This gardener finds joy in banana trees

As the do-it-yourself season slides into squash and tomatoes, I’ve discovered that even ordinary gardeners can experience extraordinary things.

Nature rules, even in a garden box. Behind the tall fence where I attempt to grow eco-edibles, one raised box is consigned to the exotic, unusual and essentially inedible.

It includes ornamental artichokes, a wasabi plant and a small, non-producing thimbleberry bush. Plus what I liked to call my personal Banana Republic.

Last year, I could stride past this box, and three tall banana trees would wave back respectfully and magnificently. Even if I was just carrying eggshells to the compost, it was an occasion for that small army to flap gigantic leaves in salute.

I delighted in watching the new leaves unwind from a tall, spikey spiral, all soft green and tender, presenting slowly and grandly, sort of like the tail of a Golden Retriever puppy. You know, at first the puppy has a skinny whip of a thing that suddenly one day unwinds into a mighty plume, able to sweep the entire table with a single wag.

Of course, banana tree leaves aren’t furry, but they are mighty. So when you see them, you can’t help but congratulate yourself on growing such a thing with your limited knowledge of banana horticulture.

You can’t help but adding to your exaggerated sense of accomplishment by sending one off to show-and-tell with your kid, who, being little, makes the leaf seem even bigger.

Or shamelessly showing off at dinnertime by cutting a leaf into squares, putting a nice chunk of fresh salmon in the middle, topping the salmon with a pat of butter and a generous dollop of delicious peach salsa. Wrap into a packet, toothpick it closed and barbecue for 10 to 15 minutes. The salmon is infused with all this tropical goodness.

“It’s a banana leaf,” you boast. “Yes, I grew it.”

It takes you down a notch to go out to your garden in the spring and discover oh, oops, forgot to mulch the B.R. (And after they’d served me so well.)

Like a deposed but benevolent dictator, I kicked the gooey stumps, blaming them for being so fragile, and went off to plant my peas. But like I said, extraordinary things happen in the garden, especially in a week of record heat.

Five little banana trees have risen like young phoenixes out of the mire, and Mother Nature is giving me a second chance. To wit, I have been reinstated. But not as a dictator, I’ve decided, just a simple garden queen.

— Margaret Heffelfinger is a freelance writer who lives on Vashon.

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