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Decanting my wine palm

Posted by Phil Clayton, Features Editor, The Garden on 28 Aug 2009 at 11:05 AM

Finding the right place for a choice plant in my garden is becoming increasingly tricky; in some cases I find myself losing sleep over the problem – I lie there, trying to imagine what a plant might look like in a certain spot in two or three years time. Plants I obtain can, in many cases, now expect to wait months if not years before I find the right position or come up with an excuse to get rid of something already in situ.



A case in point is an expensive plant of Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm) I have had for at least four years (see above). It was a plant I could not resist, and bought before I had my current garden. This regal palm is a potentially vast plant, as anyone who has seen the example in the Temperate House at Kew will know, but very slow growing, and clearly tender. There are, however, a few large examples outside in the UK (mostly in the Southwest) and WJ Bean alludes to a plant grown outside at Kew in the 1870s. I believe it should take -8°c at a push. Last winter Phoenix canariensis survived undamaged in my garden and it is arguably more tender.

Normally I would not take this kind of risk – I have space under glass and can easily bring it under cover for winter. However, Jubaea resents potted life. In the last four years mine has barely grown, perhaps putting up a couple of leaves every year, and to my eye it is starting to go backwards. Last winter one of the emerging leaves rotted off thanks to being placed under a drip from my rather leaky orangery roof.

Do I leave it in a container and risk it suffering a slow decline, or do I plant it out to take its chances?

I finally made my mind up on Monday when I visited East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk, as part of my role at The Garden. The gardens were spectacular and there, thriving in the Desert Wash area, growing with all manner of xerophytic plants was a slightly larger, greener and happier Jubaea.

That did it. I took the plunge and planted mine, ripping out various Miscanthus and Campanula I won’t miss. It is in a sunny position 3ft from a south-facing wall (I know it will knock the wall over if it grows like the one at Kew, but I or it will be dead and gone by then) with a good bit of shelter around. The soil is fertile and really well drained. August is a bit late to plant but hopefully it should have three months before the frost.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!


My Jubaea chilensis planted out:


My Phoenix canariensis that has overwintered outdoors:




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