December 2009


Just before Christmas Little Boots and I had an unintentionally banana-themed day.

It started when we went to get some straw to pack the Musa basju over winter. At the country store LB picked out some sunflower seeds and I found some for Ensete ventricosum.

By the end of the day the Musa was tucked up snug and the Ensete seeds were in soak, ready to go in the propagator. Oh yea, and the Ensete v. “Maurelii” from the ‘jungle area’ had been lifted and was sat in the kitchen – where it spent most of Christmas – much to the annoyance of the OH. It’s now safely ensconced in the ‘office allotment and the threats of divorce have subsided.

Over the holiday period I’ve been mooching around various sites for tips on growing bananas.

Banana growing seems like its own little world with its own language – banana offsets are called pups, small pups are called buttons. The same seems to be true of people who grow gingers. I plan myself to get some different types of edible zingiberaceae for the office allotment and was going to get this book, until I read these comments, where the author gets a bit of a shoeing.

Now I probably shan’t, but will noodle on in my own traditional trial and error way.

For some people there comes a certain point in their life when all the Christmases they’ve experienced start to morph into one and they get fed up with the whole thing. But then children come along and it starts to come alive again.

I have found this to be the case and also that Christmas becomes a time when I remember past yuletides.

Despite my usual resistance to getting into the spirit of the season before my birthday I have been feeling quite Christsmassy for a couple of weeks. But this was driven home today by Little Boots announcing and singing a new song “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin flew away” and then being delighted that I could add “The Batmobile lost it’s wheel and landed in the hay”

Nice to think that something we used to sing at school long ago is still going strong.

(I seem to recall that there’s an alternative version – something to do with losing his willy on the motorway – but I thought I’d better not try to remember that one)

Then at bedtime LB read the new school reading book straight through, which made me very proud and a bit wistful, as it was a story I remember from my own childhood, but haven’t come across, or recalled, for more years than I care to think about.

After reading the book there was a moment without words. I was wondering how long since I had heard that story and LB too was thinking.

“You know…”

“Uh-oh”I thought, “that phrase is normally a presage to some mad suggestion”

I wasn’t disappointed.

“You know, we should grow a turnip that big next year.”

The office allotment has made me much more aware to the possibilities of plants regarded as exotic in the UK. And this has, I admit, been boosted by my Noni germination success. I say success, but mean fluke. The other day I found a site that explained how to germinate Noni (or Morinda citrifolia) . If I had read it before I’d tried to grow the seed then there’s no-way I’d have bothered.

My awareness of the plant was sparked by mention of it on a cookery programme and because of the same source I’m looking into growing various members of the ginger family like Galangal and Turmeric.

Consequently, these days, I tend to fall on food programmes and articles on distant lands, and so was a bit disappointed by Allegra McEverdy’s article in last Saturday’s paper about “China’s tastiest region”. Not only was it rather flat and uninspiring, but it didn’t give me any hot leads for exotic edibles I might think about growing. In truth it did mention Taro root (Colcasia) which is something I had recently put on the list of potential additions to the OA.

Incidentally, I’ve found that food programmes on the remoter satellite channels such as Travel & Living and Travel Channel are a good source (no pun intended) of potential plants. There was a good one last weekend from Brazil which included Caju fruit, Acerola fruit, Vinagriera (Red Sorrel) and Cariru (waterleaf). Not only that –  they tend to be more about the food and much less about the presenter than the UK variety.

In a similar vein I bought a book this week in the local Oxfam bookshop “Uncommon fruits for every garden”. It’s published by Timber Press who put out great books. As expected there were all sorts of new & interesting things, like the Raisin tree, Shipova, Jujube, Kaki and Che, but I was a little open-mouthed at a section on currants in the middle! And then there was the bit on gooseberries!

But then I guess just as Shatkura are unusual and exciting to me there must be parts of the globe where they’ve never come across a goosegog.

Little Boots is, I’ve found, full of good ideas. They are often flights of desire unshackled by the restraints of reality (for which I envy the little soul), but sometimes they are an attempt to get hold of something of uncertain availability.

These ideas are normally prefaced by the phrase “I know”, accompanied by a gesture where lower arms are spread wide with palms held uppermost. 

Add to that LB’s behaviour during the early part of this summer when each visit to the garden meant a greenfly would be sought out (“he’s my friend”) and then become the subject of a royal progression around the place with the aphid perched on an extended forefinger, like some kind of bug version of a Lanner Falcon.

With these two facts in mind is it any wonder that the perisher announced “I know! We can use the close-up camera to take photos of bugs!”

Not what I had in mind.

Over a few short days all the berries were stripped off my Callicarpa. This hasn’t happened before and I was a bit puzzled, but then on Saturday I saw the culprit. It was this little chap. Despite his simple colour scheme, he was even more handsome in real life than the picture suggests.

I’m pretty poor at natural history where birds are involved, so I looked up Blackcaps. It seems that they are summer visitors to this country and generally bugger off to Africa for the cold months. In recent years a few hardy members of the species have stayed through our milder winters, but they are believed to be birds coming in from central and eastern Europe.

Of course I was a sorry to see the beauty berries go, but seeing such a fine creature and then finding he was a bit special more than made up for it.

Little Boots was however less impressed and thought he looked “a bit like telly from ages ago” and would be “better if he looked more like a Wot Wot“.

I normally only get one birthday present that I really like which, seeing’s as I’m by my own admission very difficult to buy for, I count as a blessing.

But today, I was doubly blessed with great pressies.

First, from Little Boots, a propagator (or poppa-grater) which I plan to fill with all sorts of exciting seedlings – starting with my Morinda.

Of which, I’ve been able to take a close-up photo, using my next fab present – a little microscopey camera gadget.    

And that leads to a third cause of delight – the Noni has some true leaves coming through.

With Little Boots satisfied that a hazel will attract woodpeckers just as much as a holly we set out to take part in the Tree O’Clock record attempt. I did have to agree to LB’s rider of bacon sandwiches after.

My horticultural hopes were high to begin with because, whilst I was gathering all the equipment and looking for some bonemeal in the greenhouse, LB was rather excitedly picking sunflower seeds from a rather manky flowerhead and firmly announcing plans to grow next year’s crop from them.

However by the time we got to the actual planting, the munchkin had decided that swinging on the clothes line was much more fun, and only returned to the tree in order to be in the photo.

I was hoping to elicit more direct involvement for the planting of the field maple and the rowan that had still to go in, but at that point the Postie turned up with a big parcel for Little Boots from Jessica a friend in Scotland and digging was finished for the day.

The little beggar still demanded bacon sarnies though – AND snaffled the certificate for taking part!