A fabulous year for palms

It’s a fabulous year for palms.  Exactly why, though, I’m not quite sure …

Their current unmitigated fabulousness may have been triggered off by the changeable weather, which has definitely surpassed itself in the unpredictability stakes so far this year.

I suspect it was the all-too-brief (but glorious) heatwave which gatecrashed April by mistake like a guest at the wrong party, vaguely dishevelled but prepared to give it a go.

Or maybe the unseasonal and highly unwelcome late frosts in May.  Then again, it could just be a bumper year in the normal cycle of things.  I don’t know.


But whatever the reason, here in the west of Britain, it’s certainly turning out to be a fabulous year for palms.

Torbay Palms (cordyline australis) are a common sight in gardens and fringing seaside footpaths here in Wales. At which point, I should mention that they’re not really palms and they’re not actually from Torbay.  At least, not originally.

The name comes from the plants’ long association with the English Riviera, which had its heyday in the early 20th century.  At this time, Devon was enthusiastically and valiantly promoting itself as a stylish (but more accessible) alternative to the South of France, gamely ignoring certain blatantly obvious differences.

Along the Agatha-Christie-ish promenades of Torquay and its environs the palms languidly stride, lending their seafronts a somewhat raffish, nineteen-thirties air.

english riviera

Though originally from New Zealand, the trees definitely thrive in our balmy, maritime climate. But this Spring they’ve been doing waaaaaay more thriving than usual.

To put things into context, some years our Torbay Palms don’t blossom. Or don’t blossom much.  But since Easter, all the specimens hereabouts – almost without exception – have started pushing out an unusually abundant batch of green flower spikelets.  It’s been clear that we were in for a bountiful showing this year, and they haven’t disappointed.

Curtain-up was this week. The palms, diva-like, have just flowered en masse and are now profusely covered in weighty, drooping panicles of foaming, creamy petals.  Not only are their extravagant plumes visually striking, but they also dispense clouds of delicate, sweet fragrance.  These huge flower spikes can reach up to three feet long; so huge, in fact, that on some trees this year the leaves are barely visible for blossom. It is, indeed, a grand sight.

Torbay palms

The inflorescences will soon be followed by a crop of white berries, which will be rapidly devoured by birds. And then, as quickly as it came, the performance will be over.

But for now, whatever triggered this frankly prodigal display, it’s time to simply relax and enjoy it.

You’ve got to hand it to Torbay Palms – they certainly know how to carpe the diem.

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