By Andrea Bellamy - heavypetal.ca
Years ago, my grandmother gave me a mouldy lemon for Christmas. It was wrapped in plastic and tucked into a shoebox along with whole nutmeg, a cinnamon stick, and a Microplane grater, the food items illustrating possible uses of the grater. The lemon was the first thing I unwrapped, and I examined the soft, grey, citrus-scented orb, concluding that it was a bath bomb. Only after the rest of the box’s contents were unwrapped did I realize that it was in fact a lemon—grated and wrapped weeks prior.
My parents gave my husband a more useful and slightly less confusing gift for his birthday. Though he’s not interested in plants (beyond eating them), Ben is an amazing chef and dedicated food lover. At least, I imagine that was my mom’s thinking when she chose a potted Meyer lemon, that ingenious lemon-orange mash-up, for his birthday present.
The little tree (barely two feet high, including its pot) came preloaded with hard green fruit. All we had to do was keep it alive until they ripened. This proved dead easy: keeping the soil moist but not soggy (which meant daily watering during the hot summer months) and the tree in a sheltered, sunny location.
Because Meyer lemons are hardy to just above freezing, in our climate they are best grown in containers and moved to a protected space over the winter months. Ours grows quite happily on a window ledge, its ripening fruit within easy reach for harvesting (and slicing and squeezing). When they bloom, the plant’s gorgeous wax-like blossoms are a midwinter gift: white and tinged with purple, they smell like spring in Italy and perfume our living room for weeks.
Miraculously—and this is what I love about cultivating and caring for plants—the blossoms give way to green almond-sized fruit that swell into actual Meyer lemons once the plant moves back outdoors for its summer holiday.
The Improved Meyer Lemon Dwarf is said to be one of the easiest citruses to grow, but key limes and even satsumas are also straightforward. Check out Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants in Richmond for a great selection. The key to growing these attractive little talking points is sun (lots of it), water (regular doses without drowning the poor things), shelter (over the winter months), and fertilizer (throughout spring and summer). Do all that and you may be garnishing your winter cocktail with homegrown citrus.
In keeping with his relationship to all the plants at our place, Ben has become the beneficiary of the Meyer lemon’s yield, but does little to contribute to its health. (A mutually satisfactory arrangement: I grow, he cooks. We both consider ourselves lucky.) He does take perhaps a heightened level of interest in the little potted citrus, but I suspect he’s only counting the developing fruit with a mind to how they’ll taste.
Andrea Bellamy is the gardener behind HeavyPetal.ca and author of Small-Space Vegetable Gardens: Growing Great Edibles in Containers, Raised Beds, and Small Plots.