Many palms are tender, and the part of the country you are gardening in will determine whether you can permanently plant them outdoors or not. If you’re in a warmer part of the country one of the tougher palms to try is Chamaerops humilis.
This single species genus originates from the western Mediterranean, where it grows in dry scrub and on rocky, sandy slopes. To grow Chamaerops successfully outdoors in the UK you need to replicate these sunny, well-drained conditions as closely as possible.
This palm will also tolerate poor soil and part shade but of course dislikes wet or heavy soils, particularly during the cold winter months. Chamaerops is frost tender which means it is at risk if the temperature drops below freezing, but if the soil is well drained this will help enormously. At RHS Garden Hyde Hall Chamaerops has survived temperatures of -8°C.
In colder or wetter parts of the country this palm can be grown successfully in a conservatory or greenhouse that is kept frost free in a large pot. In this situation it should be fed once a month with a balanced fertiliser and watered during the growing season, but only watered sparingly during the winter months.
A bushy palm, Chamaerops has broad leaves 2-3ft long that have 12-15 linear segments or leaflets, borne in dense tufts or rosettes. As it matures it produces suckers from the base which enlarges the plant and gives it greater structure. The leaves are green with white wool on the undersides giving a greyish appearance to the leaf and they have sharp teeth along the leaf axils. Chamaerops is relatively slow growing and over time it will reach 10ft high and 5ft across.
Chamaerops makes a fantastic specimen and is one of the few plants that can be planted on its own as a structural element to give an evergreen backbone to a garden.
Chamaerops will work in a smaller garden for its specimen qualities and it also works well in larger gardens such as the Dry Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall where several are used through the scheme as an evergreen linking element. Although many of the plants on the Dry Garden are herbaceous, a backbone of the planting is structural evergreens such as phormiums, yuccas, Abies and Cupressus which look at their best during the winter months when the summer perennials have faded.
Indeed, Chamaerops looks great during the winter with a layer of snow or frost over the foliage and contributes to the Dry Garden by always having textural interest and structure throughout the year. Towards the end of the year perennials such as Zauschneria californica ‘Ed Carman’ or grasses such as Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ or Orizyopsis miliacea work well planted around Chamaerops.