Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre

September is the cruellest month. Irrespective of how good or how bad the summer has been, it is the month that contains ‚that day‘ when for the first time in several months you step outside and in a split second realize that summer is over. There is a sharpness to the air, an edge to the temperature and you know that even though there may yet be a temporary reprieve, that, basically, is that. It is particularly cruel this year when summer, such as it was, was so long in coming, at least for us in northern Germany, France, the UK and the Low Countries. While people in the south of Europe were literally dying in the record breaking high’s, we were shivering in our boots. A false dawn in March gave us a hot week, but April was the wettest April since records began (it rained every single day in England), May, June and much of July provided indifferent temperatures and things only started to improve in August, already way too late for it to make a significant difference. And now September, six entire months to go before we can expect to see any improvement again. Goodness, it’s depressing!

I just returned from a vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. It’s a desert town, at 2000m above sea level. Here the climate is totally predictable (apart from some serious rain, the first in three months, that arrived as I did, but we’ll ignore that). The summers are warm, but not unpleasantly hot. Unfortunately the winters are a bit parky, considerably more so than London, and an interesting example of the part that altitude can play in temperatures. Although it is on the same latitude as Gibraltar and Sicily, the average winter lows are –6’s and –7’s °C, as opposed to, say, Sicily’s +8’s and +10’s. London’s average minimum temperatures are also warmer for all but 2 months of the year, and during those 2 months (July and August) they are the same. This seems incredible when you consider that London is about 1000 miles further away from the equator. The two big differences are of course, our temperate, ocean influenced climate, and Santa Fe’s altitude. God bless the Gulf Stream!

The other major difference is – you guessed – no palms! While their summers are entirely appropriate to the cultivation of palms, their winters are definitely not. The vegetation consists of small Colorado pines (pinyo), lots of a species of Yucca and a profusion of colourful wild flowers. Coyotes howl at night, huge jack-rabbits hop by day, under the watchful eye of eagle and buzzard. Nobody talks about global warming there, and as for palms, there is not one to be seen!

Talking of Yuccas, there is an excellent new book out on the subject. It is ‘Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants’ by Mary & Gary Irish. It is a book that is sorely needed and long overdue. There is a colour photo of almost every species (over 100 are discussed) and keys to enable the reader to identify agave and yucca. Unfortunately, this did not work with my Santa Fe plant, and I still have no idea of its identity. That aside, it is a brilliant book, easy to use, using simple language and it is highly recommended. There are growing tips, chapters about propagation and winter protection, and watering regimes. I had to laugh when I read that in hot climates (and here the author is talking 100 deg F+) A. americana should be watered just twice per month! I guess that means that in the UK they probably never need watering! Each species is rated for cold hardiness and there is a chunky paragraph covering each and every plant’s cultural requirements. All in all a great book, fairly priced at £25 and, spookily enough, available from The Palm Centre, but also, I am sure from Amazon.com who are undoubtedly more efficient!

A little space left for me to personally thank Toby Spanner and his brother Rudolph, for the enormous efforts they have both put in, in order to get our journal back on track. Well done and thanks for all your hard work. MG.


  13-12-19 - 05:56GMT
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An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms
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'Palmen in Mitteleuropa'
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This german book tells you all about how to cultivate your palms in Central Europe. more...