This is post #1 in a series all about cold hardy palms and cycads, as seen at the Florida State College of Jacksonville's palm arboretum. There's a huge variety of specimens, ranging in hardiness from the ultra freeze proof windmill palm to the only slightly frost tolerant Alexandra Palm. There are feather palms, clumping palms, fan palms, rare cycads, and even some bananas, white bird of paradise and bromeliads thrown in for the heck of it!
When I attended this college, I was constantly staring at all the unusual shapes and forms at the arboretum, and its hard to say if my grades suffered or were improved by the diversion. Now that I am fluent in the language of gardening, its especially rewarding to see all of the rare surprises they have in store, like the tightly packed unripe berries on the seashore palm. (following pic)
The Palm arboretum is fascinating for its informative collection, but from an aesthetic perspective I have to say it falls short of my expectations, not by any fault of the designers mind you. The placement is perfect and the groupings of clustering smaller palms an sagos are great, but by consisting of palms exclusively the garden highlights the negative qualities of palms and cycads too. Man cannot live on palms alone, for they cast little shade on a hot day, lack the softening qualities that dicots have, and visually get jumbled together without a backdrop of breezy dark green leaves.
I feel that palms are best used in the context of surrounding finer foliage to set off the architectural shapes, the way they would (usually) appear in nature. Apart from Aechmea Distichantha bromeliads and parched looking turf, there is no groundcover to soothe the eye and make the architectural outlined of the palms "pop". Throughout the arboretum there are no trees to add variety to the monotonous groupings, and accordingly there is no shade for the students to really utilize the space, except at the margins.
The arboretum is an excellent educational tool to see what palms were able to handle a couple of record breaking winters. Some palms sustained damage, and at least one is now dead. The Foxtail Palm is definitely dead, and though the crownshaft on the Picabeen Palm is green, there are no green leaves. As you'll see in the photos, most of the palms fared pretty well! Here is a listing of the specimens.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, full of unusual cold hardy palms and helpful info!