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.


At 2:09 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

Hi Ewen,
I enjoyed reading the article on your bananas. I have around 60 growing here, in my place in New Plymouth- mostly Ladies Fingers which produce the odd crop.


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