Kumquat trees' sweet exhibition at Nixon library
“Go ahead, pick some,” urged the red-jacketed docent at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum as she caught me eyeing a kumquat tree exploding with the orange oval fruits. That’s how I found myself snacking on the biggest and most flavorful kumquats I’d ever tasted in the unusually formal surroundings of a presidential library.
The secret, according to Director of Operations Ric Leczel: “Good soil, lots of direct sunlight and tender, loving care.”
The kumquats are part of the library’s original landscape design. They're a nod to the citrus groves that once covered the land and drew Nixon's father to settle there, Leczel said. “That’s their main tie-in to the past and the history of the property,” he said.
Though visitors are discouraged from touching Pat Nixon’s roses and other plants in the manicured gardens, the kumquats are shared liberally among visitors and staff. Guests on weekend tours are urged to reach out and pick one. Pause to admire the fruit and you'll probably get an invitation to sample it. Leczel said he recently took a basket home and made marmalade with a recipe from his grandfather, who once nurtured his own kumquat tree at home in San Clemente. The branches also make handy decorations for buffet tables used for weddings and other events held at the library, Leczel said.
If you're weighing the addition of a kumquat tree to your garden, remember that they like fast-draining soil and hot, direct sunlight. They also can produce (and drop) fruit in abundance -- a consideration if branches will hang over a patio or walkway.
If you're not sure and want to see the trees for yourself, the Nixon library kumquats are in full splendor. These photos were taken just last week.
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-- Laura Randall
Photos: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times