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Home & Away 2

In this follow-up article Charles tells us more about the Phoenix palms of his home town in New Zealand, and makes readers an offer of seeds.
Charles Jackson, 66 The Ridgeway, Westcliff on Sea, Essex, UK
Chamaerops No. 15, published online 23-08-2002

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Above and below: Mighty Phoenix canariensis (Canary Date) palms on Caroline Bay, Timaru, New Zealand. They are some 40 years old and as can be seen, extremely luxuriant and dense. Could this be because of the comparitively cool climate?

Following a good response to my article in "Chamaerops" (Autumn issue) I thought it would be of interest to readers to do a follow up about the developments since them. No, this is not going to be an Antipodean soap opera!

I sent my parents in Tanuka, South Canterbury, New Zealand, the "Chamaerops article, and asked them if they would collect some Phoenix canariensis seed from Caroline Bay, Timaru, New Zealand. I am pleased to report that they collected quite a number of these and are now awaiting confirmation from the N.Z. Department of Agriculture that they can export these seeds to me in the U.K. The palms that these seeds came from are specimens of over 40 years of age, and as you can see from the photographs, very full and luxuriamit in growth. Their cold hardiness is exceptionally good, as they have to withstand some pretty chilly weather. Timaru, a small provincial city of about 30,000 people lies at about 45.5° south. Its position equals almost that of Bordeaux, France, and Genoa, and Bologna, Italy, in the northern hemisphere. Unlike these European cities, Timaru does not have a continental influence on its climate and therefore does not have guaranteed hot sunny weather in summer. In fact, Timaru can sometimes have some rather cool summer days, but generally speaking this is unusual; its summers are normally dry and warm.

Timaru lies in the rain shadow of the lofty Southern Alps, and whereas N.Z.'s Westland gets up to 300 inches of rain a year, Timaru receives only 25 inches a year. The influence of the Southern Alps means that South Canterbury experiences very clear, cloudless conditions in summer and in winter. Thus the summer days are bright and sunny with the temperatures averaging approximately 169C. Winter is a different story as the clear skies produce some pretty impressive frosts, which can occur night after night for long periods. Nevertheless, even on a winter's day, the air temperatures can rise to 89C. Throughout the year N.Z. is subjected to - enormous and sometimes violent southerly storm fronts which race in from the cool southern ocean and in Timaru, I've known the temperature to be in the high 2O's Centigrade and in the afternoon little more than 10 degrees C.

Timaru also experiences a very hot and unpleasant Fohn wind called "The Canterbury Nor'wester" which roars in from the Tasman Sea and sends temperatures soaring and desiccates everything in its path. This wind is experienced normally only in spring and autumn. It is always followed by a sudden southerly change to much colder conditions, thus the palms in south Canterbury have to experience sometimes the four seasons all in one day, (very much like an English summer's day!). As I have pointed out previously, because of these rather variable conditions, the provenance of these palms should be excellent and, I believe, would make them especially suitable for growing in the U.K. especially along the south coast and maybe further north without problems.

I mentioned in the last article that these palms have been successfully grown in Dunedin, NZ, where the climate figures are remarkably similar to those of Torquay, Devon. So if gardeners in Dunedin can grow these palms then there should be no problems growing them here. Timaru, where my seed is coming from, is somewhat milder than Dunedin, and its climate figures are almost exactly those of Bordeaux, France, and I'm sure Bordeaux gets as nippy in the winter as Timaru, in fact snow is not unknown in either city. So, as soon as they come I will distribute them to whoever is interested. Just let me know.

Summer has reached my garden in Westcliff on Sea, and growth has started in earnest with all my palms and exotics. The palms in particular grew throughout last winter albeit at a much-reduced rate. This year I have planted out a large Jubaea chilensis, a Trithrinax acanthocoma, a Brahea armata, a Chamaerops and a Trachycarpus "Wagnerianus". I believe all these palms will do well in my garden with its very sunny, sheltered, southern aspect. It should all look very lush indeed. So, the best of luck to all exotic plant growers for the rest of the year. Just garden and enjoy!

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