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Bananas growing in Croydon garden

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ANYONE walking down Woodville Road could be forgiven for thinking they're in the Caribbean not Thornton Heath – they wouldn't be going bananas.

Richard Bowers was given a banana plant by his sister eight years ago. Now, for the first time, it could also bear ripe fruit, with young bananas already just-visible under fleshy, purple petals.

Mr Bowers and his partner Helena Charles were surprised to find flowers on one of the plant's stems when they unwrapped the fleeces that had guarded it from frost this winter.

"It's quite rare for a banana that is outside in the UK to actually fruit," said Mr Bowers. "You have to take care of them. I prune back the leaves before wrapping the plant in a special fleece each winter, and give it plenty of water, feed and nutrients."

The single plant, growing in the ground and linked in the soil by a root network, now has 12 stems, each of which could be mistaken by those not in the know for an individual tree. Often referred to as "pupping," one banana plant often produces a few new shoots from the ground every year.

This one first bore fruit in 2011, but because it flowered in late summer, the fruits only grew to about one-and-a-half inches. Nevertheless, the unripe bananas did make "a tasty soup," said Mr Bowers.

This year the fruits will have enough time — at least a few months — to develop and ripen.

But there's more than one use for a banana. "In the summer when we put fish on the barbecue, we wrap it in the banana's leaves. The fish gets steamed and you can taste a nice, light flavour from the banana," said Mr Bowers.

The couple are still not sure what species of banana inhabits their front garden. It could even be a plantain, which produces fruit with a similar appearance to sweet bananas, but instead their fruit has a savoury taste and is used in cooking in parts of Africa and South America.

The banana plant, unlike more familiar European species, has attracted the fascination of the passers-by.

"People ask about it, and cars slow down to look," Mr Bowers, 45, added.

"Our postman, who is Ghanaian, took some pictures to send to his family; he was so surprised at the plant growing in the UK.

The couple also grow flowers, herbs and vegetables at their home, gardening two tropical plants — the banana and a species of giant rhubarb.

"A nice garden is like an extra room for the house, especially in the summer," said Mr Bowers.

Bananas growing in Croydon garden


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