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The Secret Life of a Tree

Our kumquat tree has taken us totally by surprise. During the winter citrus flowering season, it produced nothing – not a single flower, while every other citrus tree bore glorious blossom. Confounded by its refusal to go along with the rest, I looked back over the year to ask: Where did we go wrong?

The tree wasn’t pruned much over the winter – just a bit of thinning here and there. It was well fed with chicken fertiliser back in February. Watering was within reason. It has grown well since the hedge was cut to a more manageable height, and doesn’t appear to be suffering from the proximity of the Indian laurel (Ficus nitida) trees:

Kumquat tree 5.18

So what was the deal?

Looking back, I guessed I was the guilty party. No matter that I looked after it well, and issued no direct threats – unlike the lime tree beside it, which was told in no certain terms a couple of years ago that either it produced fruit, or it would be axed: so it did!

With the kumquat, the problem was rather the opposite. After making 3 batches of kumquat and lemon, as well as 3 of plain lemon, marmalade last winter, I complained a good deal that I was fed up with cutting peel, squeezing juice and extracting pips, stirring vats of sticky liquid and testing for the setting point. Loudly, I announced, I was “Tired of Making Marmalade!”

But our tree has borne hundreds of little jewel-like kumquats over the past three years or so, easily out-producing the other fruit trees in the garden, the date-palm included. What’s not to like? She could be forgiven for taking me for an ungrateful gardener, the kind who blows hot and cold according to how much her wrist is aching – how feeble!

And what unkindness towards a tree that has only showered us with unfailing generosity. And that has refrained from stabbing me in the back with nasty thorns, while the neighbouring lime takes every opportunity to get its horrid stilettos into head and back.

Trees, you could say, can bear grudges.

Imagine my astonishment when, all of a sudden, in the terrible heat of May, I noticed a heady perfume in the kumquat corner of the garden and, following my nose, found it was full of flowers. Now, there are delightful little fruit forming. What bliss – all is good in the kumquat sphere!

Baby kumquats

via Daily Prompt: Guilty

To make kumquat marmalade: see Foodies’ Corner

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. It sort of makes one wonder what they are thinking.

    May 27, 2018
    • Hello Tony – the more I live with/among trees and work with them, the more fascinating I find them. I guess trees that are grafts, essentially two plants-in-one with a varied genetic history behind them, are even more likely to be unpredictable and fascinating. Helena Attlee’s “The Land Where Lemons Grow” is well worth reading if you want to find out more about the subject of citrus, as is Colin Tudge’s “The Secret Life of Trees” for a general overview full of astonishing info.

      May 27, 2018
      • Well, there are few in California who have grown as many cultivars of citrus as I have. I actually do not read much anyway – I just write and let others do the work of reading.

        May 27, 2018

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