Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The most high and palmy state of Rome

Washingtonia robusta at the Spanish steps
It's the time of year - especially on such a horrible cold, wet and windy day, with the first snowflakes of the season coming down - to reminisce about warmer times and happy days in the sun, so this is the first of a few posts, catching up with things I missed earlier.

Phoenix canariensis
When we were in Rome in August I thought that an interesting theme would be to photograph palms - Roman pines being somewhat overdone - and to see what species were grown outdoors there. The selection proved in fact to be quite limited, and no more than might have been tried by adventurous British gardeners in the early and mid 2000s (we didn't visit any botanical gardens, where there might have been a wider diversity). The difference is, however, that all these species were thriving rather than lingering, and in the hot sun and around fine buildings they are seen to their best advantage: a Phoenix shivering by the Thames does not have the same presence as one by the Tiber. Here are a selection of pictures, hopefully conveying something of this.

A fine old Chamaerops humilis on the Capitoline Hill.

Trachycarpus fortunei by the Villa Medici

Chamaerops seedling in the Forum

The title of this post is a quotation from Hamlet, and as I learnt from A.N. Wilson's engaging book, The Elizabethans (2011), it is an example of hendiadys, the coupling together of two words to make one sense. It was a usage that took root and flourished in 16th Century England, with Cranmer's prayer book ('erred and strayed', 'devices and desires', 'to have and to hold') and Shakespeare's plays ('slings and arrows', 'lean and hungry', 'wasteful and ridiculous') being particularly rich in hendiadys: they make for euphonious reading and the English language is greatly enriched by them. Hendiadys - when one looks for it - is everywhere. I see that, unconsciously, one has crept into the first paragraph ('wet and windy') and, more appositely, Kipling's 'dominion over palm and pine' is another.

Butia capitata, by the bus stop, Tivoli


  1. When I went to live in Rome for a period in the eighties, the Palms were something I didn't expect. Although I now cannot imagine Rome without them, it would be interesting to know when they started to be grown there.

  2. I love the idea of palms in the UK lingering as opposed to thriving. Its to true especially those that have been battered by the winter and have tatty and brown leaves. I also think they generally look incongorous in this country unless in a special exotic garden. I recently visited a garden in the depth of rural Herefordshire where there were a collection of very large palms but they just looked wrong and the Head Gardener agreed but had no say!


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