Idiot’s Guide to Palms in Britain

(page 3)

These are the things you need to know before going down the tropical path (with palms) in Britain that I wasn’t told:

1. Britain is mostly sopping wet and has cool summers, which means things grow slowly (I should’ve worked that one out myself).

2. Any big palm will almost certainly have been grown in a field and will not grow well for several years while it re-establishes its roots (frighteningly expensive = pot grown).

3. Drainage is not as important for some species as others, i.e. Trachys will grow in clay with ease and lap it up along with Chamaerops humilis, and Butia doesn’t seem to mind it either as long as it’s not a bog.

4. Chamaerops and Trachys seem to grow in any position, i.e. total shade, north facing, in clay, etc. They really are that tough.

5. Most palms like wind-free conditions to look their best, and bear in mind that as they grow slowly they can soon look a mess without it.

6. They are a lot hardier than most will tell you. Here -6C (21F) does almost nothing damage-wise for 95% of them and they are unprotected except by high fences and tall bamboos to slow the wind. Smaller plants will probably not be as hardy.

7. For the ones that don’t like wet winters (Brahea, etc.) try and put a plastic cover over them to keep them dry (such as a golf umbrella). Remember it’s not the cold they can’t stand; it’s the wet with it.

8. When buying palms, don’t go for the largest. Go for the ones with the thickest, most cardboard-type leaves and with a good set of spears in the crown pushing out (the more the better for fastest growth). The reason my Brahea and Phoenix died was that they were grown under glass and had stretched petioles and were generally not as tough as ones grown outdoors.

9. There is a limit with all plants, but you’ll have to find your own. My advice: move to central London or Cornwall or anywhere within 100 yards of the sea, preferably west/south coast, for maximum growth rates.

10. Spending a thousand pounds on plants? Then ask for at least a 20% discount.

11. Buy at sale times at the Palm Centre, i.e. winter (you don’t get the biggest plants but in a few years no one will notice).

12. Lie through your teeth. Say you’re a landscape gardener to get a discount and print off some headed paper to suggest this. You can cleave at least 20% off most suppliers.

13. Prepare your ground as best as you possibly can and work out where your sun is for the best results. Don’t forget winter sun is the most important for quick defrosting. Take into account that it’s at a lower point in the sky in winter and things that it may clear in the summer it won’t in the winter, leaving plants in shade, whereas at the height of summer they may well get full sun.

14. High fences and screening to stop Mr. Wind.

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