When I was a little girl my father’s godmother, my Great Aunt Josie, had a citrus tree in her kitchen that she grew from a seed. It was there for as long as I could remember.
What made that so unusual is she lived in a row house on Ritner Street in South Philadelphia. She had a tiny backyard where she used to grow tomatoes in containers and lots of flowers and other things. She also had a garden out in Collegeville at my Great Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s house.
Anyway, her fruit tree, and I think hers was a grapefruit too, never fruited to the best of my knowledge. It lived in the kitchen during the late fall and winter and early spring, but as soon as fear of frost had lifted it went into the backyard and sat on the back porch. This tree she grew from a seed grew and grew. Her house was a larger row house that originally had double front windows and very tall ceilings, especially on the first floor.
She developed Alzheimer’s later in life and my father’s sister put her in a nursing home. I don’t know whatever happened to that tree, I expect it got put out in the trash. But I never forgot it.
So about 20 years ago, I had a grapefruit seed in the palm of my hand after eating a grapefruit. I thought of my Aunt Josie and stuck it in the dirt in a houseplant pot and forgot about it. One day I noticed the house plant had something growing with it. A grapefruit tree seedling.
So for the last 20 years I have continuously potted up my grapefruit tree from when it was a tiny seedling to then a house plant on a console table, to the big thing it has become now.
All of this time it never flowered, it never developed fruit. It developed spines on its little limbs but that was it. It lives on the deck or the back patio in the summer, and it comes in for its winter inside.
I used keep it in the family room but it’s sort of outgrew it space and I also have two small other citrus trees that I overwinter – a bitter orange and a Meyer lemon. For the past couple of winters it has lived in the dining room because it loves that light there.
For a year or so I have been following the advice of British garden guru Monty Don on the care of citrus trees. He has a whole routine about giving them a good prune in the spring and feeding them well and giving them a good water but letting them dry out in between so they don’t get root rot.
I used to have this tree in terra-cotta or ceramic pots with drainage holes, but the tree has gotten so big that it is now in a plastic composite pot that looks like terracotta because otherwise it would be too heavy for me to move.
I went outside to give it water because it was truly parched and as I was spraying the leaves with the hose wand I noticed a little green fruit.
I swear it’s the little things in life like this that brings so much joy. Or at least to us gardeners. I don’t know how big the fruit will get, or if it will mature enough to be edible. I never expected it to grow fruit because I also didn’t know if it was a self pollinating kind of tree or required a mate. After all, it came from the seed of a grocery store grapefruit.
But it’s a delightful surprise on another hot and sticky day. We have a tropical storm due in here tomorrow, so I’m hoping my gardens will get a good soak but not flood.