Doesn’t everyone want their own lemon tree?
Ten years ago Cheryl certainly did. If we had lemons handy, we could enjoy eating more fish, she reasoned. She’d grown tired of sending me off to raid a neighbor’s tree that no one seemed to pick.
Then as now, Meyers were the trendier lemon, but Cheryl wanted nothing to do with them. A traditional Eureka, please. Less sweet, more tart. If you’re going to eat a lemon, isn’t tart the whole point? And if you want sweet, eat a watermelon.
And so we bought a Eureka and planted it in our front yard where a peach tree had died from old age ... or possibly inadequate human care.
Cheryl’s choice of yard locations was a brave one. Much is made of lemon trees’ vulnerability to frost — something Napa gets its fair share of — yet she had picked a spot fully exposed to cold.
We were emboldened by the mature lemon trees we see all over town. They appeared uncoddled, yet they had somehow managed to survive harsh Napa winters while producing an abundance of bright yellow fruit.
Things did not go well that first winter. We didn’t take sufficient precautions. In fact, we may not have taken any precautions. Frosts soon blackened the leaves. Come spring, many limbs did not bounce back.
I rigged a flimsy protective barrier the next winter. It didn’t do the job. More damaged limbs had to be sacrificed during spring pruning.
By the third winter, the lemon had been reduced to a virtual stub. With one blow of my ax, I put the poor thing out of its misery.
What had we done wrong? Why were other unprotected lemons more than holding their own while ours succumbed? Were the others in protected locations, sucking radiant heat from adjacent buildings?
Cheryl was not one to give up. In selecting a replacement, she decided to abandon the yard altogether. She put her new lemon sapling in a large ceramic pot, then gave it wheels.
This lemon would live a coddled life on our porch where presumably winter conditions would be less severe. If a killer frost of frightful proportions were forecast, we could even roll it indoors. Maybe into our kitchen.
Things have worked out relatively well. In winter, Cheryl’s pet lemon lives near our back door. In summer, it’s rolled to the front of the house where it can soak up afternoon sun.
I’m surprised all lemons aren’t domesticated this way.
We’ve had increasingly greater harvests with our mobile lemon tree system, with nary a blackened branch.
Then we got lazy. We stopped rotating the tree every week or two to balance out exposure to sunshine and shade.
By the third year the tree had developed a deformity. By year five the growth in one direction and not the other had become so alarming I feared the poor, unbalanced thing would topple out of its container.
It needed trimming and repotting, but neither Cheryl nor I seemed up to the task.
This winter our tree produced a bumper crop of 22 good-size lemons, all on its sun side.
I’m the designated picker, Cheryl’s the baker.
The aroma from three or four just-picked lemons is delightful. Nothing else in our household even begins to compare.
What Cheryl does with these lemons is equally winning. I speak of lemon tarts.
Cheryl shuns most desserts, but not lemon tarts. They take full possession of her. They overpower any thought of dining modestly. It’s lemon tart or bust.