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Rambling on The Rock

A miscellany of palmy thoughts and observations, inspired by the discovery of 'our own' Chamaerops growing happily of The Rock of Gibraltar.
Vince Carr, 690 Whitton Avenue West, Northolt, Middlesex, UBS 4LA, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 13, published online 23-08-2002

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Above: Phoenix canariensis in Lanzarote's black landscape.
Below: Tourist-eye view of the Rock of Gibraltar, home to Barbary apes, and Chamaerops humilis.

What? Me write an article for Chamaerops, the august journal of The European Palm Society? You must be kidding! I mean each page takes a full 865 words and when you've never written an article before that's an awful lot. And when all is said and done I am after all just an ordinary member, not one of your very learned variety. No field trips collecting palm seeds in Outer Mongolia for me. No spouting of Botanical Latin either. It's difficult enough to remember whether a leaf is pinnate, palmate or marmite.

So why me? Well I suppose like most of the EPS Members I'm just a back yard palm fan (no, not a fan palm) dedicated to growing something unusual. An admirer of the Victorians who started palm and exotica collections in the first place.

An admirer also of the likes of Martin Gibbons of the Palm Centre here in London and of Angus White of Architectural Plants in Sussex who encourage the likes of me to turn their back gardens into havens of exotica.

Instead of going to far away places with strange sounding names like some lucky people, the annual package holiday must suffice. The thing is, of course, that when many of us Brits take our hols. We often end up in the Mediterranean or in the Canary Islands. Like many others I'm fond of sunning myself on the beach, like a good meal and an evening out but the other advantage of such places is that they've nearly always got large palms growing outdoors. Oh joy of joys!

Whilst I'm very fond of the Temperate House at Kew, the annual package holiday allows me the luxury of living in a big Warm Temperate Area for a whole two weeks. While in the resort I like to hire some wheels and head out into the country where, lo and behold, you'll often find palms growing. Not your sanitised cluster of palms set around the hotel swimming pool but in the fields or up the mountainside. All of a sudden the tourist belt becomes Palm Nut Paradise. You can explore, photograph without restriction and if you remember to pack your copy of Identifying Palms you can have an interesting and educational visit. Last year I was fortunate enough to visit Lanzarote in the Canaries and Andalucia in southern Spain.

It's known affectionately to the British lager lout as Lanzagrotty due to the surface-of-the-moon-like nature of its volcanic landscape where a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) stands out against the stark background scenery. It can be seen for miles across the country whilst travelling the winding roads. 'Our own' Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) grows wild on the exclusive Sotogrande estate in Andalucia, and whilst staying there in the home of some family friends, I decided on a visit to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Main Street, Gibraltar was its usual busy self. Tourists buying a whole variety of duty free goods. Brits and other foreign nationals from Spain banking their pesetas and shopping for British food in Safeway. However, a little out of town is a cable car, and once aboard you ascend to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. Once past the tourist cafe and the cheeky apes being photographed, there are paths along the top centre section of the Rock. An old wartime gunnery position here, a goat track there.

Then suddenly, whilst looking down over the dockyard where the tankers and cranes look like toytown objects, Chamaerops humilis to be seen growing in the thin soil covering of the Rock.

It's amazing what you can find on an ordinary holiday, and don't knock Bournemouth or Torquay. True, the palms have been tastefully arranged by the local parks departments, but there they are, waiting to be identified, photographed and admired.

Then when you get home to your own 60ft by 20ft of back yard, can't you just picture a Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan Palm) here or a Butia capitata (Butia Palm) there? Maybe a Musa basjoo (Japanese Banana) or Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress). Now who's spouting Botanical Latin! There's even the Cork Oak (Quercus suber>), the Olive tree (Olea europaea) and the Lemon bush (Citrus ichaegenis) all of which are reputedly hardy in parts of the UK, to choose from. These are just a few suggestions to enable you to jungle up your garden, to amaze a neighbour or to wake up a wife.

The point is that if you're an ordinary chap like me then you can become your own palm and exotica expert. You can have your own palm hunting expeditions even here in the UK. You can have an unusual garden and if you're prepared to buy your specimen plants when small, and wait, it needn't cost you an arm and a leg.

Furthermore, is there any reason why you shouldn't write an 865-word article for Chamaerops? You are a palm enthusiast amongst palm enthusiasts and if you enjoy your subject, you'll find it easier than you think.

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