upper canopy forming palms are mostly the larger species like Archontophoenix, Roystonea, Ravenea, Syagrus, Caryota, etc.  Upper canopy species are typically quick growing and satisfying.  One gets results right away.  Also, they allow the enthusiast to try lots of desirable species below because of the sun and cold protection that develops.

 Chambeyronia m. red leaf
Chambeyronia m., one of many
that throws a new red leaf
  leaf Bismarckia
Bismarckia n. with its silver blue leaf

In Southern California there are easily 200 to 300 species of palms that can be successfully grown.  And, each species has its own charm and beauty.  A good palm specialty nursery will be able to offer you a vast array of species for you to grow.  Utilize such a nurseryman's knowledge and experience and you will be thankful.



Living here in Southern California, it is not unusual for me to see palms planted around a commercial building.  In fact, in this locality palms are the number one called for type of plants.  This could be surrounding an office building or at a shopping center.  Typically such designs are done by a commercial designer or architect and (unfortunately) utilize the most common and sometimes boring species.  There is an abundance of Queen Palms, Mexican Fan Palms and in more recent times a lot of Date Palms like Phoenix canariensis and dactylifera.  The latter two are certainly more interesting than the first two, but it would be nice to see more imagination in the species utilized.  This might be secondary to the ample supply of the common species in larger sizes, but I suspect is also secondary to lack of imagination.  Don't allow your personal garden to be similar to a commercial job.

Phoenix dactylifera in a shopping center
Phoenix dactylifera, a common species used 
Mexican Fans and Phoenix in a commercial center 
Mexican Fans and Canaries are common

Below are two photos of more unusual plantings in commercial or public areas.

Rhopalostylis sapida
Rhopalostylis sapida in a public planting
Commercial planting of palms
Multiple palm species in a commercial
hotel planting

When you think about it, there is no reason that more unusual species cannot be used, both in domestic and commercial plantings.  Just as impressive in such applications would be specimen Bismarckia nobilis or Roystonea regia.  Or, Jubaea chilensis or Caryota.  In the San Diego area we are fortunate that two hotels, the Catamaran and the Bahia Hotels have used a great variety of palm species on their grounds.  And, it is their gardens that drive in occupants.  I must admit that availability of large specimens of rare species can be a challenge.  But, such species could be mixed among the more common species.  Hopefully palm nurserymen will make larger specimens of rare species available in the future.  But, for now, we typically have to rely on smaller specimens and wait for them to grow.

Particular mention should be made about commercial interior courtyards.  Such areas can be utilized to create a dramatic enclosed commercial palm garden or solarium.  This is a great opportunity to use unusual species with sunny effects.  I know of a developer that made such an interior tropical palm garden and it greatly improved the quality of his tenants and the rent he could charge for office space.  It was designed so offices looked out to the garden.  Please see pictures below.


Office Palm Solarium
Interior courtyard using rare species of palms
Commercial Palm Solarium 2
Looking out of an office window; what a view!



The most beautiful palm gardens don't just utilize palm trees.  Even the finest palm botanical gardens will use a nice selection of other types of plants to compliment the palms.  These are called "companion plants".  They actually make the palm specimens look better.  Soon I will write a lengthy article just on the topic of companion plants.  But I will concisely say here that putting in some types of plants other than just palms is well worth your time.

Reidler garden, companion plants
A random assortment of companion plants in
a palm garden
companion plants in a palm garden
Companion plants work well in palm gardens
Tropical pathway
Lush green pathway 


Cycads are great addition to any palm garden and used frequently as companion plants to palms.  In fact, some of the finest palm gardens in the world also host a nice collections of rare cycads.  The reason for their usage is that they seem to resemble palms.  But, in fact, they are no way related botanically to palm trees.  In terms of their appearance alone, cycads are much smaller than most palms.  So, one can use them in the foreground in front of palm trees or in between larger specimen palms.  There are both sun and shade loving cycads.  And, there are dwarf species as well as a few giant species.  Most cycads tolerate similar temperatures as the palms, so there is no more of a cold issue with most of the cycads used in landscape than with the palms.  Water and fertilizer requirements are also quite similar, so cycads make the perfect companion plant.  They do like good soil drainage.
Assorted cycads in palm garden
Assorted cycads as companion plants
Cycads as companion plants GH
Cycads as companion plants with palms
Ceratozamia hildae
Ceratozamia hildae 


Another nice type of plant to put between the palms and in the shade are types of ferns.  Even tall Tree Ferns look great with large palm specimens.  Ferns tend to like water, so don't put them into an arid, dry palm garden.  Heliconia are another nice plant for a palm garden.  They have colorful blossoms.  Remember, however, that they sucker and make a somewhat thick grouping of stalks and leaves.  Also consider the Screw Pine or types of Pandanus.   These have an interesting swirl (screw) of the leaves as they ascend up the trunk.  They can get almost as big as some palms.   Types of Alocasia also mix well with the palms.   If there are cold issues in your locality, get hardy species of Alocasia.  There are interesting dwarf Elephant Ear Alocasia available nowadays that don't overwhelm an area and really compliment the rest of the garden.   Also, consider Philodendrons.   There are very nice climbing species that look great climbing up the trunks of palms.  There are also terrestrial forms that stay on the ground.

Pandanus in palm garden
Pandanus utilus in palm garden
Alocasia as companion plants
An assortment of companion plants
including Alocasia
Philodendron in tree
Philodendron climbing tree 


Also remember to add some color to your palm garden.  Certain species of palms such as Chambeyronia throw a beautiful new burgundy colored leaf.  But, I am talking about colorful companion plants in this section.  Consider red and pink Bromeliads.  Also, there are wonderful types of Ti's in many colors of the rainbow.  Impatience and Begonias  are other types of ground hugging colorful plants that blend nicely.   Be imaginative and find new things that add something to your garden.

Bromelidads as companion plants
Bromeliads as companion plants

Burgundy Ti Plants
Burgundy red
Ti as companion plant
Ti plants
Colorful Ti Plants 
Red Croton plants 
companion plants
Assortment of color 
Orchids on trunks
Orchids on trunks 



As I mentioned above, most gardens develop over time.  One plants some palms this week and more next month.  And, so it goes.  But there is one thing that you need to do from the beginning.  This is to improve the quality of your soil.  This is most easily accomplished by adding organic mulch to the ground in your garden.  No matter what stage of development you are with your palm garden, get into the habit of mulching over the surface of the soil.  By "mulch" I mean organic material.  My favorite is Redwood shavings.  Also good are fir or cedar shavings or even mulch or compost from garden debris.  You put down an inch or two right on the surface of your garden.  You are "carpeting" the floor of the garden with this material.

There are many advantages to mulch.  These include water conservation, limiting weeds, adding organic material to the soil, improving plant growth, and preventing water runoff.  But, the most beneficial effect of mulching is an aesthetic one.  The garden will look one hundred percent prettier and more appealing after mulching.  You can go to all the trouble to select and plant your palms.  But, if below them all you see is dirt and mud, the garden will look incomplete.  It won't look finished.  It just won't be right.  After you put down the shavings, it looks gorgeous, especially if you have used the right companion plants.  Many people throw down a slow release fertilizer below the mulch.  This helps with nitrogen balance and is kept moist by the mulch.  Start doing it and you'll be a believer.



garden design
Beautiful combination of cycads and palms
garden design by HJD
Palm Garden, photo by HJD
Palm Garden, by HJD
Palm Garden, photo by HJD
Lush tropical palm garden HJD
Lush tropical palm garden look
palm and cycad garden
Palm and cycad garden
Interior couryard plantings
Pritchardia used with other palms
in arboretum
Hyophorbe verschafeltii
The Spindle Palm, Hyophorbe
Bismarckia nobilis
Bismarckia nobilis, a beautiful blue fan palm 
Roystonea regia
The majestic Royal Palm, Roystonea regia 



Creating and growing an interesting palm garden is not difficult to do.  It starts with learning a bit about palms.  Then expand your knowledge through books or the Internet.  Especially beneficial might be advice from enthusiastic palm acquaintances or from experienced nurserymen at a palm specialty nursery.  Specialty nurseries offer a vastly greater selection of species than does the common everyday nursery.  Assemble a list of species that you would like to grow.  Do consider your own growing conditions and select species that would survive in your area.  Choose a wide diversity of species and avoid overuse of any one species.  Develop a design with consideration of the species, your space available and any special needs that you may have.  Consider interesting companion plants and utilize colors and textures to add interest.  Over time and, if you follow guidelines as given above, you will be rewarded with a great palm garden.  Enjoy your new project and feel free to contact us about species you seek or help you might need.


Phil Bergman

Owner, Jungle Music Palms and Cycads
Nursery Location: 450 Oceanview Ave, Encinitas, CA 92024
Phone: 619 291 4605
Website: www.junglemusic.net

palm garden Tropical landscape  Assorted palm trees
Tropical landscape  Tropical landscape  tropical landscape 
Tropical landscape design  Tropical Landscape ideas  Tropical Landscape Design 

To Return to Part One of This Article, Click Here  



Tropical landscape, general principals
Easy to view pictorial guide to palms suited for the garden
Cycads in the landscape, their usage and appearance

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Last modified: June 23, 2017

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