How to defy Nature, and win. Or, 'How To Cook
A Pygmy'. By the man with the electric garden.
Peter Tenenbaum, 17 Spaniards End, Hampstead, London NW3
Chamaerops No. 6, published online 23-10-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
The Pygmy Date Palm, Phoenix roebelenii, from Laos
and the hot steamy jungles of South East Asia looks like an unlikely
subject for outdoor cultivation in Britain, but don't be deterred
by what you read in the textbooks, this baby is a lot tougher than
her delicate appearance might suggest. Although rated Zone 10, she
is certainly worth trying in all but the coldest localities. Certainly
she is tender, not withstanding temperatures much below -4°C,
but if you are prepared to invest the necessary time and effort,
and more importantly the financial outlay in providing protection,
growing your own Roebelenii is not all that difficult.
My first experience with this highly prized palm
began in the spring of 1990 when I planted a four-foot specimen
topped with a fabulous head of leaves - absolutely stunning. An
unusually hot summer together with regular applications of horse
manure (a fitting meal for a princess), washed down with a few gallons
of vintage H 0, gave this beautiful palm a great start for what
Come October it was time to think of protection.
This took the form of a really thick mulch, bandaging the trunk
generously with hessian and a thermostatically controlled heated
cable snaking its way around that. Finally two heavy gauge polythene
bags over the whole arrangement, securely tied top and bottom, these
can be rolled down like a stocking on mild days to give the plant
an essential airing, and pulled back up as soon as cold weather
Everything was just fine and with January out of
the way I was already thinking of where to plant my coconuts! Then,
like a bolt out of the blue, came the nightmare we palm nuts fear
the most: high pressure over Scandinavia, heavy snow driven by a
biting easterly wind and night temperatures as low as -12°C.
Enough to say goodnight to all my Cordylines (unprotected), defoliate
two Phoenix canariensis (limited protection) and eventually kill
my so-called 'tough as old boots' Butia capitata, but surprise,
surprise, the Roebelenii came through even though 50% leaf damage
had robbed her of her former splendour. Never mind, despite the
rather late arrival of last summer, much of the damage has been
replaced by the emergence of lots of strong and healthy new growth.
This winter I increased the protection with further
cabling and yet a third polythene bag, and as if that wasn't enough,
a thick blanket to help preserve more of that precious heat. So
far, she has withstood two hard freezes - one of which produced
a night low of -7°C and not rising by day above 0°C for
nearly a week.
If I've managed in these few paragraphs to seduce
you into trying this tropical wonder then here are a few pointers
to help you succeed in your quest:
Plant in late spring once all danger of frost has
passed, a position in full sun to partial shade is most suitable,
although protection from the hottest sun is advisable for the first
Spend time on preparing the hole, digging it deep
and wide. Backfill with fresh soil mixed with well-rotted manure.
Feed regularly during the summer and keep well watered in hot weather.
A good dose of sulphate of potash in late summer
will help build up your plant's sugar reserves increasing its resistance
Make sure a thermostatically controlled plug point
is close at hand. Any good qualified electrician can run a supply
from your house to a junction box mounted on the garden wall or
fence. From there it is relatively easy to run a circuit to a number
of waterproof sockets around the garden and power them with a thermostat
back at the junction box set to come on once the temperature drops
below +4°C. Short of a fuse blowing or a power strike this system
works well. Never be tempted to set the temperature too high. It
is essential that your plant remains dormant during winter.
Whilst using electricity around the garden it might
be worth fitting a circuit breaker, especially with kids around.
Beware in March/April when it is still too cold
to dispense with protection; the sun shining through the plastic
covering your plant can literally cook it alive. Never allow your
heating cable runs to touch one another, this can cause overheating
and probably result in damage to the cable, and never allow the
cable to come into direct contact with the leaves.
Well there you have it. Not cheap. The essential
heating system can be quite expensive depending on how many sockets
you install, but on the other hand no serious palm nut should be
without it. Owning what must surely be one of the most beautiful
palms in the world and to enjoy sitting under its swaying fronds
on a hot summer day sipping your favourite cocktail more than justifies
all that expense and trouble.
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21-01-21 - 00:59GMT
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