Palm Reading and Childhood Holidays: Guest Blog

This Guest Blog is by Mark Charlton, grower at Little Cliff Kitchen Garden, part of Trenow Fields. Mark describes it as “a new little farm on Mounts Bay with big ambitions to re-generate a healthier land to support healthier lives”. Under organic conversion, the tiny team are committed to improving biodiversity and the health of the soils to sustainably grow delicious food and medicinal herbs for the local community and beyond. Mark says, “The vision is that the whole project will become an exemplar of diversity and rural regeneration to inspire others including our landlords the National Trust.”

On moving to West Cornwall last year, Mark found Morrab Gardens stirred memories of childhood holidays.

My love of the natural world began thanks to Rudyard Kipling and Disney. I read avidly when I was child and was delighted that at 7 years old I could spell “onomatopoeia” especially since my mum couldn’t. My parents would declare throughout my childhood that they wanted better for me than they’d had and this meant saving all they could towards an annual holiday to Florida, the home of DisneyWorld and The Magic Kingdom.

A Cordyline and Phoenix palm tree at the roadside outside St John's Hall
Many of the roads in Penzance are lined with palm trees, like these outside St John’s Hall

Palm trees silhouetting almost every street corner

While scent and songs are our most profound connection to memory, nestling in the reptilian brain (who can’t recite “I Wanna Be Like You-ou-ou”!) , then surely the visual sense is next. As the aeroplane doors were flung open, my young mind was impressed so vividly with palm trees as the heady musky tropics of the Floridian air filled my lungs. I thought this was The Magic Kingdom. When I moved to Penzance earlier this year, I was thrilled to see palm trees silhouetting almost every street corner, some like giant pineapples – hulking botanic masterpieces.

Guest blog author Mark Charlton with colleague at Trenow Fields
Guest blog author Mark Charlton with Farm Manager Philip Kadner at Trenow Fields

Running an organic market garden just down the road behind Trenow Cove, I was keen to plant a few palms as a gorgeous reminder on halcyon summer days that Florida was right here. At less than one acre, with vegetables and salads taking up most of the space, I needed to choose wisely so, in time, essential nutrients wouldn’t be gulped down by the palms’ deep root system.

Several varieties of palm tree can be seen at Morrab Gardens, including this Trachycarpus and Phoenix Palm
A Trachycarpus and Phoenix Palm in Morrab Gardens

Inspired by Morrab Gardens

Inspired by the splendid examples in Morrab Gardens, and with advice from Head Gardener, Joe, I chose Trachycarpus, otherwise known as Chinese windmill palm fan, because they are tall and thin the kind featured printed on classic ‘Wish you were here’ beach holiday postcards. Native to Asia as the palm’s name suggests, its all year green will eventually give much needed colour in the winter months at Trenow while its height (up to 12m) lending a little drama in the corner of Little Cliff Market Garden.

A Trachycarpus seedling planted at Trenow Fields
One of the Trachycarpus seedlings planted by Mark at Trenow Fields

So far, I’ve planted three Trachycarpus in a sheltered spot and will cover them for the coldest months. Until they’re at least 2-3m, they won’t be affected by the occasional tremendous wind by the coast. When established, these palms have been recorded to tolerate down to -8°C which might be a hefty reminder that I’m not actually in Florida!

A photo, believed to be from the 1930s, showing three people working in Little Cliff fields, Trenow, probably harvesting potatoes. St Michael's Mount can be seen in the background.
The fields around Trenow have long been used for growing vegetables. This photo, believed to be from the 1930s, shows people at work harvesting potatoes.

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