Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Going bananas

In our garden adjacent to the pond an enormous banana flower bud has emerged. It seemed to suddenly appear overnight. The banana is one I transplanted from elsewhere in the garden and seems almost incongruous compared to the actual size of the whole plant. The exact type of banana is unknown as it was taken as a sucker from a plant in a friend’s garden years ago. This is now the third incarnation of the original, which has moved with us. I assume it is a lady finger as it never grows very large. The whole plant looks rather tatty at this time of year after suffering from the vagaries of the tempestuous weather but the flower, even if we don’t get fruit is worth it.
Bananas like moist and rich soil as they are gross feeders and being 90% water require large amounts to produce succulent fruit. The flower unfurls and the green fruit begin to appear, after some time though, the flower stops producing fruit, or at least they wither and drop off. It is at this point that the flower at the bottom of the stem should be removed to encourage the plant to put energy into developing the individual bananas. I another part of the garden we have two bananas, ‘Missi Luki’, a mountain Samoan banana, with bunches of fruit. These bunches can be cut from the tree when they are looking plump, but still green and will ripen in a warm sheltered spot. Another method of ripening the bananas is to wrap them in blue plastic, open at the bottom. For some reason this encourages the fruit to ripen, and commercial bananas are wrapped in blue plastic in their boxes. As the ‘Missi Luki’ banana is a plantain type. I imagine it would be good for frying green. As of yet I have not done this, but I am rather partial to bananas flambéed in Grand Marnier with a little butter and brown sugar, delicious with Pancakes!
Hanging over our back fence is the flower of another banana, the Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum syn. Musa ensete. This banana does set edible fruit, but does set viable seed. This is the only way to propagate this plant as it does not sucker and the main stem dies after flowering. All bananas are herbaceous perennials and die after flowering. The edible species do produce suckers around the base of the stem and these are what produce the next fruiting plants. A clump should be dept to around five stems, this way ensuring the plants get adequate nutrients. On cutting down the old stems, I cut them up with the old leaves and leave the to rot down around the base of the other plants, in this way creating a mulch and enriching the soil. A little nitrogenous fertiliser at this time of year will help them revive after their winter thrashing, other than that, bananas are easy care. It would have to be said they are best grown in a sheltered spot so as to avoid getting the leaves shredded in the gales of spring. They are non-the-less fairly resilient and will recover over summer.
Other ornamental bananas, with inedible fruit include Musa velutina, which produces bunches of rather furry stout pink bananas held in the upright position. This one have grown and only makes it to about 2m in height. The red banana, Musa coccinea, is yet another, rather tender banana, producing bright flowers followed by red fruits, also held in an upright position. Most other bananas will hang their flowers over with the bud to the ground.
For what ever reason you grow these plants for I think they are well worth the space in the garden, offering a taste of the tropics if nothing else.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Watering problem

Warm winds and sunny days soon dry out our soils, leaving gaping cracks in the ground and plants wilting. Dwindling water supplies at this time of year and the threat of a dry summer, I wonder just how my garden will survive. The news in the last week has been full of the problems our planet will face if we don’t, as a species, fully grasp the ideas of sustainability. They tell us global warming is now really a fact and we must take measures now if we are to avoid another “thirties” style depression. Sustainability seems to be the byword these days, so I feel a little nervous when there is mention of reticulating services on Waiheke. If only more places were like Waiheke, where we catch our own water and process our own waste (or partially process our waste, as at present pumped out septic waste is shipped to Auckland!?). After the great depression of the thirties, the “quarter acre pavlova paradise” was set up. State housing and a back yard for everyone, no one need go hungry again. What has happened? Water and septic reticulation mean properties can be subdivided and more people to the acre supported and property prices go up. Many on Waiheke still have their won vegetable patch and grow fruit trees, a hang over from the days when the ferry service was not as regular and the shops as plentiful. My own patch is only small but in two years I have managed without buying water, admittedly we are only two in the house hold and I let the vegetable patch go over the summer. This year though I hope for better success with the use of pea straw mulch to hold in the moisture and stop the soil temperature from becoming too hot. So for some of the year I have the pleasure of harvesting my own produce, in the knowledge that it has been organically grown and the taste is so far superior to the shop bought produce. As for the rest of the garden plants are selected for the fitness to the environment in which they have been planted, this means they will get no water from me, so if they survive then they will stay. I wet subtropicals over the septic field and arid loving plants from places like the Mediterranean, South Africa, Mexico and New Zealand in other parts. So far the idea is working but plants still need a little bit of nurture in their first year or so. To this end I collect the water from the kitchen sink for those in desperate need.
I certainly don’t know what the answers to all these problems are, but certainly there are some things we can do and should do personally. I realise not every one is fortunate enough to have access to a piece of land but those who do, it seems a pity not at least grow something that is of use to us.
Don’t forget the Garden Safari next weekend, I am looking forward to this event naturally enough and hope the weather is kind to us!