Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham

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Caryota gigas

Caryota - fishtail palms

Palms have become the signature plant of our Northern gardens over the last decade or two. To our collective amazement we have discovered that there are dozens of palm species which thrive here and this is changing the whole mood and skyline of our gardens and cities.

The vaulting, dancing verticals of palm groves have added a lightness and drama to man-made landscapes which wasn't here twenty years ago when we were still struggling with the colonial cottage look which took so much work and only looked good for six weeks of the year.

Now that we're getting our heads around the palmy Pacific look, here's another frisson on the theme.. the fabulous fishtail palms. Caryota.

They splash and leap in cascades of finny leaflets with wonderful informality, more like a fountain of Ginkgo leaves than a palm. The very different texture of these exotic beauties makes a welcome softening contrast to the stark and spiky feel of many modern gardens.

Caryota ochlandra from Southern China grows at an astonishing rate, over a metre a year and is hardy to light frost and moderate winds. The 3 metre fronds hang in lush curtains of jagged leaflets for most of the height of the trunk. It seems to need full sun and responds vigorously to rich feeding.

My biggest one is eight metres tall after seven years and slurps up compost almost audibly. Actually, this one was planted over my last dog, a beautiful huntaway called Honey, and now when Whoopi, the current encumbent, grows wayward I just tell her quietly about the feeding habits of Caryotas.

And how nice it would be to plant some more.

(Copyright Russell Fransham 2003)