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In the Garden




LANDSCAPING THE 100,000-SQUARE-FOOT PARKING lot at the Broadway Cinema in Eureka posed a challenge for co-owner David Phillips, but he met the match by turning the black desert of asphalt into an oasis of palm trees. Phillips chose palm trees because he wanted the landscape reflect a Hollywood-like mirage.

"It's a movie theater and we had to deal with the landscaping issues out there. We started thinking `What is going to really say Movie Theater more than anything?' And we thought palm trees would be good," he explained.

While palm trees seemed ideal aesthetically, Phillips questioned whether or not these desert trees would thrive in Eureka's foggy, wet climate.

"At first I dismissed the idea, but then at the same time I became aware, and suddenly I could see nothing but palm trees growing in Humboldt County. There are gazillions of palm trees that I had been utterly oblivious to, and it amazed me. Then when I started looking them up and I realized that palm trees do grow up here."

While researching palm trees in Humboldt County, Phillips discovered that the Canary Island date palms, palms on the Arcata Plaza, at the Sequoia Park Zoo and around old Victorian homes, are valuable trees. According to Phillips, a large date palm adjacent to an apartment building in Arcata was cut down because starlings inhabiting the canopy were a nuisance.

"The response of the owner of that particular apartment house was to chop that tree down, and I think they really missed the boat because that tree was worth about 5,000 bucks. There are people out there that would kill to get a hold of a tree like that," he said.

Initially Phillips thought landscaping with large palm trees would be cost prohibitive.

"During the process I dismissed it as an impossibility economically. Then I ran across Bill Pierson (owner, Pierson's Building Center) and he said, `Hey Dave, have you ever considered palm trees over there?' and I said, `Yeah, but it's never going to work. It's going to cost a gazillion.'

"Then he said he knew of a broker where we could get the big guys, and it wouldn't cost that much to get them," said Phillips. (He declined to reveal the cost of the trees because he said he worked out special deal with the broker, Neon Palm of Santa Rosa.)

Phillips chose Mexican fan palm, Washingtonia robusta, because its slender, skyrocketing growth habit and small thatch canopy fit well into narrow median strips. Although they will top 100 feet eventually, the palms will not overpower the planting areas. There is also an overabundance of them on palm farms right now which made the price more attractive, Phillips said.

The palms at the Broadway Cinema were grown on a farm in Southern California. According to Phillips, farm-grown palms grow up to 4 feet a year under ideal circumstances. Neon Palm delivered 30 bare-root trees, approximately 15-feet tall on two semi-trucks. A third truck hauled the crane used to install the trees. Prior to delivery Phillips had holes 3-feet wide, 5-feet deep dug with an auger. Sand and topsoil were added for backfill. The trees were delivered at 7 one morning and installed by 4 the same afternoon.

Palm trees are practically maintenance free. Phillips installed drip irrigation for each tree. In addition, lighting at the the base of the trees will be added in the future for effect.

"Eventually we will have lights shining up at the trees so when the lights go on at night the crowns will be lit up."

Landscaping the parking area with palm trees accomplished more than adding beauty to a barren area, Phillips learned. It enhanced the building's architecture, a style Phillips calls nouveau deco.

"One of the things those trees did to the facade is they added more than I ever imagined. They brought a vertical element and they broke up the view and interposed themselves more than I thought they would. It's almost like they become an extension of the building itself, and they become a very active part of the facade itself. I didn't expect that to happen," he said.

Phillips plans to add more trees in the future. A concrete triangular median strip that separates the intersections of West Cedar, Albee Street and Broadway will be landscaped with grass and palm trees.

"Caltrans and the city (of Eureka) own this concrete triangle and it's a big, huge traffic hazard. The city wants to give it to us. We want to take it and expand our parking lot, and turn that into a little grassy area and plant six more trees. It will be a nice bus stop and a place for the bus to turn around," he said.

Public comments have been positive for the most part, according to Phillips.

"Almost universally it is really thought of well. I had a letter one of the City Council people sent to me. It was a very brief letter that just said, WOW!"


  • PLANT -- Fruit trees, roses, berries, dianthus, gladiolus, lilies, pansies, primroses, strawberries, artichokes, rhubarb, asparagus and cool season vegetables can be planted this month if the weather is dry. Sow sugar snap pea seeds for an early spring crop. If the soil is workable, sow seeds of carrots, beets, onions and turnips. Set out starts of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, salad greens, lettuce and spinach toward the end of the month.
  • PRUNE -- Finish pruning bush and tree roses along with cane berries, grapes and blueberries. Prune after bloom is the rule of thumb with deciduous flowering trees and shrubs. Remove spent blossoms on camellias and early blooming rhododendrons.
  • FERTILIZE -- Towards the end of the month fertilize asparagus, strawberries and blueberries. Fertilize deciduous fruit trees 2 to 3 weeks before bloom. Feed other mature trees and shrubs after spring buds open.
  • PATROL -- Watch out for slugs and snails. They will ruin spring flowering bulbs in a jiffy. Deer will nibble on new growth, so cover susceptible plants with netting, install a deer-proof fence, or get a big dog.

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