Literally starting from scratch, Nick describes
how he began with an empty plot and is transforming it into a tropical
Nick Sharp, 40 Barclay Court, 1 Ikeston, Derby, 0E7 9HJ UK
Chamaerops No.33 Winter 1999
Cover up: Winter protection, before & after,
using ready to wear covers.
As I write this letter, I wonder: will my Chamaerops
journal arrive tomorrow?.. .I would like to begin by thanking everyone
who has shared their knowledge and experiences which enable hardy
palm sceptics like myself to gain confidence and grow a Palm collection
out of doors.
It was June '93, Marisca (my wife to be) and I, had
just moved into a new house. The first thing on the agenda was the
back garden. It sloped away from the house, a one metre drop over
twelve metres of heavy clay, Marisca decided, (oh sorry! WE decided)
that a flat garden would look better. This meant building a one
metre high, fifty metre long retaining wall around the garden.
After it was constructed, I made a series of drainage
holes at the base, which connected to a network of land drain pipe
running up into the middle of the garden. All this was then back
filled with gravel. I tried to improve the soil with six tons of
stable manure, which would, when finished, become the subsoil. A
further sixty tons of topsoil brought the ground up to the required
height, and was allowed to settle for six months, this gave me time
to think about planning and what to plant. I suppose at this point
I should mention that I had very little knowledge of plants....
any kind of plant!!
Have you ever tried to remember the precise moment
you became hooked on Palms? Was it a gradual thing? Or did it happen
very quickly? I was in and out of garden centres every weekend,
and it was on one of those visits that I think the message finally
got home. There were large specimens of T. fortunei, Chamaerops
humilis P. canariensis, tree ferns, Bamboos and Agaves WOW ! Then
of course I asked all the usual questions, "Will these grow
in this country? Are they hardy?... Is that the real PRICE?"
I was sceptical about the hardiness and the price, but they looked
GREAT! I was cautious and only purchased a book, "Palms of
the World" by Alec Blombery & Tony Rodd.
Now, where could I find someone who grew those plants
and was willing to give the correct information? I now noticed many
Garden Centres sold at least one of these palms, (T. fortunei).
But information was not always positive, most said they would survive,
but needed protection during winter.
Visiting a particular retailer several times during
the winter, I observed that the palms were being kept outdoors with
no protection, and we had experienced some fairly low temperatures.
By the Spring, all the P. canariensis and several Agaves were dead.
On the positive side, the Trachys, Chamaerops and tree ferns weren't!
To me this was very exciting!! The following summer I had great
problems with keeping my wallet closed. Strange, they didn't feel
so expensive anymore. So I bought three Trachys, two Chamaerops,
(one large one) a Cordyline, tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica) and
a selection of bamboo's (Phyllostachys species). I was very happy!!
But where could I find more information?
I must have been blessed the day I happened to see
a Trachycarpus-lined driveway, while driving not far from home.
The house was surrounded by tall trees and hidden from view. I was
standing at the foot of the drive, with two large wrought iron gates
in front of me, all I could see ware TRACHYS!! Dozens of them, from
two to ten metres high or more with underplantings of various sorts.
Walking halfway down the drive, then back again. I couldn't contain
my excitement. I was overwhelmed just walking amongst them. I took
a deep breath and walked towards the house, if he sets the hounds
on me, then so be it! With relief I was greeted with a smile by
Paul Carnill who gladly offered to show me around. This was the
first time I'd seen anything like this, Butia's, Chamaerops, Phoenix
and tree ferns to name just a few. Apparently he'd been growing
palms for over twenty years, and had developed a huge collection
in what could be two acres of land. Perhaps aware of my enthusiasm,
he asked if I'd been to the "Palm Centre". PALM CENTRE??
PALM SOCIETY?? All this in one day.
The introduction to the "E.P.S." and"
the Palm Centre" felt as good as meeting Marisca for the first
time, (joke). I couldn't believe how many different palms could
be tried here in sunny old England, and the more I read, the more
interested I became, especially by articles from Robert Lackner
of Austria. Now if he can grow palms in his temperatures anyone
My first winter 1995 I protected the Chamaerops, tree
fern and Cordyline with only plastic shade netting, draped over
the top and pinned to the ground. Sorry, I kept no record of day
to day temperatures, only being a novice I had not yet realised
that being an expert in weather conditions came as part of the job.
I know it was bitterly cold from late December with drying frosts
of -6.5 deg C. over several nights and remaining below freezing
during the day. North-east winds blew until early June. Most of
the leaves on my bamboos had been burnt off, but everything else
was fine, the Chamaerops even grew a little. I later learned that
the winter had been exceptionally bad with a higher quantity of
Cordylines and Phormiums dying than usual.
New palms for spring/summer '96 were three more Trachys,
a small Rhapidophyllum, a large Butia capitata, two small clumps
of Chamaedorea radicalis, a Washingtonia robusta, a small Arenga
engleri and a Sabal minor.
The winter of 96/97, (only Chamaerops and Butia protected ! ) I
tied up the leaves and used straw around the top of trunks. In my
opinion, for the palms not a great idea. Although a good insulator
it looked very untidy and held moisture, preventing the crowns from
drying out. With a fear of fungal infection I had to change the
dressing four or five times during mild weather, each time allowing
the plants to dry out. With lows of only the occasional -6 deg C.
not much snow, but a lot of wind and rain I am happy to report no
fatalities. My only two losses were through being dug up and placed
in the bin. I know that sounds harsh, and I DO love palms!! And
looking back maybe I was a little hasty with my decision. Plants
adapt and change slightly to the conditions that they are planted
in. A palm cultivated indoors will grow differently from one planted
out. For example, leaves could be sunburnt when placed out, they
could even change size. Anyway, the Arenga and Washingtonia leaves
were badly damaged by wind, snow and frost, in fact there was nothing
left, even the centre spear was looking a little browned off! And
not having the patience of Robert Lackner. ..I binned them. The
Sabal minor also suffered, this plant only produced one new leaf
that year, so it was living on the edge. The Butia grew slowly through
the winter, which was great, and the Chamaedoreas which burned a
little by the sun, even though planted in the shade, did fantastically!!
The leaves have now became very dark and stiff. Beautiful!
New palms for spring/summer 97 were T. wag, Trithrinax
acanthocoma, Jubaea chilensis, Brahea armata, Chamaerops var. cerifera
and a Chamaedorea microspadix...and a Serenoa repens, and a medium
During a holiday in Rhodes in the Autumn of '96 I noticed that the
gardeners were planting palms, I'll try to describe how. They were
planted in raised mounds with the soil dug away around to form a
small trench. When watering they filled up the trench, and walked
on to the next plant. The base of the palms trunk being on top of
a mound wouldn't sit in water. I started planting palms like this
at home, with the idea that water quickly drains away from the trunk,
but still allows me to water well and control the feed. Maybe it
works, maybe it doesn't! But understand the trenches I've made are
not BIG trenches, the palm doesn't sit in a huge puddle of water
all winter. Luckily my garden does drain well, it would have helped
if from the start if I had known what 1 was going to plant, I could
have dug in twenty tons of grit 1 have to add this now when planting,
along with a coarse compost and super phosphate mixed with the garden
soil, to help with root establishment. That's all the feed they
get for the first year.
Before I get to the winter of 97/98, I have to mention
a loss during the summer! I wanted to group plant Serenoa repens
so I bought one to see how it faced a winter. Without any thought
I carefully planted it in a prime position, full sun. After one
or two weeks each leaf, one by one shrivelled up and died, then
the centre spear shrivelled and pulled out. We had not experienced
high temperatures, maybe mid twenties max. I put it down to severe
sun burn, remembering the same symptoms with the Chamaedoreas. I
dug it up and began to investigate I pulled the crown to pieces
to see if it was dead, (yes I know that's like dunking the witch
in the lake, if she drowns she's innocent) only to reveal a new
Something else I've tried, which I hope doesn't make
Don Tollefson of California cringe and think I'm something of an
moron I've stripped a Trachy, or two! I did think about it, long
and hard, worrying about this affecting the hardiness, after all
they don't wear jackets for nothing! All I can say is that I was
very careful, starting at the base of the trunk, I found using a
junior hacksaw with a fine blade best. This gave me much control
preventing the cuts being too deep around the leaf sheath. Covering
the white trunks with a layer of newspaper for three weeks stops
any burning (this MUST be done) after which revealing a beautiful
green colour. I must also mention that maybe spraying afterwards
with a fungicide would be recommended. After reading Don's article
in Chamaerops no.30, "Fine Tuned Palm Cultivation." I
felt like running outside into the garden clutching a spray gun.
Is this the answer to why after growing a healthy palm for a number
of years, the centre rots and pulls out?
It is stated in every palm book that I've read that
mulching is very important, "Its presence on the soil surface
greatly reduces the stresses which plants experience during hot,
dry weather" (Palms Throughout the World. David L. Jones).
In October 97, I laid out fifteen tons of five to ten millimetres
granite chippings over a weed suppressing membrane, called Plantex.
This covered the entire soil surface at 7.5cm deep. I hoped that
this would also be beneficial in reflecting precious light during
the dark winter months, (seven hours daylight) which it seems to
do. It was surprising how much it opened up the planting area, giving
the impression of more space so I can buy more plants! Then, maybe
there is a benefit of heat retention and preventing frost penetration
along with keeping the soil moist giving a better draining soil.
With the remaining Plantex I had an idea, winter protection
for the plants! I wanted something that was neat, quick and easy
to fit, could easily be removed during mild weather and held no
moisture. It kept the plants dry and of course protected from frost
and wind but still allowed the plants to breathe.. .The answer,
Plantex bags?? These were made on the sewing machine, they had a
Velcro opening down one side and an elastic drawstring at the open
end to tie around the trunk. For the larger plants such as the Butia,
we made a sleeve. Again with a Velcro opening down one side, but
open at each end with an elastic drawstring. The protection was
made for Brahea armata, Trithrinax acanthocoma, Jubaea chilensis,
Butia, two tree ferns and a Phoenix species given to me by Paul
Carnill in September 97. This plant was about 1.5 metres high with
the leaves, grown from seeds which he had collected from Crete,
thought to have been P. theophrastii At first the bags were made
of two thicknesses, later this proved not quite enough.
Winter 97/98 came early at the end of October with
two nights of-5 deg. C and hung around freezing during the day.
I usually start tying up palms in the middle of November, so only
the tree ferns were protected. I had packed fallen leaves into the
crown, and this is probably enough. But I really wanted to save
the fronds, I've seen pictures of tree ferns in Cornwall with huge
thick crowns, and having nice green fronds in March starts the year
nicely. Those two nights were a good test, the bags weren't quite
good enough. Also, the tall thin one loses its fronds to frost more
readily than the short fat one, does this mean fat ones are hardier?
The palms were ok, only the Trithrinax suffered with about thirty
per cent leaf bum. The rest of the winter, temperature-wise was
GREAT, mild with only the occasional frosts. Strong weather fronts
came in from the west which brings warmer air, and with it gale
force winds and LOTS of rain. The highest rainfall for over ten
years I believe, with major flooding in many areas during April.
Everything went through the winter unprotected, I didn't even tie
anything up. I was caught out one day in January were we had a light
snow fall not forecast. But all was Ok.
New palms for spring 96 were a large Rhapidophyllum,
the other two that I'd bought previously were looking very well,
two new leaves from each crown a year and the smallest was growing
more suckers. A large Phoenix canariensis, hardiness I believed
to be suspect, although the one previously given to me survived
the winter unprotected, albeit a mild one. So I decided to give
it a try, and known to be a fast grower made things more interesting.
I also, after reading the article, "Pot Planting" by Don
Tollefson POT PLANTED IT! Watering could have given me a problem,
so before the hole was back filled I pushed a short length of piping
about two centimetres in diameter down on the inside of the pot,
and made this flush with the soil surface so it couldn't be seen.
A hose can be left trickling into the pipe whenever the plant needs
watering. I know that the ideal size was a rootbound five gallon,
and the Phoenix must have been a rootbound fifteen or twenty gallon,
(sixty one centimetres in diameter pot) but if this method helps
to limit shock then I'm going to give it a try. Due to pressure
from 'her indoors' a number of seedlings were also planted out,
(pot planted) a Trithrinax campestris in a one gallon pot, Wallichia
densiflora a fifty centimetre high specimen, Trachycarpus martianus,
T. oreophilus, T. latisectus, T nanus, Caryota himalaya, Dypsis
decipiens and a Ceroxylon ventricosum The Dypsis and Caryota have
been protected all year by a glass cold frame with a removable lid.
I made this by sticking four panels of glass together with silicone.
The idea was taken from Don's "post planting techniques".
For sun and temperature we had a bad summer, four
hot days in May the maximum recorded 31 deg. C. and there was two
or three days in August. The rest, cloudy skies and rain with temperatures
lying in the early to mid twenties. Now in December the minimum
temperature so far has been -3 deg C. for several nights. The lowest
I've recorded during the last three years has been -6.5 deg C. Usually
cold spells last about two weeks in the middle of winter hovering
around freezing, we may get three or four spells a year which decrease
in duration and severity. But then there's the EXTREMES!
The gravel mulch I believe has made a HUGE difference
in establishing my plants. Not just the palms, everything has grown
faster for longer this year. The T. wag flowered in March, followed
a month later by T. fortunei, I lost count of the leaves produced.
The thickest and tallest calms produced up to date on the bamboo,
the largest fronds produced on the tree ferns, smaller ferns such
as Blechnum nudum and discolour grew ok without mulch but with it
have grown incredibly well. The Chamaerops, including var. cerifera
have flowered this year and growing very well, the largest trunk
on the green one has grown twenty five centimetres in three years.
Chamaedorea radicalis looks fantastic, flowering for the first time
this year, microspadix suckering and flowering this year. Rhapidophyllum
a slow grower but looks healthy, the first one planted producing
new suckers. I'm very pleased with my Butia capitata which produces
almost one leaf through the winter and five more in summer, growing
at its best in August.
As you know in its first winter the leaves on my Trithrinax
acanthocoma were burnt by frost and damaged by the wind, it's been
moved twice with the result of only growing three leaves this year.
A hole was found in the small trunk of my Brahea armata
after purchase, it was just below the soil surface about 2.5 cm
wide and 2.5 cm deep containing dry decaying tissue and insects
that would be expected in such a place. This isn't going to survive
its first winter I thought. Advised to clean the hole I scraped
everything out until reaching live solid tissue, then sprayed in
lots of fungicide and gave it a good powdering for the insects.
Before planting it in the way described earlier I filled the hole
with a substance called Arbitax, this is used to coat exposed wood
after pruning but can be mixed with sand to fill cavities. No ill
effects so far, four new leaves the first year and SIX the second.
The large 'pot planted' Phoenix canariensis had no
sudden surge of growth this summer which was disappointing, the
crown holds four new emerging leaves at once which had only little
movement The unknown Phoenix started to move at the end of the year
with two new leaves much stiffer than the previous As expected slow
growth from my Jubaea, a lovely palm producing two new leaves a
year. ...can't wait for next year!
Perseverance has paid off with my Sabal minor as the
leaves appear to be a little more frost resistant and the plant
grows two new leaves a year not one. Deciding to group plant this
palm should give a better effect as it only carries four good leaves.
The seedlings, T. martianus (five centimetre trunk)
The nursery grown leaves are damaged and are looking untidy the
two leaves produced outside this year look great. T. latisectus
three leaf seedling, all leaves grown this year outside, -3 deg.
and not a scratch! T. oreophilus seedling three leaves a year again
no damage, the new leaves are surprisingly stiff twenty five centimetres
long and two centimetres wide, thank goodness its changing in appearance
I thought that Martin Gibbons had sold me T. miscanthus by mistake
(joke). T. nanus a two leaf seedling planted amongst grass and no
frost damage. Ceroxylon ventricosum suffered after the first frosts
and now the centre has pulled out. All the leaves brown and shrivelled
on Wallichia densiflora and the protected Caryota 'himalaya', however,
they both feel firm and I'm hoping that they'll be growing back
in the summer, especially the Caryota I know its not the smartest
thing to do, planting seedlings outside but I was hoping it would
be a little stronger. Maybe the leaves were weak, I did have problems
with red spider mite on both plants, trying a number of different
chemicals including malathion which seemed to have no effect. How
does a seedling of, for example Caryota 'himalaya' survive its first
winter frosts in its natural habitat? On a good note the Dypsis
decipiens was untouched by -3 deg C. under its glass cold frame,
and suffered only very minor damage unprotected for one night at
the same temperature. What pleased me the most is the absolutely
unprotected Trithrinax campestris, grown two leaves outside during
summer and suffered no damage whatsoever. ..so far!
I had to adjust the Plantex bags this year, before
only having two layers of Plantex We've now sewn on the inside a
layer of "Envirofleece 60" which is a strong heavy grade
polypropylene fleece. So far the fronds on the Dicksonia's have
been untouched by -3 deg C. Let me remind you again the only palms
protected during the worst weather are Butia capitata, Brahea armata,
Jubaea chilensis, Trithrinax acanthocoma, and Phoenix. The leaves
on the Chamaerops are only tied, with two layers of Plantex wrapped
To end, I thank Martin Gibbons, a pioneer who has
achieved what most of us only dream about. Travelling the world
discovering new and lost species and bringing them back for us to
try in the comfort of our homes and gardens. Making it possible
for many people to share an interest and learn from each other,
none of which would have been so easy without such a person.
13-07-20 - 15:44GMT
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