When we think of banana trees, places like the Caribbean come to mind.
But Lucie Hérard has managed to turn that image on its head by growing them in her east-end Montreal yard, year round.
She said she is still amazed.
“My goodness, it’s like a miracle,” she said Monday afternoon sitting in her backyard.
It took her a dozen years to transform the property with plants not usually see in these parts. She calls it her tropical oasis.
“I mean, it’s like I’m on vacation all summer,” she laughed.
Hérard says there are more than 100 plants, including palms, giant castor bean trees, even a Giant Thailand Colocasia with leaves several feet wide.
She estimates there are about 30 banana trees at the front of the property, next to her house, and another 15 in the back garden.
She explained that she began the project a few years before she retired because it was her dream since she was in her 20s. She then spoke with experts and researched which varieties would survive Montreal’s harsh winters.
“Musa basjoo,” she said. “It’s very important because it’s not any variety that can handle the cold.”
Hérard has other varieties too. She advises anyone who wants to try their hand at planting the fruit trees should put them where they can get adequate sun, and don’t leave the young ones outside during winter right away.
“Always wait until they are three years because the young plant is not good,” she said.
She added that they’re strong enough to withstand the cold at that age, to cut the leaves in the fall, cover the plant with 10 inches of straw and a tarpaulin to make sure they survive the winter. According to her, the musa basjoo in her yard have survived outside for more than a decade, but all her other plants are trimmed, put into pots and brought indoors every fall.
“I know that it’s not easy,” she said. “They are like kids and you have to take care of them every day. You have to do the things like I’m saying.”
That’s as far as she’ll go with her tips, though.
“I will not tell you all my secrets,” she laughed. “No, no!”
The retiree estimated that her passion has cost her around $20,000 over the years, because there is a lot of trial and error involved in the process.
Urban ecologist and Concordia University assistant professor, Carly Ziter, who saw Hérard’s garden online, is impressed that someone would try something like this in Montreal.
Carly said, however, she is not completely surprised.
“There are an incredible number of species and varieties of these plants,” she said. “So trees that you’re growing in your yard in Montreal are probably a species that’s more adapted to a colder climate.”
Ziter also thinks global warming might mean more people will try gardens like this.
“The growing season here will get a little bit longer, a little bit warmer. The winters will be a little bit shorter and a little bit more mild,” she noted.