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In every tree, a surprise

One of the most fascinating things about gardening is that you never know what surprise is going to pop up next.

Back in 2011, when we got the garden properly started, we planted several fruit trees: a lime, two orange, and a satsuma. Or so we thought. The satsuma turned out to be a kumquat; one orange tree died; the other has regularly produced plenty of blossom but no fruit at all; the lime is leading its own life, ungainly and truculent with thorns to make the toughest of gardeners weep, only a brief glimmer of flowers, and no fruit. None. Not even one tiny lime.

So from the original four, all we have had is a bumper crop of kumquats, and that’s about it. This is not as planned: uncooked, the kumquat is an acquired taste. In the interests of making good use of a hard-won, fully organic crop, I tried cooking the fruit with diced pumpkin and flat leaf parsley to make a pasta sauce that was also, frankly, an acquired taste. The experiment may not be repeated.


In 2012 we planted more citrus trees: an orange and a satsuma. We can assume the latter identification is correct as it came with a fruit attached. It has produced nothing since then.

The former has grown like topsy, however, and in 2014 produced one lovely orange from the graft, or scion. Although it was just one fruit, it was worth the wait as it swelled, turned from green to orange, gathered sweetness, and eventually was harvested.

Last year, once again we detected blossom on the scion, and then… again, one fruit!

But on the opposite side of the tree – on the much more vigorous root stock – we found not one, but four, lemons. Beautiful, large, glowing brilliant yellow in the sunshine, the fruit were full of juice. In Egypt, they are known as Italian lemons, though they are not native to Italy.


The combination of orange and lemon on one tree was new to me, until I read Helena Attlee’s absorbing book “The Land Where Lemons Grow”.* For I learned that citrus trees are notoriously fickle. Genetic instability added to the potential uncertainties of grafting can lead almost anywhere. Indeed, it was a feature of the once-famous Medici collection in Tuscany, where diversity was prized: Sour orange rootstock in combination with grafted stock of a quite different type would create a tree bearing two distinct types of citrus fruit.

In our case, the combination led to four glorious and memorable fruit. But what is a little unusual, I think, is that the root stock is not the usual sour orange, chosen for its robust health and resistance to winter weather, but a lemon. To this, a sweet orange has been grafted, turning the normal combination somewhat on its head.

Combined with home-produced honey the juice from last year’s crop was balm for sore throats.


Even better, I used the fruit in Mary McCartney’s divine lemon drizzle cake.** It was a dream!

Either way, we are still talking about our land where lemons and an orange grew… And hopefully, where many more will grow. After all, the trees are still quite young and as Attlee writes, we should not expect to have generous crops yet. But oh, the wait is so tantalising!


*The Land Where Lemons Grow – Helena Attlee, published by Penguin Books

** Food – Vegetarian Home Coooking – Mary Mc Cartney, published by Chatto & Windus

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. That is a result with the orange tree! I knew that the sour oranges were used as root stock because they are less fragile. I thought lemons were more fragile too in cooler climates. Perhaps it is just the right balance for Egypt. In any event it is a two in one tree to be prized. Amelia

    January 9, 2016
  2. I agree, definitely to be prized. As it happens, we have had so many conversations with gardeners who have all advised us to cut the root stock right down and encourage the orange to grow to full size. Thank heavens we didn’t do it, but gave the tree time and space to prove itself. The more I see of trees (and plants in general), the more respect I have for them. They are such astonishing and versatile beings.

    January 10, 2016

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