As many of you know from previous tales of my gardening exploits and my rare modest successes, I generally enter into the fray–in the spirit of Dr. Johnson and his animadversions on second marriages–internalizing the “triumph of hope over experience.”
Still, with the help and advice of good friends who are better at it than I, and with occasional financial splurges for assistance from local experts, I’m improving.
Now, few trees or plants could be less appropriate to the climate, or the soil, of Southwestern Pennsylvania than those of tropical fruits. Believe me, I have experience. Avocados? Fail. Olives? Fail. Vanilla bean orchids? A few ups and downs, but getting there. Other orchids? Meh. Mangos? Resounding fail. And so on.
Some years ago, I fell (again) for the hype which turns up in my inbox on a regular basis urging me to succumb to the appeal of tropical exoticism, and I purchased a little lemon tree. It came complete with food and fertilizer, and–the first year–I got one lemon from it! It was a truly exceptional lemon, and I will never forget the joy it brought me. I nursed the tree over the winter (they have to come inside, as–once winter really gets going, the temperature can stay below freezing here for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Below zero Fahrenheit really isn’t all that remarkable, and it can, on rare occasions, get down to 20 below. So in my few exotics come, to spend the winter among their more tender brethren who are indoors all year.)
Keeping the trees and plants alive indoors presents other challenges including those of light level and humidity, but–somehow–the lemon tree survived my ministrations, and once the worst of winter was over, I moved it into the sunroom, and then outside into the warmth, sometime in the Spring of 2021.
Catastrophe quickly ensued when one of my pet sheep (Notchou, for those keeping score) elbowed (yes, sheep do have elbows) her way past me through an open gate, galloped into the no-sheep-allowed garden and, without breaking stride, passed the pot with my little lemon tree in it, seized it in her mouth, carried it away, bit the good parts off, and then tossed her head and flung it about ten feet away to land in a heap in the compost pile. She just smiled, and kept on going.
To say she was proud of her accomplishment would be the understatement of the century.
What was left of that poor little tree is still alive, but it has never produced another fruit. Maybe next year. (See “hope” vis-a-vis “experience,” above.)
Last year, I tried again, this time with a cheap little tree, rootbound in a small yellow pot, and desperate for a home, on sale for 50% off at Home Depot. (I’m a sucker for such unfortunates, whether they be plants, animals, or any other sorts of life forms, and I almost always take them home or invite them in, sometimes at great cost, although I never seem to learn.) I didn’t really expect much, but it survived the winter and has (so far) not fallen prey to the depredations of Notchou and her ilk:
This little darling currently has five lemons in the early stages of development:
I remember The Lemon Tree Song from my childhood. The song I knew was sung by Trini Lopez, and was an adaptation–written by Will Holt–of a Brazilian folk song recorded in 1937 by Sylvio Caldas:
Will Holt recorded the song himself shortly after writing it in the late 1950s, but wasn’t nearly as successful with it as was Trini Lopez a few years later. Peter, Paul, and Mary also had something of a hit with it in 1962 but–remember what they say about “everything before ‘but’”–in my estimation they turned it into the usual mawkish slish indistinguishable from all everything else they were know for. You might say they turned it into something like “Puff the Magic Lemon Tree.” Well, you mighn’t say that, but I probably would.)
Perhaps what lifts the Lopez version head and shoulders above the rest is his preservation of something of the Latin beat of the original…
Lemon tree very pretty
And the lemon flower is sweet;
But the fruit of the poor lemon
Is impossible to eat
No doubt the trees–if they’re encouraged to flourish–are very pretty. And the lemon flowers are not only “sweet,” but also gorgeous. Here are a very few of mine from earlier this year (ditto the image at the top of this post). They are small and waxy, and–even with just a few of them–the exotic scent, when you brush past them, is overwhelming, taking me back to the smells of childhood nights in Nigeria and–more recently–a trip to Thailand in 2018:
They say the sense of smell is the most evocative of them all. I believe it.
There is a bit of a digressive lesson here, when it comes to using the Internet to find out things: There are–apparently– two “Lemon Tree” Songs.
One is the song I’ve written about above. The other is a much more recent endeavor, written by Peter Freudenthaler of the German Group Fool’s Garden, about the death of his girlfriend who–so the sad story goes–died in a car accident in which she crashed into a lemon tree.
I found–while I was researching my song that it was quite easy to get the two concatenated, conflated, and confused, because others on the Internet aren’t quite as demanding as I am, when it comes to getting things clear and straight. Fortunately, I’ve run into that syndrome before, and although I’m not completely immune to it, I don’t often succumb. And I haven’t here. (That’s one of the things that distinguishes me from the “I read this five minutes ago on Wikipedia and I think its the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read!!!!!” or the “Here’s a thirty-second YouTube video of someone demolishing orbital mechanics and taking the time to deconstruct half-a-dozen other topics while he’s at it” nitwits. Crimenutely. Mark your homework, all of you. And, at least, try.
Please enjoy the definitive version of the definitive Lemon Tree Song:
Trinidad Lopez III–one of my mother’s favorite entertainers–died from complications of Covid at the age of 83, three years ago this week, on August 11, 2020.