Plants I love

Love a tree

It’s time to think about trees because tomorrow, July 26, is National Tree Day. There are all kinds of tree-planting activities you can get involved in, but the best is to plant a tree at home. There’s no need to turn the page just because you garden on a balcony, in a courtyard or on a suburban block already given over to swimming pool, trampoline and outdoor kitchen. My suggestions here are edible trees, some of them small and some perfectly content in a pot.

Olives in James Basson Chelsea garden

James Basson included a little grove of olives in his garden for l’Occitane at Chelsea this year.

Good evergreen options on the small and edible menu include citrus and olives. The olives won’t need much assistance once established, though harvests are greater if they are regularly fed and watered, and annually pruned. They can be grown in the ground or in pots, but make sure it’s a big pot. Citrus are a bit more demanding. They want regular food and water and an eye out for pests. They are perfectly happy in pots if bought as plants grafted on to dwarf Flying Dragon rootstock, but if you have the space, what about a grove?

Potted lemons, Villa Gamberaia

The potted lemons at Villa Gamberaia outside Florence.

Where a deciduous tree is a better choice, consider figs, which respond well to hard pruning. Like lemons, figs are good subjects for espaliering against a wall if space is at a premium. You could celebrate Sydney’s horti-history with a Granny Smith apple. Granny Smith herself lived in Eastwood, where she cut corners on composting by simply throwing the cores of the French crabapples she was cooking out the kitchen window. Out of that fragrant mulch grew the apple subsequently named after her. Her namesake, like other apples, do best in Sydney’s cooler areas.

Persimmon

Persimmon, which are best grown in-ground, offer glowing autumn fruit and brilliant foliage. There are two types, the original astringent ones, whose fruit must be really soft to be edible; and the ‘fuyu’ or sweet persimmons, which can be eaten crisp or soft. The fruit will be especially tasty in areas that get some frost, as flavour in persimmons builds in response to the difference between day and night-time temperatures. (The same is true of blood oranges, which build the best colour in conditions with warm sunny days and cold frosty nights.)

White mulberry

With a bit more space you could grow a mulberry. Choose a white one if there is paving or washing nearby that might be stained by falling fruit. If you have plenty of room a macadamia is a beautiful tree. They can get to 20m in the rainforests of northern NSW and southern Queensland that are their home, but are much smaller in cultivation. Make sure of it by choosing a dwarf variety, grafted for faster fruit. There are lovely sprays of pink or white flowers in spring, followed by the nuts.

Tree canopy

If you can’t celebrate National Tree Day by planting a tree, mark the day by admiring them. Even better, get your loved ones to stare up at the canopy of large trees with you. The researchers who study these things have shown that looking up at trees offers an altruism bonus. The awe inspired by trees, they say, makes us less egocentric and more empathetic.

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