County Press's intrepid gardening writer Richard Wright goes bananas in Madeira

Madeira is famous for both its bananas and its Madeira wine. <i>(Image: Richard Wright)</i>
Madeira is famous for both its bananas and its Madeira wine. (Image: Richard Wright)

THE perpetual springtime island of Madeira is particularly known for three exports.

There is the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro who was born in the capital Funchal; there is fortified Madeira wine and there are bananas.

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We experienced all three in our Madeiran holiday and all stood out on various taste grounds.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bananas grow everywhere in Madeira.
Isle of Wight County Press: Bananas grow everywhere in Madeira.

Bananas grow everywhere in Madeira. (Image: Richard Wright)

The Ronaldo bronze was prominent on one side of the good taste spectrum while the other two were on the sweeter side.

Bananas are almost everywhere on Madeira’s volcanic soil terraces and they even appear on the island’s favourite Black Scabbard fish dish complete with passion fruit sauce. Really!

There is now increasing opportunity for banana plants to survive quite happily in our Isle of Wight gardens, although even in our heatwave this year they will probably not have produced viable fruit.

They are vigorous and fast growing, with huge ribbed paddle-shaped leaves and can reach several metres in height if planted in a warm, sheltered spot in moist, fertile soil.

It used to be – when our winters were freezing – that even with protection, nearly all banana plants in the UK would not survive.

Now things are substantially less harsh there is a good chance of survival, especially if the Japanese variety Musa basjoo is chosen.

Even they will need cosseting if planted in the open ground rather than a container that can be moved under cover.

Be sure to protect them from winter wet and cold. It’s a faff bubblewrapping them, but worthwhile.

Given care, and a measure of good fortune, banana plants – which are herbs, not trees – will live for many years, and, like a good glass of Blandy’s ten-year-old Madeira, it’s a treat worth waiting for each summer.


  • I don’t normally recognise the ‘C’ word until it is at least early December, but it is worth making one preparation now. There are loads of berries on holly bushes, but very soon they will be gone in the bellies of birds. Cut a few stems of holly with berries for making Christmas garlands and stand them in a bucket of water in a shed, garage or greenhouse where birds can't snaffle them.

  • It used to be said that you should lift parsnips after the first frosts, when their flavour will have sweetened. Nowadays, you may wait a long time so if you pop them in the freezer that does the job.

  • Place a scaffold plank on the ground along the main access route into your veg plot. It gives drier access and prevents soil compacting as you walk across it. Split boards, which no longer meet regulations, can be cheaply bought from scaffold companies.

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