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Cornwall Compilation

A visit to England's mild Southwest.
Various contributors
Chamaerops No. 6, published online 23-10-2002

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From left to right:
1) Royal visitor: Queen Palm, Fox Rosehill Gardens, Cornwall
2) Walk On By: Trachycarpus and Chamaerops line the streets of Torquay
3) Fierce customer: Agave ferox on Tresco
4) Puya chilensis on Tresco

Chris Arundel, of 25 Howard Street, Fishergate, York

I paid two visits to Cornwall last year and between those visits a great deal of work has gone on at the Fox Rosehill Gardens in Falmouth. This garden, on the town's Melville Road, now contains probably the most diverse collection of outdoor palms to be seen in a public garden on the English mainland. Two years ago it contained only Trachycarpus fortunei - some of great age - and small clumps of trunidess Chamaerops. But the park Superintendent is determined to turn Fox Rosehill into a treasure trove of exotic plants. In the spring of 1990, specimens of Jubaea chilensis and Phoenix canariensis were planted, and last winter they were joined by a two metre tall Butia palm. All of the plants endured last February's cold snap. There was heavy snow, temperatures fell to -6°C and failed to rise above freezing for 36 hours. The Jubaea suffered no leaf damage but its leaves developed a slight bronze tint. The newly planted Butia suffered only slight burns to the drooping tips of the leaves. The Phoenix canariensis suffered considerable leaf damage, but these leaves have now been replaced by fresh ones. Last July more exotic palms were planted. The most stunning of these in my view is a three and a half metre tall Syagrus romanzoffianum - the Queen Palm. I am told that it has produced two new leaves (resembling enormous ostrich feathers) since being planted. Two very attractive clumps of Livistona australis have also been placed in the garden, together with a small Howea forsteriana from Lord Howe Island. The final new arrival is a South African palm - Phoenix reclinata. A sucker is growing from its base. Nine species in all. It'll be fascinating to see how they cope with Falmouth's winters! Next year there are plans to add to this collection. There are hopes of obtaining a Ceroxylon andicola, and there are plans to establish a Brahea armata and some Sabals in Fox Rosehill. Quite a collection!

Exotic palms have also been planted out at a few other Cornish gardens that are open to the public. Visitors to Trebah Garden, near Falmouth, can see small specimens of Phoenix canariensis that were set out I 8 months ago. Visitors can also admire huge Trachycarpus palms. A small Butia - houseplant size - has been planted in the Trewyn Garden above St. Ives harbour.

In Penzance, there arc two small Washingtonias at the Penlee Memorial Gardens. Three others planted there perished last winter.

The frosts had a very uneven effect on tender plants in Cornwall. Small Eucalyptus globulus trees were unharmed by the cold in Penzance, but plants of the same size in Falmouth, twenty miles away, were killed stone dead. The common form of Cordyline australis was unharmed by the cold but the purple form was damaged and in some cases killed in Cornwall.

All in all, there's plenty for the exotic plant enthusiast to see.

Stephen Oakley, of Waylands, High Street, Hinxworth, Herts

Having just come back from the Torbay area, in south Devon, I would like to share my findings of interesting palms around what the English Tourist Board has named 'The English Riviera'. As Torquay is the heart of the English Riviera, and is always famous for its palm trees along the coast, I decided to investigate. My first surprise was finding so many Trachycarpus fortunei growing along the coastline. Most of these palms are planted as street palms in rows along the front in Torquay.

Growing alongside these palms, I spotted at ten big Chamaerops humilis with large trunks and many side suckers. They were the largest of this species that I had ever seen. Thanks to Torquay's mild climate these palms grow very fast after a short period. There are many smaller Chamaerops to be found in and around Torquay ranging from 4 to 10 feet in height. The Torbay 'palm', or Cordyline australis, seems to have no problem in this area, as mature plants of this type can tower to some 20 feet. Also all the Cordylines in the English Riviera were in flower, even after experiencing the last bad winter.

As I headed towards Torquay marina, I spotted a new grass area off the side of the main road. There stood a new garden full of palm trees of all sizes. A local gardener told me that the planting had just finished. The area still had a fence around it to prevent people from getting too close and disturbing the new plants, which include Trachycarpus fortunei and Chamaerops humilis as well as Cordyline australis.

There was a new Cordyline grown in the Torbay Palm Farm with salmon pink leaves from tip to base. Also there were four Phoenix canariensis standing approximately 6 feet tall and three 4-foot Washingtonia filifera. Torquay has also planted Agave americana everywhere, ranging from 2 to 6 feet in size

Torquay traffic roundabouts are also very eye-catching. They contain Trachycarpus up to 15 feet in height, and large Agaves are used as ground cover plants alongside Yuccas and smaller exotic plants. The central reservations of dual carriageways are planted with palms, large and small, as well as Yuccas and huge New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax).

In Brixham and Paignton, Cordylines grow everywhere, and on the main road towards Brixham marina is the largest Cordyline with multiple heads that I have ever seen. It must be about 30 feet in height. New Zealand Flax grows wild on the hillsides and mature plants are in excess of 10 feet tall. Dartmouth has just planted large Cordylines on the perimeter of the town.

May the English Riviera carry on with the good work of palm planting and growing in the west country.

Philip McErlean, 21 Lucerne Parade, Belfast

A two-week family holiday near St Ives, Cornwall provided me with the opportunity to visit some of the finest 'sub tropical' gardens in the British Isles. Unfortunately, Cornwall contains so many other attractions that garden visits had to be restricted to the following five:

Saturday 10th August dawned dull and drizzly at St Ives Bay. Not a promising start for an outing to Trebah Gardens on the Helford River. There was the hope however that the eastern side of the peninsula might be drier in the westerly airstream. This proved to be the case and the sun even managed to peek through occasionally. On arrival our two children were permitted a quick swing around 'Tarzan's Camp' before following the Lawn Path to the Koi Pool. This was one of the more exotic areas of the garden with Agaves, Yuccas and even a Puya chilensis in the adjacent rockery area. The waterfall, giant Koi in the pool, tree ferns, Phormiums and clumps of the hardy banana, Musa basjoo, all combined to give a lush jungle feel.

The banana plants proved to be quite a common sight in Cornish gardens and it was exciting to see them so tall and healthy, bearing in mind that even coastal areas of south-west Cornwall experienced lows of -6 to -8°C in the February 1991 cold blast.

Moving along Petry's path we arrived at the Fern Quarry and a grouping of tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, again showing no ill effects from the previous winter. Further in, a gap in the trees allowed a splendid view over the valley with a tall group of Trachycarpus fortunei, said to be the tallest in England, forming the central focus. Continuing along Petry's Path we eventually arrived at the small pebbly beach of Polgwidden Cove.

On the return walk we followed the Beach Path diverging in the middle of the garden into the impressive Gunnera Walk. This was a great spot for a photograph with those giant 'rhubarb' leaves over our heads. Plenty more tree ferns on the way back, even one with a small tree growing sideways out of the fibrous trunk.

I am sure I spotted a young Phoenix canariensis somewhere in the gardens but I cannot recall exactly where. Anyway, there was one more stop before leaving Trebah, i.e., the plant sales area 'Hardy Exotics' which is run by Clive Shilton and Julie Smith. Here you can buy some of the more desirable plants seen in the gardens and much more. I left with a fine specimen of Dasylirion atrotrichum and directions to the 'Penzance Butia' and Fox Rosehill Gardens.

Fox Rosehill
The following day turned out to be drizzly again so once more we headed east, the rain becoming more persistent as we approached Falmouth. Driving down the well-known Dracaena Avenue, the severity of the January 1987 cold spell was apparent from the regenerated but still short-trunked Cordyline australis. The rain was becoming even heavier as we approached Fox Rosehill Gardens so it had to be a quick tour of what was a small garden packed with interest.

At the entrance was a large Agave americana variegata and a fine Yucca elata with several feet of trunk. Inside the surprises continued with a somewhat bedraggled but nonetheless impressive Archontophoenix cunninghamiana about 4 feet tall.

Moving on past some tall Trachycarpus fortunei, a lovely Butia capitata came into view. This was about five feet tall and beginning to form a trunk. The next treat was a pair of feather palms six or seven feet tall and heavily pruned back. I assumed both to be Phoenix canariensis. Other treats in the garden included Furcracea longaeva, in flower, and the ubiquitous Musa basjoo, but with the rain persisting, we decided it was time to leave.

We had made two earlier attempts to visit Trengwainton Gardens, near Penzance, but had been thwarted by its rather awkward opening hours. We eventually made it on August 14th. It was not the most impressive of the gardens visited but particularly notable for the very tall Dicksonia antarctica growing along the stream, near to the main entrance.

Close to the house are a couple of Trachycarpus fortunei and there is a nice trunked Yucca, perhaps Y. gloriosa, bordering the front lawn. There is promise in some of the recent plantings in plots adjacent to the kitchen gardens where I noted young specimens of Cordyline indivisa, Dasylirion atrotrichum and Pseudopanax ferox (or crassifolium). Aside from the plants it was interesting to see, and hear the cries of, the buzzards flying overhead.

With our holiday drawing to a close, we spent our last evening in Penzance and snatched a visit to Morrab Gardens. This is a pretty park with a strong sub-tropical atmosphere created by the Cordylines, Yuccas, Trachycarpus fortunei, Phormiums, Gunnera manicata, Fascicularia bicolor, etc. A dense clump of Chamaerops humilis obviously recovered well from the 1987 and 1991 cold, but most impressive were the tall Muse basjoo, looking extremely tropical.

I have deliberately left Tresco Abbey Gardens until last (although it was the first garden I visited) as none of the other gardens can really compare with it for the range of sub-tropicals, which grow there. Thursday 8th August was the day arranged for my visit and by a stroke of good luck it turned out to be the warmest, sunniest day of the entire holiday. The expense of the helicopter flight from Penzance meant that I had to leave the rest of the family to enjoy a day on the beach while I took off from the Heliport armed with a borrowed camcorder, camera and several rolls of film. After a 20-minute flight over clear blue seas the helicopter touched down on a sun-drenched Tresco.

On entering the gardens I noticed some long-sought-after Puya chilensis on sale, at the ridiculous price of £1.50 each, and made a mental note to buy a couple on the way out. Moving on into the gardens, palms were immediately evident, with tall Trachycarpus fortunei around the Hop Circle. Walking towards the Pebble Garden the occasional small Rhopalostylis sapida could be seen. As noted by Tony King in an earlier Palm Quarterly article (Vol. 5 issue 1) all the mature Rhopalostylis sapida were killed in the severe frosts of January 1987 when temperatures of -9°C, with considerable wind chill, were recorded. Near to the Pebble Garden, the massive trunk of Jubaea chilensis was unmistakable although the fronds atop still showed evidence of wind/frost damage. In poorer condition within the Pebble Garden was a pair of mature Butia capitata (or at least what I took to be Butias) - one of these in particular looked to be struggling to survive. A tall frondless trunk labelled Livistona australis is all that remains of another casualty of 1987. Could this have been the 120-year old specimen referred to by Tony King in that same PQ report? Clearly this area of the gardens was badly hit by unparalleled frosts.

Returning towards the entrance there is a wonderful area close to the old Abbey with a group of Muse basjoo fronted by a specimen of Yucca aloifolia variegata. Even more stunning is a tall Dasylirion atrotrichum with its dense rosette of narrow, spine-margined leaves

Beyond the Old Abbey, the West Rockery is a mass of blue and white Agapanthus, which distracts attention from the Aloes, Aeoniums Yuccas and Fascicularia. The most dominant plant however, is Furcraea longaeva, its leaves and in some cases short trunk, reminiscent of a Yucca or Cordyline. It is the flower spikes however, which impress the most rising up to 10 and 15 feet with weeping branches hung with yellow flowers. The plant dies after flowering. However, all along the inflorescence tiny plantlets form. These fall to the ground where some root and continue the population. Other plants, which caught my attention in this part of the gardens, included the bromeliad Puya berteroniana and a medium sized Agave with a club-like inflorescence on a 2-3 foot stalk. Nearby there is also a fine, silvery-leaved Chamaerops humilis.
Moving away from the West Rockery towards the Neptune Steps the huge Phoenix canariensis in the Palm Rockery dominate the view ahead. Although not as full in leaf as in some photographs of Tresco I had seen, they have clearly come through the severe winters well.

The Neptune Steps are lined by young specimens of Dasylirion atrotrichum and more flowering Furcraeas. The steps rise up to the Middle and Top Terraces where the drier slopes provide good conditions for giant Agaves such as Agave americana and Agave ferox. There are still more Aeoniums, Aloes, Echeverias, Lampranthus and various Bromeliads. Above the Middle Terrace there is a spectacular clump of Puya chilensis, with spiny rosettes of long narrow leaves and stout club-like inflorescences.

There is just too much on Tresco to justify anything less than a book (try Ronald King's "Tresco England's Island of Flowers", Constable, London 1985; ISBN 0-09-466170-7) so the above is a personal view of just some of the plants, which impressed me.

I left the gardens with a feeling of awe at the vast range of exotics, even if it has been somewhat reduced from its pre-1987 state.

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