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Palm Growing in the North-West of England

The north-west of England is not the first place one thinks of in relation to palms, but as George Oaks writes, there are a number that can grow there, and tells us about his successes and failures.
George Oaks, 57 Abbey Road, St Mary´s, Cheshire WA3 IEP, U.K.
Chamaerops No.42 - 2001

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Picture 1: A palm imposter.
Picture 2: Ensete ventricosum, the Abessinian Banana.
Picture 3: Mature Hedyscepe with unripe fruit.
Picture 4: A young Coconut palm.

Many years ago, while on holiday in Italy, I became interested in palms. I picked up a few seeds, which were scattered over the ground beneath most of the trees, and put them in my pocket thinking, "I´ll give them a try." That was 25 years ago.
I forgot about the seeds, two Phoenix canariensis and one Chamaerops humilis, until the following year when I was cleaning out a lot of old pots from my greenhouse. It was a quite cold February day and very frosty. I was looking at a broken pane of glass with a corner missing when I noticed this grass-like leaf about two inches high sticking up from the soil in one of the pots. It was thick with ice. I left it alone, just to see if it would grow. It did!

It turned out to be the Chamaerops, and I am pleased to say it is still with me. It is now over five feet, two inches tall with a spread of over three feet, and a nice, thick, yellow-green trunk. I keep it to a single trunk just like its parents in the main street of Pompei, "the dead city." It is growing outside in a raised bed along with my Trachycarpus fortunei.

The two Phoenix grew the following spring. I left one outside and lost it, but the other is still with me. It grew very slowly, but is now about eight feet tall with a one foot trunk. It is kept outside all year except when the temperature falls below zero; then it is housed in my conservatory. Being too heavy to lift, it is in a large tub with rope handles bought from the local supermarket, which makes it very easy to drag.

The Chamaerops, now over 25 years old, flowered for the first time this year. Another is 30 years old but smaller, probably because it came without roots from a building site in Spain. This one also flowered, but seeds were not produced, making me believe they are both the same sex. I have two others, one a yellow-leaved form named "Volcano" that will possibly reach five feet in another 50 years, and a blue-leaved form about which I know nothing. The 30 or more year-old plant, although only 18 inches tall, is the most beautiful palm I have, being in almost perfect shape. Coming from the wild, it takes no looking after at all, and I think it is just happy to be alive with roots again. (It took two years for it to grow them again.)

The rest of my collection, all of which are grown from seed, include Queen palm, Butia Capitata, Livistona australis, Washingtonia filifera and robusta, Rhopalostylis sapeda, Chamaerops costaricana, Sabal minor, and, if they germinate, Jubea chilensis (they have been in pots a year and I am still waiting for some movement). I have also a collection of three types of Cordylines, but this year's frost has given them a beating.

All my palms, which are in pots, are kept outside from March to November, and do better outside than in. The Chamaedoria costaricana loves it outside in a shaded part where it can be blown in the wind. It also likes the rain, and has gone from a £2.99 plant in a two and a half inch pot to a £299. plant growing in a two feet, six inch pot. It has grown into a clump of palms as wide as it is tall, at over three feet. It has not flowered yet, but it looks as if it will this year. Lots of people want seeds from it.

Lastly, like most people keen on palms, I have a collection of Trachycarpus. I have maybe 100 or so T. fortunei, both floppy and stiff-leaved versions. I find the stiff-leaved version hardier to below -5°, and I intend to plant some in a wooded area. I own to give it a bit of a different look. I also have one T. takil, four T. nana, one T. martinanus, and one T. wagnerianus. Of particular interest are the T. nana seedlings, which are kept inside on the dry side. Just one was planted in the wettest, coldest, windiest part of my garden. The one outside is the best colour, and has withstood -10° this year for one night only, but -5° for two or more nights, -1° for 10-15 nights, and rain for more or less the last four or five months. The ground is well drained and has six inches of old farmyard manure (I have horses and chickens) placed around it each year, which does help. It looks in better condition than a three feet high T. fortunei with a nine inch-thick trunk after this bad winter, so the others are going outside for good. Keep growing!

Readers Comments:

On 14-11-2001 Lee Mullen wrote:
Palm Growing in the North-West of England:
I would have thought that Washingtonia robusta would be worth a go outside in Cheshire.
I had a 3footer which survived very well in Chester.

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