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The Dry Garden: A festival of rare fruit

August 6, 2010 |  9:00 am
Eureka-Lemon

Central to the promise of the California dream is the idea that you can reach out your kitchen window and pluck a lemon. As we hit the natural limits to our water supply, that specter of home-grown fruit remains steadily possible, even a social ideal in the complex matrix of energy and water footprints.

In attaining it, the first hurdle is choice: What kind of lemon? What about oranges and limes? A modest lot in Los Angeles can produce full loads of not only citrus but also avocados, plums, apricots and nectarines. And don’t forget figs, pomegranates and apples. A long list only becomes longer when you consider the varieties and crosses available for each type of fruit. Valencia orange or blood? Eureka lemon or Meyer? Plum or aprium?

Dragon-Fruit-PlantChoice of fruit trees is one of the most important decisions that you’ll make in a garden. You’ll be eating the results for years to come. So rather than wish that you had planted a Fuerte or Guatemalan avocado instead of a Hass, consider spending the weekend of Aug. 14 at the Festival of Fruit sponsored by the Los Angeles Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers and Cal Poly Pomona Agriculture Department.

The organizers are the best kind of experts -- euphoric enthusiasts -- so don’t be shy. The worst thing that could happen to you is being showered with tips. If you have an old avocado tree but don’t know the type, pluck a fruit and take it to show Julie Frink, volunteer at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center and chief compiler of an excellent UC extension guide to varieties. She will be talking on avocados at 10 a.m. Stay in your chair for the next session if you’re looking for a spineless cactus for a school garden.

Beyond many sessions touching on topics that include fruit tree care, grapes, honeybees, canning, dragon fruit and jujubes, there will be tours. Four days of field trips begin on Thursday at the UC field station in Irvine. Other institutions hosting festival tours include the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino; the Fullerton Arboretum; and Cal Poly Pomona’s John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies. Among private gardens on show are a Simi Valley home with pomegranates, sapotes, guavas and quince, and a Brea property with cherimoya and citrus.

Dragon-FruitA special theme of this festival is dragon fruit, also known as pitahaya. For those of you who haven’t encountered this succulent, or tasted its flaming pink-skinned fruit, there will be nowhere to hide. An Aug. 13 tour of Cal Poly Pomona’s Pitahaya Plantation  will be followed Aug. 14 with a dragon fruit lecture and, no doubt, dragon plant sales.

But one needn’t be in pursuit of rarity or weirdness to benefit from this festival. The enthusiasts behind it lay the table for visitors to browse. On the menu: everything you ever wanted to know about fruit in this our land of fruit and nuts.

-- Emily Green

Green's column on sustainable gardening appears here every Friday.

Photos, from top: Eureka lemon. Credit: Los Angeles Times. Staked dragon fruit plant. Credit: Emily Green. Dragon fruit. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

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