Lemony thicket

If you know me well enough, dear reader, you also know my garden. It’s been very good to me over the years, but it’s not monumental by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s face it, it won’t be featured in House ‘n Home or Top Billing any time soon. But it gives me pleasure and pain in almost equal measures and that’s about the long and the short of it.

I do want to tell you about the first tree I ever planted in my garden, though. A lemon tree. Back then, I knew sweet blue bugger-all about gardening … and I hardly know much more today. But I did think that my garden looked a little bare at the time: a few hardy shrubs here and there, two trusty old fever trees in the corners, proudly throwing shade without killing my lawn. I needed to make my mark. I needed to plant a tree of my own, a fruity little thing, and why not? Shouldn’t every good garden have one?

Meant to be together

I saw the lemon tree in a nursery one day and thought it was the cutest thing on roots, what with its stout little stem, its brave lemons and its sensible, deep-green leaves, and I thought: what a nice thing to have in my garden. God knows, I have the space! I could plant it literally anywhere I wanted and just watch it fruit. Lemonade. Gin and tonic. Even lemon marmalade if I cared enough to research the recipe.

This wasn’t any little tree,  dear reader, this was my dreamy-creamy, lemony future and boy was it bright.

So I bought it. There and then, with the last few pennies in my poverty-stricken home owner’s pocket, and I planted it ceremoniously in a prime spot, right up against a bare, face brick wall, where I could see it from my lounge and watch it run riot. It would be my prize piece of greenery, a focal point for my garden soirées, an out and proud little conversation piece. My own little lemony thicket.

What nobody told me

Lemon trees aren’t easy. Let me tell you that much. In fact, no fruit tree is a thing of beauty without an awful lot of fuss. Oh, but it went well at first … it came from a good nursery after all, grew to about twice my length and even looked healthy and green. My visitors commented. It bore fruit. I baked a lemon tart.


Then it all went due south. First, some insects closed in. Those fluffy-sticky cotton balls underneath the leaves? I fiercely brought it to order with a spray can, some poison and a good dose of free advice from the very same nursery I bought it from. Fruit trees aren’t shrubs or succulents, you know. You’ve got to tend to them, prune them in early spring, water them at just the right intervals and inspect their roots and leaves whenever you have a moment to spare. Have you planted yours in the sun or in the shade? Beatles and blights, black spots and botulism, fungus and fruity-bloody-lingus!

Fruit trees are fucking hard work

Soon after I’d defeated one set of creepy crawlies, another crept in. Then the fruit started turning brown for no bloody reason on God’s green earth. Lemons like prunes. Again, poison and sprays and fertilisers and books and heaps and heaps of useless advice.

And right before my very eyes, the worst happened. The poor little thing developed those cancerous, bubbly looking distortions for leaves. It awakened childhood nightmares in me of people with incurable diseases abandoned on deserted islands to fend for themselves, elephantiasis and leprosy and necrosis and septicemia, grabbing and clutching at one another with creepy limbs, and before I knew it, the little tree became a massive eyesore. I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t entertain anymore and invited nobody over. What would people say if they saw my little tree go to pieces like this and there was nothing I could do to help it out of its misery? It consumed my psyche and drained my energy and spoiled my view. And when I looked, I cringed.

It’s then that I started wishing the tree away. I began imagining my garden without it and, as it turns out, that was the last nail in the little tree’s coffin. If I could imagine my garden looking lovely without it, why was it still there? And that, dear reader, is the hardest question you’ll ever ask yourself about a plant, because it implies the awful answer. It needs to be done away with.

So I plucked up the courage and I ripped it out

Roots and all.

First, where the lemon tree used to be, was a very obvious dead, brown spot in the lawn against the wall, which was only marginally better than having a diseased plant in plain sight. Maybe I regretted taking it out at first, I won’t lie. It’s hard to say goodbye to living things and, besides, it was my very first attempt at gardening and I hated admitting to an outright failure. But time heals all wounds, they say, and I eventually grew older, wiser, and used to having a blank spot where a fruit tree used to be.

What surprised me most, however, was people’s reaction when they saw my suddenly lemon-less garden. Where’s your tree gone? What have you done to it? I told you those crusty scabs were a bad sign, but no!

After a while, their shock and scorn turned into nosiness: So what are you going to plant next? I know this lovely garden shop in Pretoria with the most amazing collection of indigenous flora, you should go have a lookie-loo. And even criticism: You’re lazy! No garden should be without at least one fruit-bearing tree, otherwise it’s lifeless and barren. Look at yours. It’s clearly missing … something … right there! (pointing at the place where the lemon tree died a violent death at the blade of my axe).

My garden compensates

I just don’t need the fuss of another fruit tree. I’ve grown accustomed to buying lemons in a bag. My trusty old lawn has covered the barren spot. A penny creeper has joyfully annexed my face brick wall, as though it’s the Garden of bloody Eden, and my fever trees are majestic and beautiful. The view from my lounge is adorned with arty terracotta pots these days and a white bougainvillea I bought as a reminder of a brilliant holiday I’d spent in the Far East with some awfully good friends.

And did you know, dear reader, that Woolies sells this piquant little jam in the cutest yellow jar? It’s the best damn lemon marmalade money can buy and it tastes just dandy on a piece of toast.

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