Oranges, Spanish style
It’s orange season and we’re loving the fruit in salads and desserts, and in the particular case of my family, in steamed orange and whisky puddings. Oranges find their way into our fruit bowl, but less often into our gardens and rarely into our streets. Wouldn’t it be lovely to take a leaf from Spain, where oranges dazzle as street trees, and as features within gardens.
That shot at the top of the post is of the streetside park outside the Alcazar in Cordoba, taken just before Christmas. The Alcazar is the old palace, originally of the Muslim rulers of Al-Andalus and later of the Catholic rulers Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon. In the forecourt of the palace, oranges are planted in compressed gravel in an orderly arrangement with date palms. They glow in the winter light.
Inside the walls of the of old palace they are used as a formal planting alongside the central water feature, with an underplanting of hardy old pot marigolds to repeat that warm orange glow. The restoration of the garden links its Muslim heritage with its more recent Catholic history. So just behind this very Moorish water garden is a grand walk of cypress clipped into towering columns which lead to a statue of Ferdinand and Isabelle giving Christopher Columbus his orders in 1492.
The oranges are pruned into domes with flat bottoms and the fruit sits on the dome like decorations on a Christmas tree. As you can see, oranges can be made to do pretty much whatever you want. Prune them flat against a wall, make them arch over a pergola, trim them to a ball or dome, or prune them into an airy shade tree.
Here, in the famous gardens of the Generalife in the Alhambra in Granada, four oranges are grown around a little courtyard, their canopies lifted to make them a comfortable height to walk and sit under. We think of oranges as subtropical types that don’t like frosts, but these Spanish trees cope with even the occasional snowfall.
Makes you want one (or four!) of your own in the garden, doesn’t it. But which one? ‘Joppa’ is a variety with history and consistency on its side. It was brought to Australia with the First Fleet and fruits reliably in mid-winter. Commercial growers favour varieties with no seeds, but home gardeners don’t mind a seed, especially when the fruit’s flavour is so good.
The Generalife quartets of oranges are bound to be well cared for, but it’s hard to imagine that the local councils of Spain treat their orange street trees with the kind of program we know makes for great harvests (regular sprays with Eco-oil, a fruit fly lure program, specialised citrus food in winter, spring and autumn, and reliable water). So either the council workers of Spain are very dedicated gardeners – or oranges put up with more neglect than we thought.
Another advantage of the orange as street tree – they grow to a manageable height. Imagine them here: there’d be no need for the chainsaw brigade to hack them lopsided, or to take the hearts out of them to let the power lines through! The growing band of fashionable food foragers would soon be pinching the fruit, turning it into marmalade and selling it at hipster cafes and farmers markets. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? The possums would have a field day (or night), cavorting and feasting in the streets like a pack of rowdy teenagers. And then, the clincher – someone slips on a fallen peice of fruit, sues, and the oranges are compost.
Sandra Ross will be leading a tour through Spain in 2014 in spring, when the oranges will be in fragrant bloom rather than brilliant fruit. Have a look at the itinerary here.
Photos: Robin Powell