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When life hands you pink lemons, make pink lemonade. March 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening.
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A plant is threatening to outcompete the orchids as star of the greenhouse this week. Our friend Ben’s variegated lemon (Citrus limon ‘Eureka Variegated Pink’) is sending up scads of new leaves and flower buds in a show of spring fever worthy of my own.

Now, this is a handsome plant at any time, with its white-edged glossy green foliage. But the new leaves are amazing: white, green, and pink. Borne in clusters at the ends of the stems, they look like exotic blooms themselves. And the flower buds are pink as well! Hopefully, they’ll open with that heavenly orange-blossom scent that can carry across the cavernous interior of a commercial greenhouse; our friend Ben is looking forward to the effect in the much more modest 10-by-16-foot Hawk’s Haven greenhouse.

This plant’s biggest show is still to come: the fruit. The lemons have variegated peels, yellow with green stripes. And the flesh is pink! Just think: natural pink lemonade, no yucky dyes. But our friend Ben thinks the effect would be even greater if you added pink lemon slices to regular lemonade, water, or any clear beverage for contrast. I look forward to finding out.

Starting to think you’d like a variegated lemon tree of your own? We got ours from one of our friend Ben’s favorite nurseries, Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia (www.eat-it.com). Our friend Ben has followed the career of Edible Landscaping’s owner, Michael McConkey, since he was a teenager writing articles for Organic Gardening magazine about filling his family’s backyard with all sorts of fruits and nuts. Like Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Michael was lucky enough to make his teenage passion his adult vocation.

If you’re in the Afton area and able to visit the nursery, you’ll find that the whole staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Our friend Ben got a wonderful tour a couple of years ago when visiting friends in Charlottesville. I learned a great deal about rare and exotic fruits, and was even given a sample or two to taste. If you can’t make the trek to the nursery, the catalogue is the next best thing. You’ll quickly see that Edible Landscaping is a big believer in shipping plants in containers—big containers—rather than bare-root. The plants themselves are sizeable and robust. If you’re used to receiving wimpy plants in the mail, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise!

Speaking of pleasant surprises, our friend Ben was surprised at how well the variegated lemon did over the past growing season on the deck and in the greenhouse over winter; container citrus can be a bit tricky here. But then I read that this particular lemon prefers to be kept on the dry side. Aha!

When the only way to water the greenhouse is to haul water the length of your property in gallon milk jugs like our friend Ben does, watering is not a favorite activity. It tends to be, shall we say, put off. So any plant that can thrive on neglect is that much more appealing. And when it’s a stunner to start with and has a cast-iron constitution, it’s earned its gold star status with me!   

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