A plea for palms
Are there two kinds of people in the world – the ones who love palms and those who hate them? My diagnosis is that those in the second group have merely been infected by too many badly used cocos palms. Perhaps the pictures here can provide a cure. Linda Ross has her fingers crossed – she wants to change her mother’s mind on palms. Fast.
“My mum can’t stand palms. This came up when I designed a new garden for her along the theme of ‘tropical sanctuary’. She loved everything about it – but the palms. “I detest them, hate them, I will never plant a palm as long as I live.” Wow. I am a palm-lover. I am mad for that lush green and holiday promise; I love the circles they cut from the sky; their pleated fans and elegant arcs. And I just love that you can plant an entire garden of subtropical loveliness beneath them. Good looks? Check. Privacy? Check. Atmosphere? Check. What’s not to love, Mum?
On a recent trip to Singapore I saw how palms graced gardens, streets, mosques, and even skyscrapers! Here you can see the silhouettes of palms growing in the Gardens by the Bay, backed by the three towers and incredible cantilevered Observation Deck of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The unmistakable palm silhouette is mirrored on the roof of the hotel where they provide a bit of scale for the swimming pool, restaurants, bars and deck and cope while admirably coping with the high altitude and the winds.
Palms are also used in the exciting tiers of roof gardens that grace the exterior of the Parkroyal on Pickering st. This hotel’s look is inspired by Balinese rice terraces and each ‘terrace’ is planted out with a hardy gang of companions, anchored by palms. Here’s a view from one end of the swimming pool terrace.
I returned home inspired to redesign the family garden (as usual) and that’s when I ran into my maternal roadblock. I’m hoping to change her mind. Will these images help?
One I’d love to include in my new garden is this beauty, the lipstick palm or sealing wax palm (Crytostachys renda). I’ll have to pass on this though. Native to Singapore and a true resident of the tropics, sealing wax palm grows into well-mannered clumps, but only as far south as Brisbane. Here it is in the gardens of the Swisshotel Merchant Court, planted with red cordylines. The glowing red bits of the palm are the crown shaft and leaf sheath.
Better suited to Sydney are the silver pleated fronds of Bismark’s palm (Bismarkia nobilis). These line the streets alongside the conservatories in the Gardens by the Bay complex and are so eye-catching you can easily distinguish them from the boat-shaped Observation Deck atop Marina Sands Hotel, 200m in the air. I like Bismarkia in a huge pot, on a sunny balcony or courtyard. Unlike lots of other palms, this one doesn’t look out of place in Mediterranean-styled gardens.
Another favourite are travellers palms. These aren’t strictly palms but members of the bird of paradise family (Ravenala madagascarariensis). Here they are beside the Raffles Hotel, announcing to the weary traveller that a home away from home has been reached.
So here’s my gentle plea for palms Mum. They’ll add something no other plant can. Relax, let me fix you a Singapore sling and I promise you won’t regret a thing.”
Photos by Robin Powell and Linda Ross