A passion for gardening
The UK’s passion for gardening is well known. Whether you have a couple of hundred rolling acres or a mere smear of a town garden, it seems that people are gardening as never before, not just doing their own thing but trying to be more ambitious not just in where they grow but in what they grow. In my case, it’s yuzu.
Never heard of it, I hear you say. What is it? The answer is that it’s a small citrus tree, a cross between a mandarin orange and a wild lemon that originated in the Far East (it’s believed to have come from China and Tibet but is now commonly associated with Japan). It can be found in Australasia and parts of Southern Europe. Here’s how I came to be growing it in Lincolnshire.
My wife and I have a small town garden which is just about the right size and gives us room to grow a mixture of ornamentals and edibles. My wife does the ornamental bits and I take responsibility for the edibles.
I have to be inventive about what I grow and where. This means container gardening – three mobile crates (about one metre square in total), wall baskets, troughs and pots. The crates are given over to courgettes, the wall baskets have cherry tomatoes, the troughs contain lettuce and chicory. The pots – well, one pot – has the yuzu.
It was James Wong who first alerted me to the plant, in an article in the Observer. No one I knew then grew it, not even my sister who’s a committed gardener, has done Royal Horticultural Society courses, has her own allotment and takes the whole thing seriously. It sounded delightful. I was intrigued. I decided I wanted to get one. I did.
One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that its relative rarity in the UK means there’s not that much information about them. The most helpful source was the nursery I bought the plant from, though any book or website dealing with citrus care also helps.
What to do
James Wong said they were easy to grow and so it seemed. In the first year, it produced several fruit. That was beginners’ luck, it seemed. In the following years, both fruit and flowers were scarce. That was frustrating and it took quite a bit of hunting for information, plus a degree of trial and error, to find out why. This year, its fourth, I’m much more optimistic. There have been plenty of flowers and several fruit have set.
This is exciting. The plants are evergreen and have long and very sharp thorns. When it puts out flowers, they are small, white and very scented. The leaves also give off a fragrance. But it’s the fruit that really steal the show.
Apparently they’re a prized ingredient in Japanese kitchens, but you can’t find them for sale where I live. Though they don’t always grow to maturity, when they do they are a revelation – sweet, sharp and unlike any other fruit I’ve tasted. The whole fruit – juice, flesh, skin – add a genuinely different element to cooking, to stir-fry sauce for example. If you like such food, it’s worth growing them for that alone.
Key dos and don’ts
Here’s what I’ve found out so far:
- The right compost is essential. Specialist citrus compost is a must (it’s readily available in garden centres so not too hard to find).
- Yuzu (like all citrus plants) is a hungry plant. It needs a weekly water and feed in the growing season (less frequently in the winter). Appropriate feeds are available to buy.
- Yuzu hate being waterlogged. Make sure the compost is free-draining – the water should be able to run out at the base of the pot. If planted in a pot, put it on chocks. Water sparingly in winter.
- If the leaves are discoloured or curled up, it’s a sign the plant is stressed. They will drop if the plant is unwell but it will put out new leaves in the spring.
- Unlike other citrus plants, yuzu are hardy and can be left out throughout all but the coldest winters. (See note 3 above, though.)
- Yuzu like light. My garden is south facing so I put it in the sunniest spot. Sunshine helps them produce flowers, which should lead to fruit.
- Yuzu don’t need much extra care. In hot weather, misting leaves and flowers helps keep the humidity high, which in turn helps fruit to form.
- Pruning and repotting can be done in the spring every two or three years. Prune to stop the plant getting too big – trimming straggly and any crossing branches to keep the plant in shape is all that’s necessary – and repot at the same time. This is simplicity itself; lift it from the pot, knock some of the compost off and replace, backfilling with fresh compost. The pot needn’t be too big – mine’s in a 15 litre one which is big enough.
That’s all there is to it. Though I don’t call myself a gardener, I’ve found my yuzu hugely rewarding. If you can find one, I hope you will too.