By Victoria Gray
TV gardener Joe Swift has some tips for budding gardeners in the borough
Homes have never seen so much love, and as the sun pokes its head out, people are spreading that love to their gardens. There’s never been a better time to try out growing an exciting plant or two to brighten up your outdoor space.
Gardener Joe Swift, who presents BBC Gardeners’ World and has lived in Hackney for many years, has a banana tree growing in his garden, which he recently showed pruning on the BBC programme.
He tells us that “when I planted it about 16 years ago I had a garden shop in Islington and sold lots of exotics including bananas. I knew it would do well in the protected microclimate I have in my garden, as it’s almost 100% frost free.
“Banana leaves can get ripped up by the wind and look really messy, but it looks great in its spot and has done fabulously well over the years.”
Although a banana tree seems challenging to grow in the chilly UK, Joe tells us that it’s quite easy to look after if you’ve got the right spot for it: “I haven’t watered or fed it in about 15 years! It’s an ornamental variety and the hardiest (musa basjoo). They grow quickly and reach full size in three or four years if happy.”
But other more ‘exotic’ plants grow well in the area, and produce food. “We have olive trees as part of the orchard on Hackney Downs! Most citrus fruits will need winter protection, especially to fruit well but can go outdoors in a garden or on a balcony for the summer,” he said.
“I’ve seen many exotics – such as palms, tree ferns and ginger lilies – grow particularly well in London gardens, as it’s so mild and protected.”
If you’re interested in getting your own banana tree, Joe advises to “add plenty of compost when planting and don’t let it dry out for its first year or so. In less protected gardens, wrap it with garden fleece in the winter to develop a nice sturdy tall trunk.” Sadly though, the bananas it produces aren’t edible, so you’ll have to stick to the greengrocer for your fruit fix.
Even if you’re not up to something as ambitious as a banana tree, Joe thinks starting gardening shouldn’t be a huge commitment: “Be resourceful. Take cuttings of plants which is much easier than you may think or order seeds online.
“If you can’t get hold of conventional pots, use whatever you can get that holds soil; old olive oil tins, milk cartons, whatever as long as you have drainage holes in the bottom! I’ve made watering cans and plant labels from plastic milk bottles too. There’s nothing more rewarding than eating something you’ve grown.”
Joe Swift’s banana tree cutting back part at Gardeners’ World, 2020, Episode 9 on BBC iPlayer.