Lemons and feijoas down south
A citrus grove: mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges; revelling in sub-tropical abundance as we ambled and ate our way through a tiny slice of paradise; our two young children gorging themselves on mandarins, sitting under the bushes, surrounded by a tell-tale orange patchwork.
A hedge of feijoas – suggestively tropical despite being native to sub-tropical and temperate zones of South America.
Waving goodbye to such indulgences when we left the warmer climes of greater Wellington’s Kapiti Coast for a place down south: Little Owl Gully in the Mackenzie District’s Fairlie Basin.
After several attempts, we gave up on trying to get even the hardy Meyer lemon tree to survive our winters. Our last one, planted in our unheated glasshouse, had got so established after five years that we’d been picking a few lemons. Deep into its sixth winter, covered, as always, on frosty nights, it got down to -10 C several nights in a row: killed the close to the surface feeder roots and much more besides – it never recovered.
As for feijoas, well, we never tried: they are more frost tolerant than Meyer lemons, the bushes surviving – 8 C to – 10 C frosts once mature, but like Meyer, frost tender during the first few establishment years. And a -3 C frost would damage the fruit.
But over the last few years global warming has ratchetted up a notch or two: even making allowance for weather extremes heading every which way, warmer winters are here to stay. We move into spring with a backward glance at our first winter without snow at Little Owl Gully.
Looking at the big picture, I can’t see anything good can come of the current human induced changes to earth’s climate: a sentiment that makes me think that, deep down, the reason we have started doing things like this year’s planting of a Meyer lemon tree and two feijoa bushes is because we have started to take the first steps in Little Owl Gully’s adapting to a warmer climate.
A small lemon bush in a small pot, we kept it in a sheltered outdoor spot near our backdoor throughout the winter months of July and August, never once needing to bring it indoors. The two feijoa bushes have spent their first winter here under frost cloth but would have survived anyway – the nights seldom dropped below -3 C and never as low as the – 8 C temperatures they can tolerate.
On the first day of September, in a symbolic gesture to herald the start of meteorological spring, the lemon was planted out in the raised bed outside our back door and the covers were taken off the feijoas. I’m sure lemons and feijoas are symbolic of many adaptations and mitigations we’ll have to instigate if the humans, animals and plants of Little Owl Gully are to continue to have healthy lives.
We’re really looking forward to an abundance of our very own home-grown lemons and feijoas, but what an apocalyptically high price to pay for the likes of hedgerows dripping with feijoas and groves of citrus thriving, down south, in the depths of winter.