Growing banana plants in the northern hemisphere didn't appeal to me so much. My mother had one with unknown origin in her garden, it was presented as a shoot by a neighbour. I'm not sure if it was located next to a fence and surrounded with bigger plants by luck or judgement, but in fact bananas thrive in company, the best fruit being produced in the middle of plantations when the conditions are right.
According to the RHS : Bananas need a long and sunny growing period of some nine to 15 months, with temperatures above 15C (60F) to fruit, with an optimum temperature of 27C (81F), followed by a further two to four months for the fruit to ripen.
So the best that the happy banana plant could produce was a few flappy, green leaves after dieing down each winter. I never even bothered to photograph it, but it was my mother's pride and joy.
|Summer 2012 - a banana plant is in the midst of this lush jungle|
We once went to a Chinese restaurant where one of the chef's specials was sticky rice parcels with finely-shredded pork and water chestnuts, steamed in banana leaf wrappers. It was difficult to detect if banana leaf essence contributed to the flavour of the dish but I had to admit it was moreish. She had a knack of being able to replicate restaurant meals at home, partly by gleaning as much information as she could from the waiters, the rest by guesswork. I wish I'd watched her concoction as I didn't notice which of the bottles on her Chinese shelf she shaked a dash from or how much Chinese 5-spice she sprinkled in; a few slices of roast pork from the man at the take-away perhaps. I do remember her going into the garden with a knife and returning with neat squares of banana leaf, which were passed over a gas flame till they were pliable.
I had forgotten all of that until I was wandering by her flower-beds a week ago and came across the banana plant, finally allowed to be prominent, not looking its best.
|January 2013 - banana plant stands alone|
Wild bananas are inedible as they are filled with relatively large seeds. The tiny black spots in the bananas we eat are unviable, vestigial seeds, remaining after planthunters found mutant seedless banana plants and bred them to produce deliciousness thousands of years ago. These sterile plants haven't evolved since, yet the diseases which attack them have and its just a matter of time before the Cavendish banana succumbs too.
A shoot of my mother's banana plant, potted and raised indoors might have a sliver of a chance of fruiting and a microscopic chance of mutating to bear seedless fruit; it might be the forebear of a new edible banana for the future. On the other hand, I could plant it by the fence in my own garden, surround it with some plants and bask in its exoticness, just like she did.
Bananas don't like to be alone :