By this time of year I reluctantly resign myself to the fact that summer is completely over. It is dark when I get up and dark when I get home. The leaves have turned lovely golden shades and begun to fall of the trees although, according to the press, Westminster is cutting off the leaves before they fall to avoid raking them up.
This is the news story using gardener Annabel Honeybun, who was seen removing leaves one by one from the pollarded lime trees in New Palace Yard, as an example of government waste. If you have seen them they are great little trees that are clearly maintained by an annual programme of pollarding. While pollarding is normally carried out in late winter, it hardly makes a shocking news story: House of Commons Trees Pollarded a Few Months Early. I just hope the reaction to this isn’t to remove the trees and replace them with seasonal bedding.
In a hopefully less controversial move – although equally drastic – we have put the sub-tropical planting away for the winter. The tender plants have been cut back and lifted to overwinter in our cool but frost-free polytunnel. Some plants, such as the Canna indica ‘Purpurea’ are potted up into trays, and others such as Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' were actually planted out in their pots this past June. By planting them in their pots they are much easier to remove as you simply lift them out of the ground without any root disturbance. After a good summer like 2014 they were practically bursting out of their pots, and so have been re-potted before going into the tunnel.
Musa basjoo (the Japanese banana or hardy banana) is one plant that doesn’t need to come in for the winter. This hardy banana is perfectly happy outside in Essex in even the coldest winters. Without any protection it will be cut down to the ground, only to send up fresh shoots in the spring. But with a little bit of extra care we can keep the shoots alive to get even taller plants next year. And if we're extra lucky they might even flower.
The most important consideration when protecting them is to give them an insulation that keeps them dry and just a few degrees warmer. But on our windy site I also have to consider protection that won’t blow away when the garden is at its coldest.
I make use of the straw left over from our Autumn Festival and pack it tightly around the bananas, keeping it contained by wire cages. These are topped off with plastic rain caps to keep the tops dry. It is important to resist the urge to think of these as mini greenhouses and put plastic on the sides, as this will cause them to get too hot on sunny days (there will be some). Getting too hot means the bananas may shoot into growth, which is risky when there's with plenty of cold weather still ahead of them.
Just another six months and we can unwrap the bananas as they explode into growth. It’s hard not to be a little impatient...
Protecting bananas over winter