Singing the blues - Part four.jpg

Singing the blues – Part four

OUR OWN life expectancy is continually increasing. It was 49 years at the start of the 20th century and 75 years at the end of it. Thanks to modern science, it is expected to go on lengthening. It will be a long time, however, before Homo sapiens can hope to compete with palm trees, whose lives are estimated to stretch over 200 years.

By far the most majestic representatives of the vegetable kingdom belong to the palm family. Few people can fail to be mesmerised by their graceful fronds dancing in the breeze and great use may be made of palms to enhance gardens in the Algarve. At last we are seeing a wider range of distinct palm species appearing in public spaces. Providing some care is taken in making their plantations, dozens of distinct species are capable of being successfully cultivated in our climate. I hope this article will stimulate your palm based taste buds!

One category of palms that is broadly connected are the blues, and should be highly valued for their non green foliage – quite a boost to gardens with large swathes of green foliage.

Brahea armata, commonly known as The Mexican Blue Palm, grows slowly to about 10 metres, although our example at QM Garden Centre is about 15 years old, and is perfect at three metres tall. Frost resistant and totally drought resistant, it is the perfect replacement for that dull corner of your garden.

Here is a good tip. Palms like to be planted on a crown, or small mound. There is no need to hack away for hours trying to dig the biggest hole possible; just excavate around half the depth of the pot and mix this out-fill with good rotted manure. Remove the palm from the pot and plant it half in the ground, half out. Gently surround the remaining bare roots with the mixture of out-fill and water. If you need to water more thoroughly, create a circle well outside of the root ball. This will also encourage the roots to move out and seek the water. The other advantage is that you instantly have a slightly taller palm!

Surround the palm in river gravel or pine bark and you really have transformed a dull hidden corner into a wow factor.

One of the advantages of the solo palm is that it does actually take a lot of space – why water six thirsty Lantana cameras when you can have one spectacular Brahea armata? Allow an approximate two-metre circumference around the trunk. Or why not be a devil and allow four metres, with the addition of three or four gnarled old rocks or a rotted tree trunk or two? A good adage is to really break the mould to create a one off. I often think this when I drive along endless lawn after lawn in Quinta do Lago …

If you have a little less space or want a perfect container plant, then a little gem is Chamaerops atlantica, the dwarf hacksaw palm. Like its cousin, Chamaerops humilis, which is Portugal’s only native palm, this palm will grow eventually to about a metre or so, but its strength lies in being hardy, drought resistant and very showy with light blue leaves. In a pot, it will happily survive with only a light watering every week or so. It has a minimal root spread, so can be planted right up to the edge of paths – although take care, its tiny hacksaw-like spines will give a light bite if you run into it! I stress the use of this palm in the foreground, maybe surrounded by a few succulents and top-dressed with some of our Tagus river gravel. This is a new product at QM and not yet seen in many gardens in the Algarve.

If you have excess space in your garden or want to appreciate a magnificent palm while wandering deep into your jungle at sunset, with glass of wine in hand, why not purchase a Butia capitata, the Brazilian Jelly Palm? Its feathery grey green leaves curve majestically towards the ground. Its light canopy does not really create a shade but filters the sunlight allowing good planting of lilies and sub tropicals underneath. Its leaves are harmless, so it looks perfect in a raised bed where there is a path close by. It will tolerate heavy frosts and grows slowly to around six metres. Close to our lake at QM, our example is around 12-years-old and roughly four metres high. It has a close relative, Butia yaty, which grows taller with a narrow trunk but is rarely seen in Portugal.

Whatever the palm, there is always a space in your garden. At QM, we have a collection of all the palms mentioned above and also those written about in previous articles. Stuart would invite any reader to call him on 917 814 261 or e-mail to [email protected] if they have an interesting palm or cycad he can inspect.

Readers are invited to visit QM Garden Centre. It is located on the road between Santa Bárbara de Nêxe and Estoi. For visitors further away, leave the Algarve motorway at Junction 14 (signposted São Brás/Faro) and turn left immediately then after 500 metres left again.

Changes abound at QM this year with a Spring Fair on May 1. The official opening of their 18-hole crazy golf course is on June 25. Later in the year, there is the opening of an 18-hole putting green to add to their existing lawn bowling club and table tennis centre.

More activities will be added, as funds allow, in order to enhance QM as an entertainment centre for tourists and, importantly, residents alike. QM is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday. Open seven days a week from June 25. Telephone 289 999 613.