Bananas & Rain

Right, so here is something I’m pretty sure you didn’t know. I only found out myself this morning. You can grow a banana plant in your back garden. Or your front garden for that matter.

Banana plants would love our rainDespite their exotic appearance, the roots of banana plants can withstand bone chillingly cold temperatures. Now, in the Irish midlands your banana plant is not going to produce actual bananas but the plant will survive and produce an endless supply of the next best thing; banana leaves, which have endless gastronomic potential.  The variety you are after is Musa basjoo which can shoot out a six-foot-long leaf every couple of weeks in summer provided it is treated to regular and plentiful doses of fertiliser and water.

The leaves will turn black at the first frosts and deeper into winter will disappear altogether. In milder regions, they will however retain their stems and sprout new leaves from the top of these next spring. In colder regions, even these stems will wither away, but the plant will spring back from its hardy underground roots the next year.

For this reason, some growers will wrap their bare banana trunks in horticultural fleece, tucking straw in the gaps to create a sort of woolly jumper to protect them from damage. This can be removed as the weather warms in the spring.

And all this talk of bananas this week put me immediately in mind of my old friend, the fig. At my house for the past year I have had five common fig trees (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’) that were surplus from a garden I was doing. This spring I potted them up into 100 litre pots and positioned them in a nice spaced row along a south facing shed wall. They are absolutely chuffed with the move.  My neighbour has also started growing figs. I recently did a project in a courtyard garden in Ranelagh that was home to a massive fig. All of a sudden, figs are everywhere.

I have a King Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) in another spot in my garden. As of next week, I will have a few Musa basjoo. I am learning that the exotic is attainable. Jasmine will grow in a sheltered spot, bougainvillea could too. We are absorbing global, specifically continental, influences in all areas of our lives; food, drink, clothing, architecture, interior design and now it seems that reach is extending to all things planting and horticultural.

Irish people and the rain, eh? The secret relief when it rains after a long dry spell, the triumphant sense that “Yes”, we’re back on an even keel. We need the rain spiritually as much as physically.  The existential need for rain. It’s akin to the weird feeling that sets in if you go for a long period without a few spuds in some form or other. We need something; a packet of Tayto, a bag of frozen wedges from Lidl. Anything to restore the harmony.

I don’t know if I buy into this ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we got our rain in one sharp shock like they do in Spain’ carry-on. We are defined by our fractious relationship with our rain, it could never be harmonious. We need to be simultaneously inconsolable and euphoric when we see rain. It needs to be a paradoxical, fraught and complicated relationship. Harmony has no place in this picture.

It can’t just rain during the night or in short concentrated bursts. Our rain has to be a ubiquitous presence, even if it is only present in its potential. If it is not actually raining it might look like rain, it might feel like rain. So much of our discourse is prescribed by the degree of ominousness in those clouds. We can boast a sub dialect of rain related verbs and adjectives. Eskimos have fifty words for snow, we have a hundred for rain.

Rain, like potatoes, restores our cosmic balance, our equilibrium. The sound of rain bouncing off galvanised metal roofing should be our national anthem.

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