GardenMessenger

This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter, Growing Citrus and OrchidMessenger

Semana Santa - Andalucia

Happy Easter everybody. My wife and I are currently staying with our son in Andalucia in southern Spain. What a great part of the world, especially at this time of the year. Not only Easter with the great Semana Santa festivals, which we come and enjoy most years, but all the spring blossoms. I love the orange blossom. I have always loved citrus flowers and have a passion for the fruits. For me one of my greatest garden memories is a very simple one - picking a sun-warmed grapefruit for breakfast in a garden in Santa Barbara, California, when I was visiting friends. I was at that time living permanently in the UK, where of course citrus of any kind, except the strange Poncirus trifoliata, have no chance of survival. Stephanie, who ran a small nursery in a beautiful location in the foothills above the ocean, invited me to walk into the garden and choose a grapefruit for my breakfast. It was my first morning staying at her home and it made a very pleasurable and lasting memory for a gardener, who at that time, spent most of his gardening life in temperate Europe.

Anyway, the citrus here in Spain are great at this time of the year. In the wonderful old city of Seville they are used as street trees. The large coarse oranges that my grandmother and mother in the UK used to turn into marmalade - the true Seville oranges. They are planted in back streets, courtyards - or patios as the Spanish call them - and even as shade trees in the ancient courtyard of the cathedral known as Patio de los Naranjos. This dates back to Moorish times when worshippers would wash their hands and feet in the fountain here - under the orange trees - before their daily prayers. The thing that I find extraordinary is that all the orange trees in the city look so healthy, despite restricted root conditions and pavement glare in summer temperatures that on occasions reach 50ºC (122 ºF). The foliage is fresh and green, and at the moment the creamy-white scented blossoms are heavenly.

Growing Citrus

At various times during my gardening career in the UK I have grown citrus under glass. At least I had them inside for the period of time when frost was likely, usually mid-September until May. Then stood them outside for the summer. They seem to grow much better if they get the fresh air around them. I guess the gardeners of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who introduced the orangery to the great gardens of northern Europe knew what they were doing. The orangeries accommodated the plants during what Scandinavian gardeners call "the hard days and nights" - frosty times - and they were stood outside on gravel for the summer months to enjoy the sunshine and extended day-length.

However, despite such conditions being apparently equitable for citrus cultivation and easily copied by home gardeners, most people who grow citrus in pots seem to experience yellow leaf problems and stunted growth at some time. It seems that the sequestered iron, that most of us tend to use for any leaf yellowing problems whether iron deficiency or not, has little effect. So presumably the problem is not one associated with iron. Not that in practical terms it really matters, for I know how to prevent it occurring and I have passed on the information to countless gardeners over the years, who have all been very happy with the outcome.

My late Uncle Basil, who was the head gardener at a minor country house in the east of England many years ago provided me with the answer. While his scientific knowledge was not of the highest order, his country and garden wisdom - along with an extraordinary skill in crafting walking sticks of the finest quality - was legendary. All his wisdom expressed in a wonderful East Anglian accent that is sadly in decline following the urbanisation of much of that part of the country. The answer to citrus leaf problems is charcoal. "Enough charcoal to keep the compost sweet" was what he used to say. You see, not very scientific! Well following his instructions I eventually refined his formula to something that I could convey to others. Two tablespoons of crushed charcoal - the activated carbon used in aquarium filters is fine - to a standard bucketful of good soil-based potting compost. Pot your citrus fruits in this and the foliage will stay lush and green. I have no idea why it works, but it does.

OrchidMessenger is for orchid lovers

Any GardenMessenger members or visitors to this blog who are interested in growing orchids are invited to join the orchid growing group OrchidMessenger. This is a global community for those who are interested in the cultivation and botany of orchids. The group's discussions embrace both tropical and frost-hardy species and cultivars. We welcome members from around the world, both beginners and the more experienced, to share their knowledge and ideas with one another and to make new gardening friends. If you would like to join the OrchidMessenger group click here.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor
Gurney's 120 x 60

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
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