|Summers Last Fruit
Off Route 4 in Calvert County you'll find a landmark known for its exotic decor, its exotic food and, of course, its exotic owner, Vera Freeman.
This time of year, one more exotic lends "a-peel" to Vera's White Sands, snuggled against a cove of the Patuxent River at Lusby. Scattered over the tropical grounds amongst tiki and totem poles are several dozen banana trees at the peak of their production.
Vera brought bananas to Southern Maryland, and many of these are descendants of the original ones that she brought up from Florida by boat in 1965.
Introducing them to our cooler climate was Vera's personal challenge. "When I first brought them here, I knew they needed a lot of care, but they were exotic and rare and I just had to have them," says Freeman, as she serenely looks up at the taller ones.
"Now you'll find many places have banana trees around here, but mine are the original ones from 35 years ago," she says.
This year several trees have gifted her with lovely little bunches of fruit. "We don't serve them on the menu," she says. "But they are sweet and delicious." One in her grove still has offerings.
People gather around to admire the small green "fingers" backdropped by the tropical pink paint of the restaurant. And to admire Vera, also in tropical pink.
Allen Bond has brought his family by boat from Virginia. "We've been hearing about this place for years. Last month a friend told us that the banana trees were spectacular so here we are," said he.
He and his wife ask for a photo to be taken with Vera under the trees. Others arriving by car stop to greet her - and her trees.
How do they survive year after year?
Since banana trees grow best in temperatures from 70 to 90 degrees and with plenty of water in the rain forests of South America, they have to feel a little at home this season with as much rain as we have received.
When the season fades and before Vera's vibrant pink paradise is covered with snow, each banana tree must be dug up, just before the first frost, and brought inside. The trees are right in their element there, surrounded by the many other exotic treasures Vera has brought back from her travels.
They're housed in one glass room that faces a southeastern direction. Groundspeople who remain loyal to Vera during her closed-for-the-season months make sure that the trees have moist soil and warmth.
Accommodations in there must be close to the real thing, because it takes 15 months for one tree to produce fruit, making it an on-going cycle.
"When spring arrives, we wait to make sure the temperatures remain warm for several weeks before we bring the trees back out," Freeman says. She never knows how many new sprouts have sprung until planting begins.
"This year there are so many new trees," she says, pointing down by the water where smaller shoots have taken root. They dot the shoreline along grass huts and tiki torches in a view not too different from that of Survivor Island. But people are not trying to escape this Shangri-La staying to enjoy its tranquil setting, meet its enchanting owner and have their picture taken next to a banana tree, right here in Southern Maryland.
There is still time to view both the trees and the splendor. Vera's White Sands will remain open for weekend-only dining through Sept. 17. Call ahead for reservations or directions by either land or sea: 410/586-1182.
-Lori L. Sikorski and Heather McDonald
Heather McDonald, Sikorski's niece, is a junior at Patuxent High School and Bay Weekly's newest junior reporter.