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bananapalmUnless I'm heading for a film festival or something equally exciting, I don't much enjoy going to the city. Hustle, bustle, appointments, meetings, and the dreaded trek around the supermarket (brief though mine usually is) just don't meet my definition of 'quality time'. It was a great relief, therefore, just as I was becoming paralysed by indecision over which of the 56 kinds of toothpaste on the shelves that day I should buy, to meet up with some old friends I hadn't seen in years.

By old, I really do mean old. Barbara and Ron must clock up around 176 years between them which may explain why they were staring, in much the same glazed way as I was, at rows of toothbrushes – actually it was a denture brush they were after which I managed to spot as there was only one variety on the shelf. But supermarket fatigue aside, Ron and Barbara looked just as they did last time I saw them – fit, healthy, and happy.

I enquired after their garden – they have a regular sized section with only a pocket handkerchief lawn due to every other square centimetre of the property being taken up with fruit and vegetables. Yes, they reported, the garden was still in good going order, and despite the appalling spring it just been through, was growing more produce than they and the neighbours they keep supplied could eat. There was, however, just one small problem they were battling with. Did I remember, they asked, the banana palm I had given them last time I visited?

I certainly did remember. I'd had it foisted upon me by a North Island friend who'd refused to believe such an exotic creature would stand no chance of survival in a South Otago summer, let alone winter. I lugged it home where it slowly declined on my deck before I took pity upon it and in turn foisted the poor thing upon Barbara and Ron. They have a greenhouse where, much to the amazement of anyone who visits it, they appear to grow a decent quantity of oranges, mandarins and lemons. But bananas? I couldn't imagine even they could grow a banana palm.

It transpires, however, that I was wrong. Not only had Ron (it's Ron who is the keeper of the citrus house) managed to keep the palm going through several southern winters, but he had also coaxed it into thriving to the point that it was pushing against the roof of its 8 foot high enclosure. Did I know, this elderly couple asked hopefully, of anyone who might come and take out a section of their green house roof as the banana palm was about to flower!

The point I'm wishing to make here, has nothing to do with bananas, and everything to do with the way gardens appear to keep us young, active and healthy, even into our eighties and nineties. I believe it's a combination of being outdoors, eating every day the healthy food our gardens provide, and the socialising that goes along with providing others with home grown produce. Then of course, there's the gentle exercise that gardening provides – although I'm not quite sure that scaling an extension ladder with a hacksaw clenched between my teeth in order to free a rampant banana quite comes under that heading. But what else can I do? Wish me luck!

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