Palm and Cycads Magazine Article

This web page is a slightly amended copy of an article expressly written for the Palm and Cycads Magazine (Issue #123 April-June 2014), a popular magazine devoted to information on palms and cycads and aimed at Palm and Cycad enthusiasts.

The previous owners, Fred and Jeanette Birkbeck, placed this article in our Feathers'n'Friends website to provide some historical background to the property.

A Palm Paradise in the Tropics

A little history and information about our property may be of interest to PACSOA (Palm and Cycad Society of Australia) members, particularly if they have been receiving the Palms & Cycads magazine for many years and perhaps lucky enough to have had the opportunity to visit our property.

I guess many members would have purchased seeds from the PACSOA seedbank in the past, and many of those seeds would have come from this property when it was owned by Maria Walford-Huggins (also known as Maria Boggs).

We have not been able to determine exactly when Maria commenced planting of the many palms, cycads and other interesting endemic and exotic plants and trees on this property. We think it was in the very early 1980's. She called the property (and nursery/business) 'Maria's Palmetum' when she lived here.

Maria built a small 'A' frame house (which still stands today) from timber taken from the property and at some later stage, built a more substantial concrete block home adjacent to the 'A' frame. She planted a wonderful collection of palms and other exotic trees around these two buildings and today some of these mature palms are at least 20M in height, with many understory palms spread through the area.

I have detailed PACSOA magazine numbers (see references) which have made mention of Maria so that enthusiasts who may have a collection of magazines can inspect what previous visitors to her property have commented on. Some of this content is extremely interesting and illustrates the dedication involved and the success she obtained. I have also added a couple of other references I was able to source. There may be additional PACSOA and other magazine references to Maria which I am not aware of.

We have been told, among other things, that she had:

a. the largest collection of understory palms in the southern hemisphere, and

b. the largest private collection of palms in Australia.

We do not doubt these statements as the range of plants and extent of the gardens certainly shows a lot of thought, effort and passion.

Since that time the property has passed through two owners prior to our purchase of the property 4.5 years ago. The property was very run down when we purchased it. The last owner prior to us, we have been told, apparently sold off many of the more rare/popular palms (we have been unable to determine the extent or the names of the palms that were removed from the property). A drive around nearby Port Douglas often makes us wonder how many of the palms fronting beautiful houses and tourist spots originated from this property? Much to our delight, however, there are many hundreds of remaining palms, cycads and interesting plants still here.

When we first found the property we were on a caravan holiday with no intention of buying anything. However, chancing on this property wet our enthusiasm and, frankly, we were stunned looking at the gardens and what they contained. Negotiation enabled us to buy the property, and then the hard work started. Our desire is to refresh the gardens and generally try to present and enjoy a delightful tropical garden, and welcome others to visit and discover the wealth of plants. I feel I should state here that it is not our intention to start up or run a nursery; we just wish to enjoy the gardens and wildlife and pursue some of our other interests in this beautiful part of the world.

We are keen to replant some of the species that were here and are now missing (we do know of just one palm that was here - a Chamaedorea tuerckheimii - Potato Chip palm) but it is an onerous task determining just what has disappeared. With time and some help/advice we hope to develop a comprehensive listing of palms that currently exist on the property and perhaps label each of them with some form of permanent label.

We have also been busy planting on previously cleared areas with endemic plants to extend wildlife corridors and, in particular, developing additional habitat that attracts birds and butterflies. The great disparity between wet and dry seasons poses a challenge so mulching and watering is an important task. We have a problem producing enough good mulch for our requirements, learning very quickly that sugar cane mulch, which is plentiful up this way, is not all that good in our opinion.

Water is not a problem as we have a 50M deep bore that taps into an unlimited supply of beautiful water. We drink this water without filtering and it ranks with the best tasting water we have ever experienced. Locals tell us it is 'heritage water' and that it slowly permeates down from the Daintree Rainforest over thousands of years. We are slowly installing reticulated watering systems to targeted garden areas to help during the dry.

The ever-reliable 25HP Kubota farm tractor (must be at least 30 years old!) was in a very sad state when we arrived. This tractor, with its front hydraulic bucket, was apparently used extensively in the early nursery work. We replaced the water pump, changed all the fluids, a few minor repairs and some TLC and it now runs like a charm. It does look a little worn, and very rusty, but it starts first pop every time.

A lot of the infrastructure, such as shade houses, still stand. Much of it was damaged/neglected, so we have attempted to tidy things up, remove the rubbish, and leave the major elements standing ready for use if it is ever required.

We are keen birdwatchers as well as plant lovers, and as Julatten is well known as one of the best bird watching areas in Australia, we have ensured a lot of our refurbishment and planting effort enhances this natural habitat advantage.

Part of our refurbishment of the property included Maria's concrete block house which, prior to our arrival, was severely damaged and run down. After considerable renovation and repair effort the quaint house is now a very comfortable self-contained abode which is available for visitors wishing to stay. The house, which we call a cottage, has an outstanding quiet ambience and an outlook settled amongst the most amazing array of palms. We do not reside in the cottage (we live in another house on the property). For those who may be interested have a look at which gives detailed information on the cottage, gardens, some photos and other information.

We would enjoy palm enthusiasts visiting to have a look around, and if they wish to stay in the area during their visit the cottage is available. We believe that Julatten has a wealth of palm sightseeing opportunities with Mt. Lewis just 28kM away and the Daintree and Cairns Botanic Gardens just an hour or so distant. Close by is a delightful palm nursery, TNQ Palm Nursery, and well worth investigating.

If any enthusiast wishes to visit we suggest you send us an email or ring first (details are on the feathersnfriends website). We would be pleased to welcome you and show you around.

Fred & Jeanette Birkbeck


1. Palm & Cycad Society of Australia. Magazine #15, April-June 1987, Page 15

2. Palm & Cycads-Magazine of the Palm & Cycad Society of Australia. Magazine #21, October-December 1988, Page 20

3. Palms & Cycads-Magazine of the Palm & Cycad Society of Australia of Australia. Magazine #46, January-March 1995, pages 8,9,10,11.

4. Palm Brief -

5. Palm Brief -

We trust you find the content of this article interesting. For those viewers interested in palms and cycads, the Palm and Cycad Society of Australia (PACSOA) may be contacted through their Website.


Note: Photograph at top of page displays Maria's original 'A' Frame cottage.

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