When I think of the colour orange, I think happy. I can’t really explain why. I know the Hindus think of it as a happy colour – orange silks and a gold thread for weddings and saris. But what would be the connection for me here? Perhaps nothing more than the colour orange goes with our old roof tiles, our tumbling gray stone walls and our burnt-brown soil and scenery. The colour lemon I like for another reason. I associate it with fragrance and eating. But I will come back to the latter in a while…
The Algarve in winter can be a rather sombre place. If we are lucky, of course, with rain there is the oxalis. The oxalis provides spring-green and chrome yellow sheets of colour under the trees and in the meadows, and then there are the almond trees above them with their pink and white confetti drifts of blossom in the countryside.
But it is the orchards of oranges that provide the brightest, the most cheerful parade of colour. The bright fruit of the trees is shown off to perfection against their dark green handsome foliage. They march together in the orchards in perfect unison – neat and tidy and joyful. And driving through these same orchards in winter and spring one is almost drowned by the perfume.
It’s my contention that the same orange trees should also march into our gardens, and throwing rank and order to one side be used not only for their fruit but also for their ornamental value. Why citrus trees? I like their foliage and flowers as much as their fruit – all these qualities serve as a focal point, or to fill a space or to provide backdrops for other plants. The perfume of their blossoms is another bonus.
I have two small orange trees in my garden. One forms the focus of my viewing garden and the other is part of an herbaceous bed. The one that serves as a focus is neat and round and has fruit most of the year – orange baubles that catch your eye as soon as you come into the garden. The other is a navel and, although it does have fruit and blossom, it tends to be rather retiring, but it does provide a foil for the lavender, silver senecio and the miniature white agapanthus that grow in front of it.
I also have three lemons, all different varieties. One was grown from a pip and fruits magnificently, the second I bought at the market in Loulé, and the third, a thin skinned variety with an exotic flavour, is one I got from a nurseryman who has a nursery in Elvas. I love their perfume and foliage and use most of their fruit. This is because I seldom use vinegar in my salads and cooking – just lemon juice. I find lemon juice is not quite so breathtaking as vinegar.
The origin of the lemon has always been uncertain but there is strong evidence that the Romans grew it as early as the 1st century. There is a wall fresco in Pompeii (destroyed in 79AD) that shows bright yellow spindle shaped fruit held upright on a tree. There are several references to it coming to Europe from ‘southern barbarians’ so this could refer to China.
The Arabs had certainly introduced the lemon and sour orange to Palestine and Persia by the start of the 12th century and from there fruit found its way to Spain, Portugal and North Africa.
Lemon trees can be very vigorous and need regular pruning to retain their shape. This is a fruit which you can put into a gin and tonic and use in salad dressings, main courses and desserts. It will also help with the washing-up, polishing copper pans and remove stains from your tablecloth. Freshly-cut lemons always smell wonderful and come packed with vitamins and nutrients which are good for us.
And as for colours of pure clear orange and lemon, who could beat tubs of glorious cliveas which flower in February and March. I have three tubs under my olive and carob trees. They enjoy the shade of the trees and flower profusely every year and every year are quite sensational. I have three unnamed varieties – two orange and one lemon. I really do enjoy them.
And then last year serendipity struck. A friend gave me some bulbs of Homeria which I planted in a long narrow box and placed on a ledge just behind the cliveas. Homeria have long thin strap-like leaves and I really didn’t know what to expect.
It was a real delight to find that they produced quite tall stems of simple flowers in the exact shade of orange and lemon that were in the cliveas, and they flowered at exactly the same time too. So the colours orange and yellow could be seen in the cliveas, the Homerias and orange in the orange tree in my viewing garden, brightening up any February day.
There is also Streptosolen jamesonii, the marmalade bush, which can be a spectacular winter and spring performer. As far as I know, it is tolerant of soil type but totally intolerant of frost. A nearby normally frost free garden has a massive orange concoction every year.
And, thinking orange, we should remind ourselves of other plants that deserve a special mention – the Strelitzia regina and juncea – both varieties have a lovely orange colour, striking foliage, flower in winter and spring and, as long as they have sufficient water, seem to thrive in the Algarve.
Another that comes to mind is Leonotis leonorus, a shrub that flowers generously throughout the summer with soft orange flowers and is well worth growing.
As for climbers and cascaders, orange bougainvilleas, both the single and the double, are well worth growing and for an explosion of orange, why not think of Pyrostegium venusta which gives a dazzling display in spring and swallows unsightly sheds and fences with a generous coating of deep orange flowers?
But to get back to my starting point, a plea to see more oranges and lemons in our gardens as well as our orchards – in fact let’s start another orange revolution.