Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Banana (30 JAN 2013)

They say that commercially-grown Gros Michel bananas imported till the 1950s, before Panama disease attacked, were richer and sweeter than those we eat today. I can only imagine ...

We have to make do with the Cavendish variety of banana. When I'm in a healthy phase it's my mid-morning snack, a satisfactory substitute for a chocolate bar. However, when I throw caution to the wind, banana dipped in melted chocolate is the ultimate taste sensation, so much more than the sum of its parts.

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
I had a flash-back of her tending to the plant with a bundle of old tights in hand every year before the cold weather started - it had slipped my mind. I rushed to her gardening bin and rummaged around, no old tights but some fluffy material wrapped round, covered loosely with a plastic bag and tied with a piece of string would do the trick, if it wasn't too late.

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.

References :
You might think of the bananas we eat as symbols of fertility, but they are actually sterile :
Bananas don't like to be alone :

Today I'm linking up to banana plant fans :
Deb grows a banana plant in her wood :
Mark & Gaz grow banana plants in their alternative eden:
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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Great Cold (20 JAN 2013)

I spend more time having meetings with people abroad by audio and computer these days than in the office. By the wonders of technology they can even tell if I am at my desk.
Last week, I selected the option to add the public holidays and observances in different countries to my work calendar; it's always useful to know when you have an extra day to complete a task because a colleague is on holiday in their part of the world.

I was flicking through the months to check that the download had been successful and was delighted to find that amongst the team meetings, deadlines, saint days and bank holidays there were "Insects Awaken" (05MAR13), "Grain Buds" (21MAY13) and "White Dew" (07SEP13). These turned out to be three of twenty-four days of observance in China marking the beginning of twenty-four solar terms.

When I last posted about the London Plane Trees in my local park, I wrote that it would be my final seasonal celebration linking in with Donna Abel's meme, but now that the Chinese terms are in my calendar, it seems that four seasons just isn't enough.
So I'm having an extra celebration for the beginning of the "Great Cold" (today!).

london plane - my favourite tree
I probably explained before that the unique, individual forms of these trees can only be seen in winter when the branches are bare, but I have to make a correction.
Their true form can only be seen when their bare branches are outlined by snow, which doesn't happen every year in the UK. I remember in the past we've had consecutive years without snow, which is probably why there were smiles all around today.
an older london plane tree

Back in the garden, it seemed that someone had beaten me to make footprints in the fresh snow.

The hellebores were out, I didn't cut the leaves back this year to see if they give the plants extra energy.


Nothing much else to report.

rear patio

Donna at GardenWalkGardenTalk has written a series of posts about encouraging birds to visit your garden to add some interest during the winter months. Here's one:
I read all of them, even though I've never thought of introducing wildlife to mine. Creatures mess up my plants, which are the no.1 priority around here; pigeon droppings are splattered on my precious foxglove plants (that's with no encouragement) and I've already lamented about the cats.
Somehow, bird feed got onto my shopping list. I positioned it in the branches of my cherry blossom sucker, which is surprisingly still alive and in bud, and placed the cherry in its pot next to the japanese quince in front of the kitchen window because I've seen little birds flitting between it and the trees above.
view from my kitchen window

Obviously, no birds appeared on the cherry sucker while I was standing behind the net curtain with my camera peeping through. I waited for ages just watching the snow falling, when all of a sudden there was a commotion in the parent cherry tree at the back of the garden. Several blackbirds had congregated there as if something was going down. I could feel the tension in the air so I remained poised ready for action in my hide-out.

Then I saw the most beautiful creature. I knew that foxes visit the gardens down the street and rip up rubbish bags while scavenging for food if people leave them out overnight, but I've never seen one since I moved in. I had always imagined them as starved, skinny and dirty.
blackbirds keep their distance
This one was self-assured, padding around softly, taking its time. Its tail was bushy and its coat was in such good condition that it could have been groomed. I felt almost privileged that it had chosen to nose around in my patch, though I know that when the snow melts I'll be cursing it for digging huge holes under my fences.

urban fox celebrating the Great Cold

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Primula (15 JAN 2013)

I'm not sure how to display primula to really show them off, which they surely deserve at this time of year, and it seems that my local council don't know either.

primula brighten up the entrance to the public convenience

The other day, I saw a planting suggestion on the Gardener's world website where a bunch of daffodils were surrounded by primula in a rather attractive arrangement so I thought I would have a go at refreshing my lucky planter with primula and daffodil bulbs that I already had in the garden. An ideal solution for hiding bulbs from the visiting wildlife.

In the various languages of flowers, primula symbolise youth, young love or eternal love.
If you were living in Victorian times, offering someone a tussie-mussie containing primula was a discrete way of conveying the message "I can't live without you" (without sounding too desperate).

three hybrids of winter-flowering primula

In my garden, they symbolise a "keep me warm in winter" kind of love.
However, sometimes symbolism isn't such a good idea ...
After planting the primula in fresh compost in their new home, I felt as invigorated as they probably were. I recalled words of advice given to me recently, about eating a healthier diet, when I wasn't in the right state of mind to pay heed. I was now and decided that I would start eating a bowl of porridge oats every day, the primula symbolising this new resolution.
The next morning, as I sat in my living room, dipping into a bowl of steaming, prune-sweetened, cholesterol-reducing, wholemeal porridge admiring the primula outside, I remembered to count my blessings for the first time in a long while.
primula promoted to my lucky planter with bulbs underneath
However, last weekend the inevitable happened.
I have a love-hate relationship with the neighbourhood cats. I love that they scare away the mice which might otherwise invade my house; I hate that they dig up my new plantings, especially the symbolic ones, even though I covered them with netting.

Does this symbolise skipping porridge for breakfast and having a packet of crisps instead?

not satisfied with upsetting my plants, it scratched up my lawn too and that wasn't all ...

viola planted in the container vacated by the primula
The netting has now been replaced by a dome of chicken wire. I'm not entirely confident that this will prevent the cats having their wicked way with my bulbs; weeds (strategically positioned everywhere else) are the only proven cat deterrent in this garden.
two can play at this game !

Then last night it snowed, so the primula have double protection, which symbolises that you should never give up because you might get some help from upstairs.

alternatively, porridge for breakfast with ice-cream for dessert

If you like primula too :

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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Lotus Flower (06 JAN 2013)

I've mentioned how I discovered a volunteer plant called ammobium in my garden which, despite its diminutive blooms, fuelled my lotus flower fantasy. It started flowering before the nicotiana, a long-flowering plant itself, and continued after.

Nicotiana & Ammobium
Ammobium is also called "winged everlasting" due its winged stems and its suitability for dried flower arrangements ...
Living & Dried Ammobium - Winged Everlasting
... which still delight me today, posied in a mug on my kitchen table. I can't find any UK web-sites which sell these dried flowers; their on sale in the U.S. from $4-$20 per 4oz bundle (about 50 flower stems), which I estimate is the full yield of one plant per year. I'll definitely try and propogate this one, considering that it's made itself at home in a dry flower bed (until last year) in which nothing else except roses will grow.

The plant looks like it might survive the winter, it's supposed to be perennial (in its native Australia), but it's not inspiring many fantasies at the moment.
They say it's not advisable to buy your dream car, because you're bound to be disappointed by the realisation, but what if destiny led you to it and gave you the key? Wouldn't you just go with the flow? ....

The gutter attached to the roof at the back of my house has a small hole which I never noticed before last year. It's not a leak, the hole is perfectly circular, my gutters were designed that way to prevent standing water. During the recent downpours we've had, water gushes from the small hole and I've been preoccupied with water management and drainage like never before. I installed a water-butt under the hole as an interim solution until I figure out if I should invest in a better drainage system.

The night after, I was woken by an incessant thudding as drips dropped from a height of two floors above into the hollow vessel. The next morning, I sawed off the top two-thirds of the water-butt, filled the bottom section with gravel and connected the butt to a drain with a hose-pipe which seems to have done the trick. The top two-thirds of the butt will serve me well as a rhubarb forcer.

It's quite satisfying to hear water dripping into the butt being echoed by gurgling in the end of the hose-pipe by the drain. So I was sitting on the back door step being spritzed gently by the rain, wondering if Archimedes had ever had to deal with an over-flowing gutter, dripping on one side, gurgling on the other when I had a eureka moment of my own. Hadn't I always wanted a pond? (... but not enough to do the digging, lining and maintaining). More precisely I had imagined a lotus flower in a pond.

I remembered seeing a picture of one on a box at the diy store. On my next trip I noted that it was a white waterlily kit not a lotus flower. I was confused because my vision included the large flat leaves and floating flowers of the waterlily but the intriguing seedpods of the lotus flower (I'm not sure what waterlily seedpods look like as Google images also seem confused between the two). I bought the white waterlily as a xmas present for myself.

In the past I would have stopped to think that huge lily pads would not fit into my small water-butt, but as you can probably tell gardening has affected my rationality. Who knows? ... maybe the leaves will adjust their growth to the size of the water-butt like goldfish in a bowl, or maybe the restricted growth of the leaves will promote effusive flowering. For now I have a mug of dried flowers, a damp, brown stump in gravel and the potential for a dream to come true.

water lily kit ... installed in a sawn-off water-butt

 For more tips on water management, check out Stacy's blog :
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