When we first bought this house, over twenty years ago now, I wondered how I’d survive with such a small garden. We’d come here from a rambling homestead on a country acre. In some ways, I was right – I have often struggled to feel as if a small suburban block (436 square metres all told) is enough space and we haven’t lived here for the entire time of our ownership. (But that, as they say, is another story – A Few Acres).
When we first moved here, I was so convinced that there was no space for a ‘real’ garden that I gave my potted lemon tree to friends who had a bigger garden. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever fit a lemon tree in. It took me a while to see the folly of that, but slowly I began to realise that I could in fact squeeze a few fruit trees in. I began to play with ideas of exactly what I may be able to slip into various spots in the garden.
A lemon tree fitted remarkably well into the corner of the back yard. And with a lemon tree planted, well, I may as well plant a lime tree near it. My son, a young toddler at the time, developed a fascination for pomegranates, so we put one of them in as well. Enthused by the lemon and lime performing well in the relatively shady back yard, I added two orange trees – a Valencia and a Navel. Then a neighbour gave me a mulberry cutting and a pot bound lemon tree. I stuck the mulberry in the ground by the back gate in the hope that children visiting the park would pick leaves for silkworms and berries for themselves. The lemon I put on the front verge, nestled in along the side of the native shrubs where it would get good water and afternoon sun. I planted a kalamata olive near the letterbox and a double-grafted plum by the side fence out the front, then two dwarf apples in amongst a hedge of rosemary in the front veggie garden. Always a lover of apricots, I added an early-fruiting apricot in a half wine-barrel on the paved sitting area at the front of the house, where it would catch the best of the northern light year-round, while giving shade in summer and letting the sun in during winter. Next to the apricot, I added pots with blueberries and a pepino. Over a dozen fruit trees in my small suburban garden!
For a while, a passionfruit vine rambled over the back fence but it turned up its toes and died for some unknown reason. I am the only one in the family who likes passionfruit and I couldn’t manage to eat anywhere near all the fruit the vine had produced in its heyday, so I’ve replaced it with a grapevine.
Most of the fruit trees in my garden aren’t prolific – except the lemon, which produces buckets full of fruit. My fruit trees are wedged into less-than-ideal spots – not room enough to spread their branches with imperfect access to sunlight; they are faced with competition for water and light. They’re not grown in the way that gardening books recommend for maximum production. But they do give some fruit – certainly more fruit that a purely ornamental garden would provide. In no way do they provide all of our fruit; not even a significant percentage of it. But they give something else, something that I find perfectly alluring – a taste of the seasons. Now in autumn, the pomegranates hang red and luscious, reminiscent of Christmas baubles. The navel oranges are just turning orange and the lemons too are colouring. The apricot leaves are all but gone and the plum is following suit.
I was wrong when I thought this small suburban block didn’t have room for a lemon tree! Having found that spot for one opened the way for a dozen fruit trees and, as I look around the garden now, I can see places where I could slip in another. And another. Possibly even one more!