Passion for palms feeds eccentric effort

Winner, Novelty Garden: Fritz Fell, Perry Hall

Townhouse yard doesn't look like Baltimore

  • Fritz Fell stands in front of his Perry Hall town home, where he started his palm garden six years ago.
Fritz Fell stands in front of his Perry Hall town home, where… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
July 12, 2012|By Liz Atwood, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Take one look at Fritz Fell's townhouse yard, and you get the feeling you aren't in Baltimore anymore. Fell's garden contains 23 varieties of palm trees, eucalyptus and an ornamental banana tree. Spanish moss clings to Bradford pears and aloe grows along the pathway.

Fell grew up in Highlandtown, but he says he has always preferred warmer climates. "I always liked palm trees and going to Florida and California," says Fell, the owner of a pest control company.

In August 2006, a friend in Virginia Beach showed him cold-hardy palms, and Fell decided to try one in his yard. "It was going to be one palm tree and that was it, but it was an addiction," he says. "You can't stop with one."

Now Fell is a member of the Southeastern Palm Society and his yard resembles a tropical paradise, with Chinese windmill palms, Pindo palms, cabbage palms and Mexican fan palms.

Although some of them will tolerate Maryland's winters, others must be carefully tended once the temperature dips into the 20s. Fell covers the most vulnerable palms with mulch and plastic sheeting. On severe nights, he uses space heaters to keep them warm.

He paid electricians to upgrade his wiring to handle the increased load. A couple of winters ago, his heating bill was $1,000 for one month. "It's a passion," Fell says. "Not many people are going to spend $1,000 to keep a $12 palm alive. I know I'm eccentric."

He says he loves his palms as much as his pets, even giving them names such as Big Boy, Larry, Moe and Curly.

One day, Fell says, he would like to retire to Florida. But he worries about what would happen to his garden.

"What am I going to do with my trees?" he asks.

Favorite plant: Fell struggles when asked to choose a favorite plant. "I love them all so much," he says. But when pressed, he names his 13-foot Pindo palm, which was one of his first.

Tips: The secret to having a tropical garden in Maryland is to understand the climate of your yard and to research the needs of each plant, Fell says. Until palms become established, they require extensive care to protect them in the winter. They need to be wrapped, but they can be susceptible to fungus if they become too moist or hot. It's important to stay abreast of the forecasts. "You need to know the seasons and know when the weather is going to change," Fell says.

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