Gardening From The Ground Up

After my forced break from the garden, I’m making up for lost time. I’ve been outdoors pulling weeds, sorting compost, preparing planting beds and doing general cleanup every day for weeks.

freesia collage

The freesia are in bloom all over the garden

I’m in the garden for a few minutes in the morning after returning from school drop-off. If I’m working with clients or have other appointments, then I put in my time at the end of the day.

lemon tree buds and leaves in the rain

Meyer’s Lemon Tree Enjoying the Rain

The weekend affords the luxury of a few hours in a row, even with our recent and welcome rain.

Chronic neck pain, a wonky hip and my tender ankle tend to dictate the duration. I enjoy working in the cooler weather and even the rain but once my various ailments begin to act up, it’s time to pack it in for the day.

About a year ago I bought a garden kneeler with handles. I’ve seen pictures of them in catalogs for years. I once used a foam pad for shifting around the garden, but it’s become increasingly harder to get back up without pain.

The pictures generally feature a “mature” woman using the kneeler. Only recently did it occur to me that I’m a mature woman. In my mind I’m perpetually thirty. How disconcerting.

I got over myself and bought the kneeler.

gardenease kneeling bench

Kneeling in the garden

Word of the Year

I chose “health” as my word this year. It’s interesting how much of life’s enjoyment comes down to our personal well-being.  I’ve reduced my consumption of sugar, with some slip ups here and there. I’ve kept a food and exercise diary through MyFitnessPal for the past 66 days. Now that I’ve been on such a long streak, I find that I don’t want to miss a day. Logging what I eat is also eye-opening. It feels good to be back to Pilates classes two days a week, and I’m back to long walks as well. The weight is coming off slowly though, which seems so unfair [insert pouting face here].  I’m not giving up, but find it disappointing when week after week the scale doesn’t budge and the pants remain snug. I think we’re conditioned to think that if we do everything “right” we should see the results. Does this happen to you?

The first day of spring in California is March 20th this year. I’ll be planting heirloom tomatoes, basil and maybe, just maybe, a few pumpkins. I have a new and improved watering system which I will share in another post.

When autumn rolls around, I say it’s my favorite time of year. Then spring unfolds and I’m in love with the color, the birdsong and the freshness of it all.

I think I’ve made up my mind: I can’t possibly choose sides.

Lemons on my Mind

dwarf lemon tree

Dwarf lemon tree sits on our property line

As life in the garden prepares to rest, the lemons are coming into their own. Our dwarf lemon grows along the side of the house, so I see the changes whenever I come up the drive.

baby dinosaur lemon tree

April, 2015 Baby dinosaur?

The fruit formed earlier this year, slowly growing to full size. Doesn’t it look like a baby dinosaur? As the temperatures cool and the days grow shorter, dark green gives way to yellow.

lemons turning yellow

Lemons with potential

lemons and a web

This pair of lemons hides a spider’s web

I prune the tree a couple of times a year to keep it compact. Otherwise it grows into our respective walkways that separate the two homes. I was initially concerned that all this pruning would be hard on the tree, but I’ve since read that keeping it compact will help maintain a manageable  harvest. Now I’m completely at peace with my pruning regime.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of drinking lemon water each day, so as I write this I’m reminded of a good habit I need to resume.

According to Why You Should Start Your Day With Lemon Water:

it has myriad health benefits, from helping your immune system to offering an antioxidant boost, explains Amy Myers, MD, author of The Autoimmune Solution ($21, amazon.com)

“Lemon is packed with vitamin C, which can help boost the immune system,” Myers tells Health. “It’s refreshing, and it tastes good,” she says.

On top of that, “lemons are very high in bioflavonoids that destroy harmful free radicals that damage blood vessels and cause inflammation,” osteopath Vicky Vlachonis, author of The Body Doesn’t Lie ($20, amazon.com), tells Health. “Plus, the invigorating smell just wakes you up.”

Soon I’ll be able to harvest my own lemons at home. I’ll pick up some lemons at the market till the harvest comes in.

This one didn’t make it…

split lemon on tree

Sometimes lemons split on the tree. Factors include temperature fluctuations, humidity, heavy rainfall, dry soil though over-watering is more harmful than a drought

…but these are right on track for a brilliant yellow harvest.

lemons turning yellow

Turning yellow

Turning Lemons into…Dinosaurs

Our lemon tree is covered with flowers again, promising another banner crop later this year. What I didn’t expect was this:

baby dinosaur lemon tree
It seems our enterprising tree has given birth to a baby dinosaur.

Thank you in advance for keeping your congratulatory comments to a dull roar. We don’t want to wake the baby.

Is there any ‘funny business’ happening in your world today?

The Tale of Two Lemon Trees

Prologue

Yes, I know it’s three chapters, but they’re short, and sweet, like the blossom on a lemon tree.

Chapter One

When we first bought our house, there was an ancient lemon tree growing in the back yard.  The lemons were as big as small grapefruits, but alas never juicy. We enjoyed the tree for its beauty and used the lemons for other things.

The sweet smell of citrus blossoms is crisp and inviting.  A tree laden with bright yellow fruit brought cheer to the garden year round. One year I found a nest in the dense foliage of the tree which confirmed what a special tree it was.  There was, however, one challenge.  The trunk of the tree was low to the ground. At knee-height, the lemon tree forked into two large branches.  The weight of the fruit started pulling the branches apart.  After wrapping the tree with rope, we called an arborist.  They suggested keeping the fruit to a minimum to reduce the weight and to harvest as often as we could.

lemon tree party

Garden birthday party, 2003

It was all for not.  I arrived home one afternoon to find the tree split in two.  Part of it was standing, but the rest lay sprawled across the lawn.  I was so grateful that my children weren’t playing in the yard at the time.  Once I knew the cats were also safe I was able to relax. I knew they weren’t trapped under the limbs of the fallen tree.

The tree had to go.

With the tree gone, we realized how much we enjoyed the extra light and the space to plant sun-worshiping vegetables.  We bought a dwarf lemon instead and put it in a pot on the front deck.

Chapter Two

Dwarf lemon trees produce full-sized fruit on a smaller tree. My mom had good luck growing a potted lemon tree, so I reasoned we could too. For whatever reason our Myer lemon didn’t take off.

We moved our dwarf lemon to the front, side yard and hoped it would get plenty of sun.

lemon tree 2011

Dwarf Myer Lemon Newly transplanted, 2011

dwarf lemon in side yard

Dwarf Myer Lemon today April, 2014

That first year the tree doubled in size but didn’t produce any fruit.  It increased in size again but got hit with a hard frost and  decided to sit it out for another year.  Last year the tree sent out thorns.  Surely fruit would follow.  By early fall, a fungus or some kind of pest, deformed all the new growth, wrapping it in a light powder.

What is a gardener to do?  I pulled out the shears, and removed the damage, taking a little extra for good measure.  Winter came (sort of) followed in typical fashion by spring.

Chapter Three

It’s spring!  The birds are singing, the bulbs are popping and we finally got a bit of rain.  Could this be the banner year for our little lemon tree? A recent trip to the side yard renewed my hope.  A single flower bud, fresh from the rain sent out a cheerful welcome.  New growth covered the tree and not a single pest in sight.

lemon buds

Lemon tree buds

A couple of rainy days later and all was right with the world.  Tiny flower buds cover the tree. Sweet, pink, intoxicating, might-one-day-be-a-lemon buds.

lemon tree flowers

Lemon tree flower and buds

To be continued…

 Epilogue

When life gives you lemons…

  • Collect them in a large bowl for a pretty display. Your entire house will smell like citrus.
  • Lemon juice and salt are great for cleaning copper.
  • Grinding a chopped lemon with some ice freshens the sink and the garbage disposal.
  • Use lemon juice instead of bleach to remove stains. Soak your delicate clothing in a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda for at least half an hour before washing. We did this with costumes in my theater days, so we didn’t harm the delicate fabric.