bay tree

Why you shouldn’t plant citrus trees in the verge

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Yes, that's a lemon tree buried in amongst the nasturtiums...
Yes, that’s a lemon tree buried in amongst the nasturtiums…

Before Lewisham, we lived in a unit in Chippendale. Surrounded by the local guerrilla gardening of the verge, we were equally enthusiastic when we moved into our new house.

We remain strong supporters of the principle of gardening the verge (nature strip). We’ve learned along the way, however, a bit about what works and what doesn’t.

What works in the verge

There are many possibilities for gardening the verge, while staying in local council guidelines.

“Pick and come again” mediterranean herbs work particularly well. They’re tough, attractive, and useful for office workers heading home to make their evening meal. Olive trees and bay trees also work well, acclimatised as they are to tough conditions.

There are plenty of native plants that work well in the verge, from low-running ground-covers and strap-leaf grasses, through to hardy bushes and small trees. (We’re quite pleased with our native verge.)

What doesn’t work in the verge

Our biggest lesson is that citrus trees don’t work well in the verge. Since this is the hardest learned lesson for us, it’s worth sharing a few specific reasons:

  • Citrus trees are gross feeders. That is, they require a lot of food, throughout the year. Without this, they remain stunted and fruit-less. (For example, for us to get lots of limes, we greatly ramped up our feeding regimen.)
  • Citrus are attacked by bugs and diseases. There’s practically nothing that they aren’t attacked by, including citrus leaf miners, stink bugs, aphids, thrips and citrus gall moth, to name just a few.
  • Citrus aren’t set-and-forget. For the reasons listed above, citrus need constant monitoring and care, for their entire lifetime.
  • They get stolen. Mirroring the experience in Chippendale, three of our four citrus trees were stolen in the first fortnight, the last being left only because it looked so poor.
  • People are impatient. While the whole idea of edible plants in the verge is to share the bounty, we’ve found that the fruits get taken well before they’ve even ripened.
  • People are careless. More often than not, a whole branch will be ripped off, rather than a single fruit twisted free.

In short, don’t plant citrus. Beyond this, each local council will have guidelines about what not to plant. Large street trees are typically seen, for example, as the sole domain of the council to plant.

But there are plenty of other options! May your verge live well and prosper.

Street food comes to Lewisham

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The first sign goes out on the nature strip, more to come
The first sign goes out on the nature strip, more to come

We’ve been steadily planting out on the nature strip. First the bay tree that moved with us from the old unit. Then a kaffir lime, and two dwarf lemon trees. Finally a lemon-scented tea tree.

Yes, this is guerilla gardening, but not just for our own selfish benefit. From the outset, the aim has been to put out plants that can be harvested by the locals as they wander by (perhaps the lemons break this rule).

So this afternoon, the first “street food” sign went out onto the nature strip. We hope to start a local movement, copying what has been done on Myrtle St in Chippendale. Now we see whether it’s harvested to death, or gently pruned…

Planting our bay tree in the nature strip

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Bay tree

I’ve had a bay tree for 3+ years, and it’s been happily growing on my balcony in the old unit. Without full sun, it was getting a bit scrawny, but it nonetheless provided plenty of bay leaves for cooking.

With the move to Lewisham, the time was right to give it a proper home in soil. With space at a premium, the solution was obvious: a bit of “guerilla gardening”.

Just before Easter I went out and dug a big hole in the clay soil of the nature strip. This was filled with a rich mix of cow manure and soil, and the bay tree planted in. No need to ask permission, much better just to do it!

I’m looking forward to seeing it grow, and will put a sign on it once it’s settled in saying: “bay tree, feel free to pick some leaves for your cooking!”.

PS. I blame Michael Mobbs for encouraging this sort of behaviour! Having planted trees, herbs and vegetables down Myrtle St in Chippendale, a clear example has been set for all to follow. 🙂