Phoenix roebelenii

Or, 'How To Cook A Pygmy'. By the man with the electric garden.
by Peter Tenenbaum, 17 Spaniards End, Hampstead, London NW3
Chamaerops No. 06, published online 23-10-2002

The Pygmy Date Palm, Phoenix roebelenii, from Laos and the hot steamy jungles of South East Asia looks like an unlikely subject for outdoor cultivation in Britain, but don't be deterred by what you read in the textbooks, this baby is a lot tougher than her delicate appearance might suggest. Although rated Zone 10, she is certainly worth trying in all but the coldest localities. Certainly she is tender, not withstanding temperatures much below -4°C, but if you are prepared to invest the necessary time and effort, and more importantly the financial outlay in providing protection, growing your own Roebelenii is not all that difficult.

My first experience with this highly prized palm began in the spring of 1990 when I planted a four-foot specimen topped with a fabulous head of leaves - absolutely stunning. An unusually hot summer together with regular applications of horse manure (a fitting meal for a princess), washed down with a few gallons of vintage H 0, gave this beautiful palm a great start for what lay ahead.

Come October it was time to think of protection. This took the form of a really thick mulch, bandaging the trunk generously with hessian and a thermostatically controlled heated cable snaking its way around that. Finally two heavy gauge polythene bags over the whole arrangement, securely tied top and bottom, these can be rolled down like a stocking on mild days to give the plant an essential airing, and pulled back up as soon as cold weather threatened.

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