Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why Don't You... Grow Citrus?

I spent the day yesterday preparing jars of preserved lemons.  This condiment is delicious with Moroccan foods, fish and chicken.  You just need a little and the tangy lemony/salty taste has an interesting cooling effect on the tongue.  Let me know if you want the recipe!  At any rate, it got me thinking how wonderful it would be to grow my own citrus trees, if only I had some sun and an orangery.  I think the ability to cultivate winter citrus in northern climes has to be one of the most elegant gardening feats.  The beauty of the rich glossy leaves, the scent of the fruit....but I digress.

I found this bit of historical information on winter citrus growing on the NYBG library site:

"Despite the harsh winters of Northern Europe, resourceful and ingenious gardeners were able to develop protected environments amenable to the growth of tender and exotic plants. Although oranges were said to have reached Europe as early as the thirteenth century and were being raised outdoors in Italian Courts during the fifteenth century, it wasn’t until the last quarter of the seventeenth century that the Dutch enthusiasm for citrus had spread throughout Europe.
The Dutch excelled in citrus cultivation and worked to improve growing conditions and to provide methods of keeping the plants over the winter. Citrus trees could be planted in the ground and protection built around them or they could be planted in containers and carried indoors for the inhospitable winter months. Structures such as the stovehouse, fruit wall and orangery were developed for this purpose.
Versailles Orangerie
The orangery began as a temporary building structure with removable parts that was often placed over the trees when they were planted in the ground, but for aesthetic and economic reasons, the building soon evolved into a permanent structure. By incorporating windows on the southern side of the building, to maximize the amount of sunlight reaching the growing plants, and using advanced forms of heating such as the ‘stoove’ to replace an open fireplace, tender plants could be over-wintered with improved results.
Schweriner Schloss Orangerie
In 1703, Hendryck van Oosten, the Leyden gardener, published The Dutch gardener: … in which he wrote an account of the nursing of lemon and orange trees in northern climates saying."there is not a Plant or Tree, that affords such extensive and lasting pleasure; for there is not a Day in the Year when Orange-Trees, may not, and indeed ought not, to afford matter of Delight: whether it be in the Greenness of their Leaves, or in the Agreeableness of their Form and Figure, or in the pleasant Scent of their Flowers, or in the Beauty and Duration of their Fruit." 
Those Dutch...ever resourceful. Equally resourceful was Nancy Astor's head gardener, Frank Copcutt, a man after my own heart.  Lady Astor adored citrus trees and sometimes insisted that fruiting orange trees from Cliveden's greenhouses be used at receptions and parties at her St. James's Square home.  Here's what Frank had to say when Viscount Astor complimented him on the orange trees:
"His Lordship: "Wonderful orange trees you've got there, Frank, a pity we can't have them in the house at Cliveden."
Frank:  "Why not, my lord?"
His Lordship: "Well, the fruit's bound to drop when they're traveling."
Frank:  "I don't think so, my lord, we'll take it off before we move it, and put it back on again at the other end."  And [Frank] showed him how [the oranges] had all been attached with wire.    [From Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor]


  1. Here in Ohio it would have to be brought indoors in the winter. I don't even have room in my gardens let alone bringing it inside in the winter.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Oh those citrus trees, normally winters are no very in our danish coastline climate, so keeping them i orangeries won´t cost a fortune, but the amount of light is the problem. One would have to add artificial lighting for more secure overwintering. But the scent in the greenhouse a sunny day in early march of a blooming citrustree is paradisic. Great anecdote of using wire to "keep" the fruit on the trees....
    Henrik from french-gardening

  3. As a Floridian, I'm fortunate to be abundantly surrounded by citrus trees! I had three orange trees and a grapefruit tree in my garden when I moved into my current house, and they produced so much fruit that one season friends and I nearly filled the back of a pickup truck.

    One of my house-warming gifts was an electric juicer, which over the years produced many gallons of orange juice. I learned that three oranges filled a tumbler perfectly, so I would start many a morning going outside and picking just three oranges.

    Now, sadly, the trees have all died (they were about 60 years old.).

  4. I started growing Kumquat last year which see to have much more kerb appeal that the previous gnarly Lemons I had toyed with as I had no knowledge really of how to grow them properly and they always looked rather sad.