The lemon reigns supreme as Sydney’s quintessential backyard fruit tree, but upstart citrus are demanding a seat at our tables and a spot in the garden. Fingerlimes, for instance. Citrus australasica are native rainforest understorey plants that have been commercialised over the past decade or so. They are offered in arrange of colours, from barely there pinks and golds, to lime and ruby. Mark Engall, a third-generation citrus nurseryman, has experimented with different varieties to find those that fruit most consistently. His top picks are ‘Tasty Green’ and ‘Pink Ice’.
The lime-flavoured, caviar-like vesicles of fingerlimes are great with oysters, as is yuzu, a Japanese citrus, which adds unique flavour to lots of Japanease sauces and drinks. Yuzu fruit look like manky old lemons, but you need only pierce the skin with a fingernail to release their different and very distinctive aroma. The fabulous fragrance is put to use in Japan not just in food, but also in the bathtub. At Takefue, a beautiful hot spring resort in the mountains of Kyushu, I was given a bowl of fresh yuzu to lightly crush and float in my tub. The oil infusing the water and steam made for an invigorating soak.
There are few commercial yuzu growers in Australia so fresh fruit is hard to find, making growing it all the more appealing. Calamansi is just as rare. This is the lime that makes the delicious cold drink sold at roadside stalls through Indonesia and the Philippines. Calamansi is here called a calamondin. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the fruit is orange in Sydney rather than the green of the tropics. Engall suspects the colour is an effect of the climate, perhaps related in some way to the phenomenon that turns ripe valenecia oranges green in high summer. Like others in the cumquat family, calamondin are perfectly suited to container culture.
For sheer oddity value, it’s hard to go past Buddah’s hand, Citrus medica ‘Fingered citron’. The golden-fingered fruit is all rind and pith, no flesh, but its fresh fragrance has scented rooms since the days of ancient Athens. It looks spectacular as part of a still life, and is delicious candied. In fact this and Citrus medica ‘Etrog’, also available at Engall’s Nursery in Dural, are the fruits that make the French candied peel called citron.
So by all means grow a lemon, and perhaps an orange, but consider expanding the orchard to include some of the rarer citrus family. The requirements are all the same – a sunny spot and a big pot or a well-prepared hole in the garden, dug to at least twice the size of the rootball, and improved with lots of organic matter. Mark Engall’s single tip for citrus success is soil preparation. The better the soil, he says, the better the growth and the more resistant to pests is the citrus, whichever one you’re growing.