Citrus scents fill the air

Citrus scents fill the air

Life & Style
Variegated calamondin tree growing on the coast is covered in sweet smelling blossom after recent heavy rain.

Variegated calamondin tree growing on the coast is covered in sweet smelling blossom after recent heavy rain.

Aa

In Fiona's Garden: Cataracts of rain on coast and ranges have brought citrus trees into heavenly scented bloom.

Aa

Cataracts of rain on coast and ranges have brought citrus trees into heavenly scented bloom.

I recently admired a gorgeous little variegated-leaf calamondin tree covered in blossom and vowed to get one for our garden.

Calamondin fruit is a cross between a cumquat and a mandarin.

It falls between the two in size and has loose skin like a mandarin's.

Unlike the true cumquat it's too tart to eat raw but is lovely for marmalade, liqueurs and to crystallise.

The three to four metre high trees are compact and bushy, have few thorns and withstand frost to about -6 degrees.

I'd be taking a chance on the tablelands, but as I have a sheltered, north facing corner that thanks to the drought is presently bare, I'll give it a go.

I have a great affection for the true cumquat (Fortunella japonica syn. Citrus japonica) as it's the frost hardiest of all the citrus family.

It has survived -8 degrees in our garden and is the only citrus I've ever succeeded in growing.

Even my (late) Meyer lemon, a lemon-orange hybrid famed for its hardiness, grew at a glacial pace, rarely flowered and never fruited.

Cumquats fortunately are far friendlier.

Like so many of our best garden plants they are native to China and under the right conditions will reach four to five metres in height.

They are self-fertile so you only need one plant to produce the decorative, bright orange, sweetish-tart fruit that cumquat tragics, moi included, like to chomp on raw, skin and all.

Pick cumquats only when they're fully ripe - no citrus will ripen off the tree.

Cumquat trees need full sun but are indifferent to soil provided it's well drained, and damp but not waterlogged. Their roots are susceptible to root rot, so keep any mulch well away from the trunks.

They hate being root-bound so are unsuited to any but an uber large pot.

All citrus trees benefit from fertiliser twice annually, in February and August.

Their phosphorus needs are low and special citrus fertiliser is available that has the correct, nitrogen- and potassium-heavy N-P-K ratio (e.g. 12-7-13).

If I lived near the seaside, I would grow a Thai or kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) if only for the sake of the powerfully flavoured leaves that give Thai cooking its distinctive taste.

This thorny little citrus (two to five metres) is native to tropical south-east Asia and southern China and its flavoursome leaves are the weirdest shape.

Each looks exactly like an hourglass, with a narrow central waist, the lower half being an expanded stalk or petiole.

The origin of the name kaffir lime is obscure, but as kaffir is a racial slur in South Africa, the tree there is known as the Thai lime.

I prefer this name anyway, as it describes Citrus hystrix so accurately.

My other favourite coastal lime is the Australian finger lime (Citrus australasica), a thorny shrub from the Queensland and northern NSW coasts that is a true sub-tropical and, unlike the cumquat, is happy in a pot.

Aa

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