The History, Told in Citrus Plants

Well, my birthday came and went last weekend. I hesitate to mention which day because my friends mostly jumped on the happy-birthday bandwagon on the wrong one and I really don’t want to correct them because I appreciate the caring.

Anyway, on one of the two weekend days, my Direct Gardening order arrived. I don’t know why I don’t have the trouble with them that almost everyone else does. I ordered, they took my payment a bit later and in another week or so, I got my package, all neat and tidy…except it came while we were on our way to see the Terminator movie in Knoxville and the mail lady was able to cram it into our black mailbox on a high 90s “feels like 105*F” day. If it had been a tad bigger, it would have had to go on the porch, where it would have been better off.

I feel I should pause at this point to admit that I have a serious citrus addiction. It all started with the tangerine my mother sprouted when I was three. Then we moved to Florida and I spent something like 20 years without citrus trees of any kind. That with Mom working for a year or so for an I-75 citrus and souvenir stand before she went back to school. I only mention it because she’d bring home bags of Valencia oranges and we’d…throw…out…the…seeds. They also had stacks of boxed Calamondin orange trees for the tourists to take home, before citrus canker locked down Florida’s borders.

Anyway, during the later part of those 20 odd years, I lived in apartments with either porches, patios, or courtyards. This was when I discovered Direct Gardening. I ordered lots of bare root plants, but consistently failed to make a go of it. (I held it against the Florida summer sun, not the mail order company.) I could not order citrus from them, because Florida. Then I moved to Dallas and couldn’t order citrus from them because Texas. Then I moved to North Carolina.

My first Direct Gardening order after I moved (all the bareroots lived) included The Citrus Quartet. We also got goats. Goats love citrus trees. This is not in the goat manual, but I assure you it’s true. My Dwarf Tangerine and Dwarf Lemon found out before I did. The Lemon earned the name, “Undead Meyer Lemon” by coming back. Our timeshare cat finally finished it off and we replaced it with a grafted Meyer Lemon from a big box store clearance sale. In 2009, I spent the eBay bucks I’d earned on my first incubator to get a seed grown “Clementine” to replace the dead tangerine.

In 2011, we were laid off from our online jobs and wound up making a disastrous move to Tennessee. When you agree to buy land with a family member, be sure that family member is not being medicated past the point of sanity. That’s all I really want to say about that. Take it as read that we were basically living in an abusive situation. I was more isolated because I was making a living selling web content at the time. It meant I hardly ever got away.

But, we’d go to the flea market sometimes and they sold bags of Valencia oranges there. I planted the seeds and Key Lime seeds and I grew fig trees from cuttings I’d taken from the tree back home in Bryson City. The hillside beside the driveway was loaded with discarded pop bottles from the house construction days. I made seedling pots from them and thought myself quite clever. I also ordered another Meyer Lemon. It too is an undead.

When everything finally got as bad as it could get, most of my seedlings and adult trees wound up out in snow storms with me helpless to save them. The strong survived, the weak perished, and I grew seedlings from my dead Calamondin Orange. We got our house and I assembled my ragged citrus along the sidewalk. Plants revived, seedlings grew, and we got more Meyer Lemons and some Satsumas on closeout clearance. We over wintered in the house twice. My “maximum height 2 ft” Dwarf Lime had to be trimmed again and grew back to 6’3″.

The neighbor’s free range dogs killed 14 trees this year. Maybe 15. (Estimated $500 or more in damages based on comparably sized trees, but the neighbor is too poor and too developmentally delayed to be held accountable. The city doesn’t even make her follow leash law and she continues to live in a house they condemned last year with nothing done to fix the home’s living situation.) I’m waiting on one lemon to live or die. I replanted with Key Lime seeds. I ordered two Cleopatra Mandarins and another Calamondin Orange from Direct Gardening. I will miss my Clementine. She was 6 years old and might have born fruit soon. I did plant a rare Clementine pip around Christmas. The plantlet is growing. As of this weekend, the new trees are recovering from shipping on my porch along with the free peony for signing up for the newsletter.

Remaining older citrus are giving me lemons and limes. Tall dwarf lime is still tall.

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