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Devon Up'date'

Stephen Powell meets new fronds in an old haunt.
Stephen Powell, 18 High Ridge Way, Radbrook Green, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Chamaerops No. 8, published online 23-10-2002

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The last week in June saw rain over the south of France, thunderstorms over Spain and cool cloudy weather over much of the rest of the Mediterranean. The desire for a last minute package holiday booking evaporated.

The decision was made therefore to visit Devon and stop in an old haunt, Torquay, where many years ago my grandparents owned a shop. Torquay is of course the Palm town of England. My interest in palms from a visual aspect goes back to the late 60's, when I was but a lad.

However, there have been many palm additions since then. The Trachys and Chamaerops humilis palms are all still there and even the giant Jubaea chilensis, which I have seen a number of times round must be very old.

The most exciting addition can be found along the promenade opposite the beautiful sea front gardens. There can be found six large Phoenix dactylifera - the true Date Palm.

As I ambled along the front I thought I had been magically transported to Nice but no, I was still firmly on British soil, well paving slabs anyway.

As any other palm freak could imagine I was of course struck with a number of questions. I thought Ed got a big date palm, home grown and everything, where could such massive and beautiful plants have come from? How will they cope with wind chill in Britain? Whose idea was it to put them in such a wonderfully strategic place?

Most of my questions were answered in my first ever-formal interview with Paul Hunt of the Arts and Recreation Department at Torquay Town Hall. I was surprised at the enthusiasm Paul said existed within the department in relation to palm planting in the Torbay area, and their plans to venture out into plantings of new species such as Washingtonia filifera (a rather under-rated species in my opinion especially since my 7 foot specimen and several smaller specimens in the ground survived last winter without any protection in Shropshire. I lost only one plant).

I digress. OK the facts. The Torbay Date Palms were imported from Spain due to the efforts of and organisation of Martin Gibbons. They have been cut back to improve their initial appearance, but they will be more showy with new growth. The Arts and Recreation Department, Paul announces, are hopeful that the palms can remain in situ for many months of the year and benefit in the better months from the incoming sea breezes.

No decision has been made yet as to which month the palms will be relocated into storage for the winter but the cleverly designed wooden planting cases hide the fact that the plants are in fact still in their huge plant pots. I thought this idea was particularly good as a security measure against vandals, etc. I have in fact seen the damage caused by idiots setting fire to the fibres of a Trachycarpus fortunei palm leaving an old specimen badly damaged, some years ago, again in Torquay.

In addition to these specimens if you are observant you will see a number of small Phoenix palms dotted around, particularly on the rock walk around the front.

I know Torquay has featured before in Chamaerops so if you want a treat and see Date Palms in the open in Britain, treat this letter as an update and have a few days in Devon. You won't be disappointed.

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