Jason Murray took inspiration from the cult 80s sitcom The Young Ones when he named the bottle palm outside his study. The English teacher, who lives in Kanagawa, Japan, started calling it Neil after Nigel Planer’s pacifist student. It had got swamped by the climbing bushes surrounding it and started looking unruly after the rainy season. “As a result, it appeared the tree had hair extensions and looked like a bit of a hippy,” he says.
Since moving to his house in 2018, Murray has enjoyed spending quiet afternoons in his study with a cup of tea, reading and drawing while listening to the birds chirping outside. “I find it inspirational. Drawing is therapeutic but when you have trees surrounding you, it’s even better.”
At 20ft high, Neil is unusually tall for a bottle palm. “It’s a very dominant spectacle that just looms down on me,” says Murray, who is originally from Brighton and has lived in Japan for 21 years. “I feel like it’s watching.”
While Murray feels lucky to have such a beautiful tree to look at, he is confused as to why it’s there, as there is only one other bottle palm nearby – and that’s also in his garden. “If you go to the coast, which is a 10-minute cycle, you’ve got them there. Why do I have a palm tree outside? It plays on your mind. How can it survive?”
Recently, Jason decided to give Neil a trim and clipped away the shaggy mop of vegetation around it. Now all spruced up, it has lost its “hair extensions” and looks more like a typical bottle palm. Jason has asked a gardener to give him some advice on how to care for the tree and keep it thriving. He is particularly worried about how it will cope with the annual typhoons, when it can rain for days on end.
“The weather conditions in Japan can be ferocious, especially during the typhoon season in early September,” Murray says. “On these days, I need to close all the windows and shut the outside shutters up tight. Luckily, the bottle palm has always coped with the onslaught. Hard as nails, is Neil – but for how long? I feel a bit of TLC tree surgery would be good.”
Despite his concerns, Murray enjoys Neil’s soothing presence in his home and how it continues to uplift him. “I see it every morning and it’s a real tonic. When you’re surrounded by trees, that helps your day.”