Palms in the Channel Islands

An interesting look at palm life in the Channel Islands, off the coast of France. The palms are indeed there, if you know where to find them.
Michael A.F. Carter, 52 Golden Avenue, West Kingston, N. East Preston, Littlehampton, West Sussex BN16 1QX

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Above: A large Phoenix canariensis at Candie Gardens, St. Peter Port, Guernsey.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to visit Jersey on a number of occasions, but have been to the neighboring island of Guernsey less frequently. Jersey has a mid-winter mean temperature of 6.5°C /44°F with a summer high of 18°C/64°F. Although the island is heavily influenced by the mild Gulf Stream, it lies only a dozen miles off the Cherbourg peninsular and can be influenced by the Continental land mass to the east, under certain weather conditions, which can give colder snaps and greater heat waves than these mean temperatures would suggest. Guernsey lies some 20 miles further west and has a slightly more oceanic climate, offering milder winters and cooler summers.

Sub-tropical vegetation has long been planted in the islands, raised from cuttings and seeds dropped off by passing ships visiting more exotic climes. The important holiday industry has further promoted the growing of palms and similar exotic plants. Cordyline australis and Trachycarpus fortunei, for example, appear everywhere, and 20 feet high Chamaerops humilis can be seen in the grounds of Saumarez Manor in South-East Jersey near the capital, St. Helier. Young tree ferns have also been planted in the Howard Davidson Memorial Park in St. Helier.

Severe frosts in the winter of l986/87, however, decimated the Cordyline population and changed the local landscape in Jersey for a number of years before the new suckers could revive and grow back to the 15 to 20 foot specimens that are seen everywhere today . Phoenix Canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm, was not able to recover, however. I recall a beautiful specimen growing amongst the picturesque cottages of local granite behind St. Brelade's Bay. This Canary Island Date was a magnificent specimen around 20/25 feet high. The owner told me that she and her husband had driven back from Alicante some 25 years earlier with two young palms. One was planted in the front garden and one in the back. The palm in the front had survived, but was badly damaged by the frost of the winter of l986/87. It was showing signs of recovery when it was blown down by the hurricane of October, l987. The owner said that its trunk had become like jelly. I recall younger Phoenix canariensis at Mt. Sohier and near La Corbiere, which also disappeared around this time.

After a succession of mild winters, however, the Canary Island Date has reappeared along the front at Gorey, where a number of handsome trees are growing, and at St. Aubyn, where some of the local Tracycarpus have taken on the dimensions of Washingtonias. There is also a strong Washingtonia filifera growing by the entrance of the St. Peter Garden Center near Jersey Airport.

As stated earlier, my visits to Guernsey have been less frequent. However, I recall seeing two large Phoenix canariensis growing at Candie Gardens in St. Peter Port. A brief visit in 1991 showed that at least one had survived and was still flourishing, together with a smaller Canary Date, although its large partner and some citrus trees growing along a walled area had disappeared.

I was fortunate enough to spend two days in September of 1999 on a business trip to Guernsey, and was able to confirm that the magnificent Phoenix canariensis still thrives in Candie Gardens. There are also a number of smaller palms of the same species in neighboring gardens and along the sea-front of St. Peter Port. A huge Datura bush, plus numerous species of normally winter-tender Fuchsias growing in gardens nearby, testified further to the local climate on Guernsey - situated as it is just the vital few miles further out to sea, away from the Continental influence of the European mainland with its periodic winter plunges of temperature.

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