The Barrier Garden

For the love of a rose, the gardener becomes the slave of a thousand thorns. Turkish Proverb.

The house came with an old woody Pereskia Bleo in a pot. I was told this leafy cactus has a beautiful flower. Indeed it does, a Rose like flower even in bud form but its not for love of this rose that it has found a prominent place in my garden.

On the day I got the keys to the property I  discovered that it had been broken into. Thieves had climbed into the roof and stolen all the electrical wiring. Security became an issue and one suggestion was to plant Pereskia against the fence and this is how I was introduced to the concept of barrier gardening.

Having determined that the the roof was a vulnerable point of entry, I decided to mass some barrier plants around the side porch whose roof is easy to access from the slope on that side of the property. Besides the Pereskia, I had also inherited another unfriendly plant, a large spiney Euphorbia Lactea in a pot. Friends donated more thick stalks of Pereskia that were cut into lengths about a foot long and sticking these  into the ground along with the original plant and a few branches of the Euphorbia has resulted, one year later, in a formidable grove of thorns.

This area sort of  bookends the gravel garden so I also have Agaves, and Sanseverias growing in between. The couple of Euphorbia Milii I added, because of its pretty flowers, just hasn't done so well, so will soon be moving. The Pereskia on the other hand grows like a triffid now reaching six or seven feet. It's an awkward plant that topples over from its own weight and has required a fair amount of assisting to keep it tidy. Handling it however has been a painful learning experience.

Pereskia thorns break in your skin, and as I discovered, that can happen with a branch falling on or even brushing against you. The thorns also easily pierce leather gardening gloves. I learnt that these lingering barbs can turn infectious and require medical attention. On more than one occasion I have run into the house and pulled out a needle to retrieve one or more of these nasty things. Or, days later inspection of sore appendages lead inevitably to some domestic surgery.

I really avoid handling them at all now and if I do, I wrap a fabric shopping bag around it then pick it up with gloved hands. If I can avoid it at all, with the use of tools, sticks or whatever's at hand I will. Its a good thing that its easy cultivation provided a quick, effective and necessary security solution because its really not a lovable plant, although the orange flowers I'll admit are really quite pretty and the plant always blooming.

There is less issue with thorns with the Euphorbia Lactea  but the branches break off easily and there is toxic sap to deal with. Unfortunately since there is more space between them, some weeding is occasionally required and a stab and a dash to the sink to wash of the sap is part of that process. Thankfully both the Euphorbia and the Pereskia are growing in the slope thats behind a retaining wall so my dogs and visiting children are at much less risk of interacting with them.

A third inherited plant, a large potted Bougainvillea became another barrier plant. I don't love Bougainvilleas, they just seem at odds with the landscape here but despite this have become hugely popular, there's hardly a garden without one, which is perhaps another reason for my disinclination.  However, this plant was large and planted against a low boundary wall that was particularly vulnerable, quickly draped it with a protective cloak of thorns. Out of its pot and into the ground, its gotten monstrous pretty quickly. Taming it every couple of months has resulted in some nasty scratches.

How odd to have a gardening relationship with plants that one has little attachment to and are a little scared of even but find necessary to have in the garden at grave risk.

Lemons and Limes

The first time I went to Greece, it was in late spring and we arrived late on a stormy night. In the morning the storm had passed and I opened the balcony doors to a glorious view of a shimmering mediterranean sea and a powerful aroma that I did not recognize. I discovered that it was the blossom from a nearby lemon orchard. Many subsequent vacations in these islands later, where dinner almost every night was a grilled fish or a heap of battered Kalimari drenched in lemon juice  and its not difficult to understand that lemons, to me, are azure seas and the mediteranean.

When I came across a vendor at the night market here with boxes of lemons on sale, I asked him where they were from and he said 'Ipoh', a city towards the north of the country. I knew vaguely of Ipoh's reputation for Pomelos, a popular citrus fruit particularly around festive days so it sort of made sense, but local lemons? Didn't know there was such a thing. I bought some, they were inexpensive, somewhat greener, larger and not quite as pretty as supermarket lemons but they were juicy and made an excellent lemonade.

Small Kasturi Limes or Citrus microcarpa are a popular ingredient here, and the leaves of Kaffir Limes Citrus Hystrix  although synonomous with Thailand and Tom Yam are also used to flavor certain curries here and in Indonesia. Both are indigenous to this region and a little research reveals that the citrus genus is believed to have originated from South East Asia. My perceptions of citrus as a mediterranean thing are now being revised to a tropical thing.

My neighbour is a terrific jam maker. My discovery of this was a marmalade of hers made from kaffir limes, a lime too bitter to eat but goodness is it good as a marmalade. A couple of weeks ago she offered me a jar of a different marmalade, one she'd made from lemons from her brothers garden, a local type she said as well as some red citrus fruits from a bush in her garden. I was of course intrigued about these ingredients and she volunteered to not not only run home and get me some of the uncooked fruit but also a small plant of the red fruit. The longer lemon is pictured above in the top left corner, the rest are from the night market. The mystery plant is Limeberry  Triphasia Trifolia which is a Rutaceae related to citrus. With this in hand I now have a nice selection of citrus growing in the garden.

I have a mature lime tree in my yard, Citrus Microcarpa, that came with the house and provides a continous supply of fruit. I wait on orange that I bought unlabeled and planted a year ago to get going and my Kaffir lime has, incredously, fruited - see picture. I say incredulous because it has been slow growing and notoriously difficult and tempermental say local gardener friends. I also lucked out on finding a variegated form at the farmers market. I'm going to try growing the seed from both that longer lemon and the Ipoh lemon and am perusing a catalogue of Citrus to see what else I would like add to this expanding collection. Definitely the strange Buddha's hand, which I see occasionally for sale and I know the musk lime Citrofortunella Mitis grows well here as I have seen mature trees at a local fruit farm.

Gardening with citrus, who knew that would happen. I have small trees in the ground and in pots in the gravel garden which is looking, and we go full circle here, a little mediterranean-ish.


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