Sunday, January 9, 2011

A winter casualty

Nothing in a garden is ever permanent.  Plants may grow - but they also die.  I've lost a well established Phoenix canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm.  January 2010 was harsh in Plymouth.  A couple of weeks of sub zero temperatures with persistent frost and snow saw it off.  I looked for recovery all summer but no new spears were in evidence.  It could have been resting – there was still green on the badly battered fronds.  But, finally, the recent really low temperatures have crushed my remaining hopes.

Even in the relative warmth of Devon or Cornwall these are always going to be marginal plants.  There are a few larger specimens in very favoured gardens but these are isolated survivors, protected by their individual micro-climates against the hard winters we do get down here every ten years or so.  In recent years, emboldened by the run of warmer winters, lots of young plants have been sited in local gardens.  I bought two small (cheap) specimens in 2003.  One perished early on.  The other thrived - to the extent I was beginning to worry about it taking over a part the garden.  I had, of course put it too close to the house wall and the fronds were reaching to over ten foot (3 metres) before winter struck and removed that problem.

Growth was a little slow at first - perfectly normal for this palm - but, once it got it's roots down it accelerated very nicely.  The photo below shows the growth between 2005 and 2007 - quite impressive for only 3 years in a cool climate where the growing season is relatively short.

Phoenix canariensis growth rate
By the summer of 2009 it was even larger - quite a feature in a small garden.  There is nothing quite like the effect a pinnate fronded palm has in creating a more exotic, sub tropical air.  Now it's gone.  Which means I've got to dig it out - and the remains are pretty hefty.

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