Wendell Turner sees palm trees as symbols of rest and relaxation. The fact that he lives in cold Kansas has not deterred him from starting a business around these little corners of paradise.
“We make northern palms,” he joked of his hand-sculpted metal versions. “They are made to go anywhere. Yours (in the tropics) will die, but mine will look great. We can put them in Winnipeg or in Alaska with snow on the ground as well as in Hawaii for a hotel.
Changing weather patterns make geographic distinctions less clear, with more cold coming even in southern climes. People are replacing palm trees that freeze to death, he said, with his metal artwork that closely mimics Mother Nature’s creation.
“They’re made to move and twist like a real tree,” he said. “The leaves will blow in the wind. We sculpt from real life.
The larger ones are rated for winds of 95 mph.
The virtually maintenance-free palms are sold for indoor and outdoor use, for businesses and homes. Because they can be custom made, materials vary by customer.
“If I put one inside a contemporary home, I might put some stainless and weave in some copper” to add warmth, Turner said.
Meanwhile, those sold for cruise ships required stainless steel to prevent rust.
Most are made of galvanized metal which will acquire a patina over time.
Although Designer Palms can be built to suit specific locations and uses, at the Home & Garden Show there will be an exhibit featuring trees that can not only be seen up close and touched, but purchased locally and brought back to the House.
Variations on the palm theme abound. There is a version with a 4 feet table built around it. Mailboxes can incorporate palms. Some tall trees include coconuts that hide downlights. “We can also put stereo speakers with the coconuts,” Turner added. “Really popular this year is the one that has a shower head in it.”
Freestanding potted trees are usually 6 feet or 9 feet tall. “People don’t look more than 8 to 10 feet. Most are in that range, Turner said. “Fourteen feet is about the tallest for residential use, but we make it into 18- to 19-foot trees,” Turner said.
For those looking for the smallest of accents, there are 3-inch mini trees.
To order trees for specific locations, customers can send photos of the area and Designer Palms will work with them to create a plan.
So how did a palm company start in Kansas? The short answer is love.
Twenty years ago, Turner, a cattle rancher, wanted to do something special for a wedding anniversary. Because his wife is from Florida, he decided to make her a palm tree to remind her of home.
He had never really liked metal work, he said, he knew enough to handle everything that happened around the ranch.
But he learned more, and from there, Designer Palms was born.
With an active aircraft industry in his area of Kansas, finding qualified metalworkers was not difficult, but they had to adapt to Turner’s artisanal aesthetic. Each shaft is signed, with a serial number at the bottom.
Now in its 20th year, the company has about fifteen employees, including welders, designers and installers, all trained in the processes. Trees have been designed for clients across the country, in Canada, Paris, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
They all aim to create an illusion for people. The guarantee, says Turner, includes this stipulation: “You must watch it morning and night, and make sure it makes you smile.” www.designerpalms.com