35: Spring 2015

Author: Roy Stickland

Banana Saga

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Banana Saga
Roy Stickland

When the plant of Ensete glauca arrived, it was in a 1.5 ltr pot and was barely 18” high. Because it is not reckoned among the hardier banana species the plan was to grow it in a terracotta pot, sink it into the ground for the summer and lift it again in the autumn for protection during the winter. By its second year it was in a 10” pot, the next it was a 12” pot: and then what? It becomes an expensive business to buy ever larger clay pots, though it might be argued that so splendid a specimen plant deserved no less. Be that as it may, the next phase involved plastic pots and then small shrub tubs, which of course do not permit moisture transfer from the surrounding soil. By this time the root system was filling 10 ltr and 15 ltr tubs and the stem was more than 6ft high and expanding in girth.

It continued to thrive in the sunken plastic containers provided I regularly fed and watered it, but it was getting heavier and more difficult to dig out of the ground without damaging the container … and more difficult to trundle to the greenhouse for winter protection. Now the ridge height of the greenhouse is 8ft 6ins and in 2010/11 the growing point was bent over beneath the ridge. For 2012 we re-potted into a 50cm x 40cm tub, which just passed through the dividing door between the front and rear sections of the greenhouse (provided you got your knuckles out of the way in time!). We almost immediately regretted this decision since it was really too heavy to lift into the wheelbarrow, but we managed it (and turned to the Tens machine afterwards!).

The next challenge was to excavate a hole at the end of the Dahlia bed large enough to take a 50 x 40cm tub, firming the soil back around the pot to keep it nice and steady. But this was as nothing compared with getting it out again at the end of the season. What was a very heavy and cumbersome object to lower into the crater we had prepared, seemed totally immovable when it came to lifting it out. The tub (only £10 on a special offer) was punctured and cracked in the process – using a pickaxe to ease things probably didn’t help, and by the time we had wobbled the precarious cargo in the wheelbarrow to the greenhouse, amid weak roadside jokes about ‘heavy plant crossing’, we realised that the only way it would go into the greenhouse was horizontally and we needed half-inch rope to drag it there. Then what? Yes, of course, we had to dig another big hole in the greenhouse bed to enable the plant/tree to stand (nearly) vertically.

By now the trunk, no longer just a stem, had fattened to more than 6” in diameter, and interestingly it had produced a couple of dinky little side shoots about 18” high and producing their own leaves. So an immediate decision was made: the plant would not be re-potted, the side shoots would be removed and the parent would be planted in the open ground and wrapped in situ with fleece and polybubble at the end of the season, – and if that proves insufficient winter protection…… tough!

Predictably the growing point was again curled over beneath the ridge, despite the depth of the hole, and having removed soil from around it, we were still unable to get it totally horizontal – yet somehow we had to get the tub off in order to get at the side shoots to give them a life of their own. In the end it was the heavy hammer that did the trick, and the tub went in the dustbin in small pieces. Great! We’re nearly there.

All we have to do now is scrape away the compost around the base of the new shoots and gently cut them off and pot them. We quickly moved away from that delusion, for the base of the new shoots was already between 4” and 5” with 15” to 18” roots tangled among and seemingly welded to the matted roots of the parent.

The jokes now moved on to Mickey Mouse, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the film Fantasia as we imagined a forest of new shoots emerging from the two cut surfaces at the base of the plant, growing as we watched – a situation running totally out of control and requiring a super-human force to conquer it.

Would anyone like a dinky little Ensete glauca as an unmatchable specimen plant?

First published in the Somerset Group Newsletter June 2013
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 35.
© Copyright for this article: Roy Stickland

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2015. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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