Even on the sunniest of days, I sometimes feel as if Im moonlighting as a county extension agent.
Not that I have a green thumb. Maybe a couple of green fingers, but no green thumb.
Last week, I wrote about muscadines and scuppernongs in a Monroe County vineyard. A few months ago, I told the tale of the tape of an 11-foot-tall heirloom tomato plant in a backyard off Mumford Road. In recent years, Ive found oranges growing in a neighborhood near Anthony Road and on a farm in Twiggs County.
Of course, there has been a bounty of stories about cherry trees, peanut crops, peach orchards, strawberry patches, cotton fields, tobacco barns and watermelons piled high on trucks at the farmers market.
Throw in some mistletoe, kudzu, mayhaws and some of the sweetest onions ever pulled from the ground. In Hawkinsville, I stood at the foot of the oldest redwood tree east of the Mississippi -- almost 100 feet tall, with a size 148 waist.
So when Modestine Ivery called me about banana trees that have been in her family for more than a century, I grabbed a pen, notebook and a hoe. I knew I had to hurry over there before the first frost.
She gave me directions to her house near the Macon Mall, but all I really had to do was find the street and look for the giant banana grove.
I have observed tall banana trees in my horticultural travels. But some of the two dozen trees are almost as tall as her house and have leaves the size of circus elephants.
I know from personal experience that bananas can hang around for years on a family tree. My brother still has the offspring from a banana tree my father bought from Florida more than 50 years ago.
Dad stopped at a nursery on the way home from a family vacation in Panama City Beach. The tree survived the ride home with five kids in the back seat of a blue Chevrolet station wagon. So droughts and hard freezes have been a piece of cake.
The roots of Modestines banana trees run even deeper. She is the fourth generation to care for them. They date back to her great-grandmother, who was part Cherokee.
Her earliest memories of the trees are from her grandmothers yard near Darlington, S.C. Everyone called Janie Martin Big Ma. She loved to spend time in her flower garden -- she was especially fond of roses and gladioluses -- and her summer vegetable garden was always ripe with peas, butter beans, tomatoes and okra.
She would bury the banana trees and flowers underground in a cellar during the harsh winter months. Modestines parents, Otis and Beulah Martin, later took over care of the trees in Timmonsville, S.C., and once posed for a photograph with them for the Florence (S.C.) Morning News.
The trees were brought to Macon after Modestines father died in 1990. She and her mother watched the banana trees thrive after being planted next to a small drainage ditch. (I could call it a creek and claim the trees are growing along the Ivery Coast.) The back of the property borders Macon Memorial Park cemetery.
Modestine is a retired teacher from Central High School but claims no special agricultural knowledge. She took a few bags of sand and added some Miracle-Gro. She said the key is keeping it heavily watered.
Her mother died in 2007, and Modestine wishes her mama could have lived to see it bearing so much fruit. Her husband, Milton, climbed on a ladder and plucked some bananas last year. This year, there are several bunches but none ripe enough to take a bite. Shes not ready to make banana pudding for the entire neighborhood.
Banana trees are hardly mighty oaks. But, on Mothers Day 2008, the year after her mother died, they withstood the tornadic winds that pummeled the south part of the city and county.
Our backyard looked like a war zone, she said. We lost several big trees, but the banana trees survived. I know the Lord still wanted me to have them, and Big Ma is up there smiling.
Next spring, she will give two trees to her son, Milton Jr. One day her grandchildren will get trees, too, and six generations will have sat in their shade.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.