Meeting in Mention
The long-awaited article of the book of
the film of the T-shirt. Steve & Tony have agreed to share the
blame for this one...
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By Steve Swinscoe, Manatte, Le Houga, 32460, France
Tony King, 34 Keats Ave., Romford, Essex, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 16, published online 23-08-2002
A selection from the many photographs that were
Ever since Palm Day at Kew back in July 1991 the
word was that the next get-together of European palm fans ought
to take place in the South of France, the palm garden par excellence
of Europe. Plans for this rendezvous started shaping up during the
autumn of '93 with an invitation to all interested members of EPS
to make themselves known. During the spring the French palm society,
Fous de Palmiers, and its members were solicited for their assistance
in helping to organize the reunion. The city of Menton, the northernmost
city on the French Riviera, was chosen as the base of operations.
Menton has the mildest climate in France and in its gardens one
can see mature specimens of at least one species of palm: Howea
forsteriana, to be found nowhere else on the French mainland. This
beautiful city, with the Mediterranean at its feet, snuggled against
a spectacular backdrop of mountains, is filled with palms. Everywhere
you look, both in public and private gardens, palms dominate the
landscape, including the street plantings, where majestic specimens
of Phoenix canariensis and P. dactylifera line the waterfront. We
couldn't have found a better place to admire these princes of the
plant kingdom, and in Menton they grow outdoors!
The dates were chosen to coincide with an annual
event in Menton, the fourth "Journées Méditerranéennes
du Jardin" on September 1011. We stayed 4 days in all, September
10-13, in order to make the most of our visit.
As promised, Saturday, September 10th dawned bright
and beautiful. We all met up in the Jardin Biovès, a park
in the centre of Menton lending to the sea, where the garden show
was in full swing with palms and all manner of Mediterranean plants
and garden accessories for sale. In addition to members from England
and France, participants came from Ireland, Germany, Italy, the
Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and even Israel. Americans came
too, from Florida and Hawaii - a real international reunion.
Soon after our arrival and registration, we boarded
a bus for the short trip across the Italian border to visit the
Hanbury Botanical Garden at La Mortola. Sir Thomas Hanbury founded
his garden during the last half of the nineteenth century and it
covers 18 hectares, half native vegetation (mostly Aleppo pines
and Mediterranean 'maquis') and half exotic flora imported from
around the world. While palms are not a speciality of the garden
the palm family is well represented with species of Phoenix, Washingtonia,
Livistona, Sabal, Butia, Jubaea and Brahea, to name a few. One of
the most beautiful palms is a luxuriant Brahea dulcis, bordering
a path in the upper part of the garden. After an informal picnic
lunch by the seaside at the foot of the garden, we returned to France
with free time to visit the garden show during the afternoon .
The evening's festivities began with a talk and
slide show by Fous de Palmiers vice-president Jacques Deleuze entitled
"Palms and New Species of Archontophoenix in Australia's North
Queensland". Jacques gave his talk in French, which was translated
into English. This was followed by a cocktail reception at the Villa
Maria Serena. To commemorate our international reunion a Parajubaea
cocoides was offered to the city of Menton and was ceremoniously
planted with the help of Menton's mayor, Jean Claude Guibal, Fous
de Palmier president Alan Hervé and Jacques. As an aside,
this garden was badly bombed during World War II and there is at
least one Phoenix dactylifera that shows the scars inflicted during
that conflict. It has a hole right through the trunk and, by some
freak of nature, has sprouted "ears", new crowns of fronds
growing at right angles to the trunk below the main crown. Do plan
to go and admire both this palm and the Parajubaea if you have an
opportunity to visit Menton in the future. After the reception we
enjoyed a buffet dinner at a local restaurant.
Sunday morning we met in front of the Palais de
l'Europe and, with the help of the Fous de Palmiers, went in cars
to visit the garden of William Waterfield, an expatriate Brit who
welcomed us to his lovely old home surrounded by lush gardens. We
saw first-hand the difference in the rate of growth between Washingtonia
filifera and Brahea armata. William has two of each in front of
his home, planted at the same time during the second decade of this
century and the Washingtonia literally tower over the Brahea. This
visit was followed by a stroll through the municipal botanical garden,
Val Rahmeh, the Mediterranean branch of the French Natural History
Museum. After lunch Martin Gibbons and Tobias Spanner gave a fascinating
talk, with slides, entitled "Trachycarpus, Old and New, and
Our Adventures in Finding Them." Martin and Toby escorted us
to the far corners of Asia in their quest to seek out almost forgotten
species of Trachycarpus. Dear to the hearts of all of us who live
in places less clement than, shall we say, Menton. For our Fotis
friends the talk was translated into French. Then while the Fotis
conducted their annual board meeting, we had our "family"
portrait taken in front of the Palais de l'Europe. Take a look at
all those grinning faces and you can see what a good time we were
having. Next was an evening talk, again with slides, given by Norman
Bezona, IPS director, entitled "High Altitude Pritchardias
of Hawaii". Right there in Menton Norman took us on a quick
trip to those tropical islands where we learned about the nuances
in climate there (hue to the differences in altitude. These climatic
variations offer vast possibilities when it comes to gardens and
the range of plants that can be grown in them. We wrapped up the
evening with dinner in a local restaurant.
Monday, September 12 we spent the morning visiting
the fabulous gardens of Les Cèdres in St. Jean Cap Feint.
This presqu'ile (which literally means "almost island"...
the French really do have a way with words, nest-ce pas?), surrounded
by water on 3 sides, enjoys a particularly mild climate. Les Cèdres
is, without a doubt, the finest private botanical garden on the
Riviera. Former property of the late Belgian King Leopold II, it
belongs to the Marnier-Lapostolle family, of Grand Marnier fame.
Every time you buy a bottle of Grand Marnier you do your small share
towards the maintenance of this extensive collection. Of note in
this garden were the Trachycarpus martianus, perhaps the only mature
specimen in Europe (and a female with, alas, no male specimens around)
and a magnificent 'cocos cross', a Butia X Syagrus hybrid. The timing
of our visit coincided with the ripening of Butia fruit, which many
members tasted for the first time. Our lunchtime picnic was drizzled
upon but we didn't let that dampen our spirits.
After lunch we headed east, across the border once
again and on to San Remo in Italy. San Remo is filled with majestic
palms. In fact the climate is so conducive to palm cultivation that
we actually saw Butias growing in a park along the waterfront with
seedlings sprouting in the crevices of their trunks. Of note in
the wonderful garden of the San Remo Auditorium were aged specimens
of Trithrinax acanthocoma and T. campestris. Here too we admired
clumps of Rhapis humilis rarely seen along the Riviera but flourishing
in San Remo.
Tony King picks up the story here: After our visit
to the auditorium garden and its well-cared for collection of palms
it was sadly time for some members of Fous de Palmiers to leave
us, and that included Steve Swinscoe. Those of us that remained,
boarded the coach once more to head for a second garden in San Remo,
that of the Villa Communale, where another fine example of Trithrinax
campestris and a wonderful Brahea dulcis grow. In contrast to the
Trithrinax at the previous garden, this one was far more procumbent
with no tall trunk at all, yet just as armed-to-the-teeth! The Brahea,
too, is a wonderful plant, with large blue/green fronds and like
its close neighbour, the Trithrinax a ground-hugging clump of short,
thick trunks and suckers.
Although these two palms are the stars of the garden
it is also rich in Phoenix, many almost certainly hybrids. They
displayed a selection of colourful inflorescences and bunches of
maturing fruit in reds, oranges and yellows. It had certainly been
a full day and we left San Remo as dusk fell for our base in Menton.
Tuesday was our final day of planned excursions
and was to be the longest so far with a very full programme and
much distance to cover. It was a little sad that the day dawned
with heavy rain and a cloudy sky! a sharp contrast to the lovely,
hot weather and clear blue skies we had enjoyed on past days.
Our first destination was to a nursery further inland
and up in the hills approaching the ancient town of Grasse, famous
for its perfume industry. The climate here is cooler in winter than
down on the coast and experiences some frost every year. Occupying
part of the nursery site is the smaller, specialist nursery of Ausfern
France where Olivier Ezavan met us to give a tour.
Ausfern specialise in the importation of tree ferns,
mainly Dicksonia Antarctica, from areas of Tasmania that are being
cleared for forestry. This is undertaken with the cooperation of
the Australian government and foresters as part of an ongoing programme
with some of the sale proceeds of the ferns being used to enable
the re-planting of the cleared areas with ferns once more. Trunks
of ferns are re-established in France for around a year before they
are ready for sale, though they often begin to produce new fronds
within days of arrival. It was quite something to walk amongst these
ferns, many of which were several metres tall, the cool, wet weather
adding just the right atmosphere for the stroll through the ferns.
The nursery not only stocks Dicksonias, but many
other fern species, specialising in cool growing/cold resisting
types especially those originating in Australia. The harvest area
for instance, of the Dicksonias is naturally cold in winter so this
'strain' should he much hardier in Europe than those previously
available. I should also make mention here of the spectacular stagshorn
fern, Platycerium superbum, which should withstand light frosts.
These were being cultivated attached to plaques of wood, suspended
amongst the trunks of tree ferns... very exotic and dramatic in
appearance. I can't wait to try this 'temperate' stags horn. After
making our purchases and thanking Olivier for the time he had taken
to provide us with such an interesting tour, we left heading back
to the coast and Cap d'Antibes for the Villa Thuret.
Still rather dull and with light rain falling we
began our tour of this historically important garden. For me it
has three special claims to fame amongst its wide collection. These
are the Nannorrhops, Jubaeas and Brahea edulis, all mature plants
and unique in their own way.
The two large clumps of Nannorrhops are of course
special for their rarity in cultivation, so long an unobtainable
palm with so much promise for those of us in the cooler parts of
the world. Naturally, these palms had many a camera clicking; a
photo-opportunity not to be missed.
The Jubaeas, well yes, we had of course seen a couple
of mature ones so far on our travels, in Menton and in Italy, but
the unique feature of Villa Thuret is that you have several of them
to choose from and not just mighty adults but juvenile plants just
starting to form a clear trunk too, in fact plants of all ages.
Seed carpeted the ground around the mature trees and was eagerly
collected, and hopefully, thanks to Kjell Persson from Sweden, this
will result in the very first Scandinavian Chilean Wine palm forest!Whilst
on the subject of palm fruit, a Butia capitata was conveniently
loaded with ripe bunches of its very aromatic and tasty fruit which
most of us managed to sample! The Braheas? These are just superb
in appearance, with large almost diamond shaped leaves atop tall,
broad trunks. They remind me so much of a more tropical species
- a Pritchardia for instance, and belie their toughness and suitability
for the dry Mediterranean type climate.
The garden has so much to see, many other palms
and cycads, bamboos and lots of Australasian trees and shrubs. A
quick visit to the attached and usually private nursery area rounded
off a wonderful visit.
We left Thuret rather behind schedule on our next
and longest drive, west to Hyères Les Palmiers and the nursery
of Gros Pin. Rather hungry, yet with little time to spare on our
journey, a brief stop was made at a certain fast food restaurant
en route and 30 of us were served and off in no time! Those golden
arches certainly helped us out but I'm not sure what the restaurant
staff made of us all descending on them at once from nowhere.
The weather had now changed for the better with
blue sky and warm sunshine back to accompany us for the long drive
to Hyères. On arrival at the nursery of Gros Pin we were
greeted by old friends Daniel Jacquemia and Digby Neave who first
gave us a tour of a special exhibition on palms that the nursery
has been staging all summer. It contained many examples from Daniel's
private collection with lots of lovely specimens including many
We then headed from the main garden centre to the
glasshouses located on a nearby site to see the vast range of plants
being grown for sale. The nursery produces thousands of plants of
many temperate palms, cycads, Dasylirion, Yuccas etc. in various
sizes. They try to introduce new species suitable for temperate
regions and in fact the origin of the nursery lies with a wealthy
'Victorian Frenchman' who used the nursery to acclimatise new species
of plants and animals from all over the world, into Europe, as was
popular at the time.
Of course for us it was like being a child let loose
in a sweet shop! So many plants to choose from, row upon row. A
good chance to select just the right Chamaerops for instance, since
rows were full of them in every variety, compact, tall, silver,
suckering etc.etc. Special plants were young Nannorrhops in both
blue and green forms, many just beginning to produce their first
fan shaped leaf, genuine Trachycarpus martianus again with divided
leaves and beautiful Jubaeas said to be between 8 and 10 years old.
Everything was at very reasonable prices and I'm
sure that not many of us left empty handed! Certainly the luggage
hold of the coach was crammed with plants, but of course we had
to remember how much we could carry back on the plane.
With evening drawing in, Daniel and Digby took us back into the
town of Hyères to the garden of what is now a hospital. This
is special because it must contain the largest concentration of
mature Jubaeas (6 I think) in one small space. Just time for a few
group photos in the fading light around the Jubaeas and for Kjell
to collect a few more seeds!
A long return journey back to Menton had us arriving
at around 10pm and for the second time in one day, we all descended
on a restaurant, this time just before closing, for our final gathering
It had been a wonderful trip with lots of great
plants and gardens to visit, the chance to buy just a few more plants
to take home and an opportunity to soak up a few last rays of sunshine
and warmth before returning to cool and cloudy England. Most of
all however, it was great to meet so many members of the EPS and
the Fous for the first time and of course to meet old friends again,
I certainly gained much from my visit, and am already looking forward
to the next.
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