Chamaerops on Sardinia

Jacques Deleuze writes from a palm-fringed island.
Jacques Deleuze, Bocca alla Leccie, San Nicolao, Corsica
Chamaerops No. 2, published online 23-11-2002

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When my friend Martin Gibbons telephoned to say that he was planning to visit Corsica for the Christmas holiday, I felt I had to try to find something to make his time even more enjoyable than simply seeing me and my garden! Of course it had to be connected with palms and the idea of seeing some in the wild was very exciting, so my mind went to those we have in Europe. Chamaerops humilis is so well known the world over that sometimes it s forgotten that it grows somewhere wild, and Sardinia, Corsica s sister island, is an ideal place to see them. This then, would be our destination for a few days of palm hunting.

After spending Christmas Day at home, in the north of Corsica, we left Porto Veccio early the following morning to catch the 10.00 am ferry from Bonifacio to Santa Teresa, arriving there after an hour s sea crossing. It's a small, pretty town, and typical of the island. We had coffee and sandwiches and then drove into the peaceful countryside towards Alghero and our first stop: Capo Caccia.

What beautiful scenery! 'The rugged and rocky shoreline, the deep blue sky, and, above all, hundreds and hundreds of Chamaerops humilis lining the road and beyond, mixed in with Cistus and Euphorbia dendroides, none more than a metre or two tall, and those closest to the sea quite dwarfed, with leaflets often burnt by the wind and salt spray.

Next, we had to get to Cagliari, 300km to the south, so we left the palms and prepared for some serious driving for the first part, on a good but winding mountain road, then onto the main north-south highway, when it began to rain heavily.

By 7pm we finally saw the lights of the town, which is at the southern end of the island. We drove to the centre and, with some difficulty, found a hotel for the night, in one of the many narrow, cobbled streets.

The following day we went, on foot, to the Botanic Garden. It was a mild, sunny morning and a real pleasure to be out walking in this pretty, old, Italian-style town. 'There we met the director, Luigi Mossa, who showed us the garden, explaining its history and how the former owner had designed it with trenches, and collecting areas for water.

The garden has no rare palms but some very beautiful Chamaerops humilis and Phoenix dactylifera. Also some fine Cycas revoluta and some other young cycads. Not a large garden, but well laid out and we certainly enjoyed our visit, and left hoping to come again for a longer stay sometime.

Our next port of cal I was a second locality for Chamaerops, on the tiny island of Antioco. We crossed the bridge and headed south on the only road, arriving in 'Chamaerops country' a short while later. There we enjoyed a picnic lunch surrounded by the palms and other Mediterranean shrubs, and looked out over the spectacular and rocky coast to other offshore islands, in a sea of deepest blue. One could dream of Africa only 250km to the south, with nothing in between.

However we soon had to stop dreaming and start driving as time was slipping by. We had planned to stop off on our way back up north, to where Luigi had told us that Chamaerops grew, with substantial trunks, on a cliff face. However as this was only visible from the sea, and we had no time to take a boat, we had to leave this exciting prospect and instead concentrate on a fast drive back up to Santa Teresa. We did make one very interesting stop though, and that was to a spot where Chamaerops were growing in great numbers in quite dense woodland. Certainly they looked totally at home, and it was something of a surprise to me to learn that they grew in this habitat.

It was a long way back up to the north tip of the island, and the Sardinian roads, though generally good, are often very winding because of the steep and hilly nature of the landscape; thus a long drive was made even longer, and it was with some relief that we eventually arrived at our destination, and hungrily consumed a large bowl of spaghetti apiece, before retiring for a well earned sleep, in a small local hotel. We left Sardinia early the following day, on the ferry back to Corsica having had a splendid, if somewhat rushed, couple of days amongst Europe's wild palms.

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