Palms Of Provence Côte d'Azur
Alain, a Marseille dentist, describes the fascination
of the palms that grow so well on his stretch of the Cote d'Azur
Alain Levy, Villa 'Or-Aviv', 'La Montezane', 42 Bd. Fernand Durbec,
13013 Marseille, France.
Chamaerops No.25 Winter 1996/97
I became a palm enthusiast when I was only 11 years
old (now I am 37) when my parents decided to leave Paris and settle
in Cannes. Since this time I have been very happy to live in 'Provence
Cote d'Azur' - the French Riviera - with plenty of palms in private
and public gardens. and along the avenues. When I became a dental
surgeon I decided to stay in the region and opened my dental surgery
in Marseille City.
Here we have a very sunny and mild climate with very
hot. long and dry summers with the temperature over 30-33ūC during
several weeks. The winters are dry and mild but we do have cold
days when the 'Mistral' blows, a strong and cool wind from the north
of Rhine River Valley. Only rarely do we have any days with the
temperatures below 0ūC (-2ūC -5ūC) and even then, it's only during
the very early hours; during the rest of the day the temperature
is almost never below +6ūC or +8ūC.
The best thing about this Mediterranean climate is
the sunshine, bright and of long duration (more than 2500 hours
annually). Rainfall in both summer and winter is poor (autumn is
the real rainy season), we have a lot of wind in spring, and the
atmosphere is dry. With such a benign climate we can plant out of
doors at least 40 species of palms! The most common in Marseille
are certainly Washingtonia (both species), Phoenix canariensis,
Chamaerops humilis Brahea, Butia, and Trachycarpus, but in reality
a lot of other species could be planted outdoors without any risk,
such as livistona Sabal, Jubaea Serenoa ; their only disadvantage
is their price in the palm-nurseries! Compared with much of Europe,
'Provence Cote d'Azur' is really a paradise for palm planting and
for palm enthusiasts.
In reality, we are just as concerned with the cold-hardiness
of palms, the only difference is that the palms concerned are not
Phoenix, Butia, Brahea and Chamaerops, which grow very well outdoors
in Provence, but Syagrus, Archontophoenix, Howea, Caryota and Rhopalostylis
The problems are the same; only the palms are different. Many French
palm enthusiasts have tried to plant these outdoors in a very sheltered
spot in gardens of the French Riviera. and it is certainly worth
In my own garden, here in Marseille, I also decided
to plant out those same palms, so last April I planted a Syagrus
romanzoffiana (2m tall) a very young Archontophoenix cunninghamiana
'Illawarra' and a young Caryota 'Himalaya'. All the other palms
in the garden are very hardy here in Marseille and grow to perfection
with mulch, water and long sunshine. Today I have about 22 species
In the south of France, during the long hot summers,
palms need a lot of water to grow well; on the contrary. during
winter, I never water them. I noticed that during the cool season
the dryness of the soil and of the atmosphere greatly increases
the cold-hardiness of massy of the palms (and most of the cycads
Never forget that during winter, not only cold, but
overall humidity is the worst enemy of palms in case of freezing.
During the winter of 1985, many Phoenix died in the Cannes, Nice
and Menton areas. but none died in Marseille at the same time. The
reason is that in Marseille (and in the rest of Provence) we have
a dry Mediterranean climate with poor rainfall and low humidity.
But in the rest of the French Riviera. the climate is much more
wet and rainy in winter. (Mean annual rainfall in Marseille is below
500mm. but over 900mm in Cannes, Nice and Menton).
In case of very cold winters, palms are much affected
by both cold and humidity, and this is often the cause of their
One of the few palms that can withstand both cold
and humidity is Trachycarpus fortunei (and perhaps Rhapidophyllum
hystrix); however this palm probably prefers the climate of the
other, cooler regions of France where there is more rainfall, and
it doesn't appreciate too much the sun and the dryness Marseille's
On the contrary, Provence is a real paradise for Phormium,
Washingtonia Brahea and Butia which do enjoy burning sun in summer.
The secret of growing palms well in the south of France is giving
them plenty of water in summer, fertilizing them (once in May, once
in July with a 30-15-15 fertilizer) and mulching.
Finally, I must tell you that for me, a private garden
or a public park without palm or cycad is really sad and unattractive,
even if otherwise it is a really nice park! Don't you think that
ALL parks would benefit from planting lots of Trachycarpus or Chamaerops?
Impossible to imagine? Well don't forget that 3 centuries ago, the
French king Louis XW who built Versailles' castle and gardens near
the centre of Paris, planted hundreds of Phoenix dactylifera and
P. canariensis in pots in Versailles Park. And today you can still
see them outdoors in the Orangerie of the castle's park, from May
King Louis XW was certainly a great palm lover, wasn't
he? And a good example for us too. Were he still alive I am sure
he would be a member of the E. P.S.!
13-07-20 - 15:05GMT
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