BY GARY MAY
Peter Knechtel no longer gives a second thought to the curious passersby who stop to talk while he’s out on the patio of his beachfront restaurant in Port Dover, preparing for another business day. He just smiles and assures them that yes, the palm trees are real.
Palm trees? On an Ontario beach? Has global warming come to this?
No, the palms are merely seasonal visitors, requiring the protection of an area greenhouse once the autumn frosts threaten. But while they’re there, roots planted firmly in the beautiful sand, they certainly get tongues wagging.
The trees’ arrival around the 24th of May weekend has become a much-anticipated annual event in this Lake Erie beach town south of Brantford. This is the fifth year that Courtland Gardens and Landscape Centre in nearby Tillsonburg has dispatched its “palm squad” to the restaurant Knechtel owns, Callahan’s Beach House, with a load of authentic Florida palms.
The stately trees, ranging up to about 15 feet in height, then reign over the sandy beach for the next five months and provide fodder for plenty of conversation.
Knechtel is used to the double-takes of newcomers. “They’re real eye-catchers, all right,” the restaurant owner tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “We promote the area as Ontario’s South Coast, so they’re a perfect complement. It looks like you’re somewhere down in the tropics. And the birds, they just love them.”
“People come up and scratch the trees to see if they’re real,” Knechtel adds.
Buy your own symbol of tropical paradise
Amber Way is garden centre manager at Courtland Gardens. “We get a transport truckload of them every year,” Way says. “We have customers all the way to Windsor. We’re the only ones in Ontario I know of who sells the big palms.” Clients include homeowners and businesses, she says.
Customers can buy a tree outright, for up to $1,500 each, or sign a three-year contract to have a tree delivered in May, then taken away around October for over-wintering in the greenhouse, to await their return outside the next spring.
Way says five of Courtland Gardens’ queen palms will be on the Port Dover beach this year. The garden centre also sells different varieties and sizes, including the smaller foxtails and royal palms, which Way says she’s partial to because of their stunning green trunks.
Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of the tropical lifestyle than the stately palm. True, Ontario might not enjoy a Caribbean-side location, but lying on a sandy beach under a gently swaying palm, the clear, blue waters of Lake Erie stretching before you, can certainly make you dream.
Pass the daiquiri, please.