Petersham Tree Audit

olive and mulberry diagram

It seems redundant to say this, but here goes: trees are important. This week’s permaculture class was all about The Glory Of The Tree.

Speaking for myself, as a budding organic vegie enthusiast, up to now I’ve been a bit blase about our woody friends.

I have a couple of lemon trees in the backyard, but I think they’re “rootstock”: very thorny and no fruit. Someone (maybe my fruity friend Rohan) said they need to be grafted with a fruiting stock before they’ll actually make lemons. I considered pulling them out, because I was always getting poked on the butt by the thorns when I leaned over to collect lettuce leaves. But then my flatmate Louise said that I should just be patient and wait, and maybe some grafting guru would come along one day and we’d be able to fruitify them. I obeyed, and I still await the arrival of our citrus knight.

A few years ago, Lizzie’s mum gave me a very gourmet looking “lemon and mandarin” tree (two grafts on the same tree!) from the fruit salad tree company, but it’s never done anything, just sit there looking sorry for itself, I’m afraid.

We did put in a few acacia trees from the Marrickville native nursery (with a view to attracting some good local birds). One of these looks very cheery indeed. Another has struggled along, getting strangled by pumpkin vines or whatever seasonal vegetable crowds it out. A third died for no clear reason, perhaps it dried out in the sun. A fourth expired in the shadows of the mulberry tree which leans over the neighbour’s fence. This could be the beginnings of a scientific experiment to determine the best growing conditions for this kind of tree. The winner seems to be the back fence which is half-sunny.

There is, however, one success story! Rohan’s olive tree, which took off with great vigour when I planted it in January 2007. Here’s a photo from when I put it in:

olive tree

It’s now 2.5 metres tall! No fruit yet, but then, I’ve not followed any of the instructions which I’ve just discovered online about pruning, watering and fertilizing, so I guess I’m lucky it’s still with us. Lucky, too, that I planted it in the sunniest spot in the yard next to the brick wall which creates a little warmy microclimate. It’s next to the rosemary bush as well, another happy accident, as I read somewhere that they are cheerful companions.

Another great success story is the neighbour’s mulberry tree, which must have been growing there for a long time, as it’s at least 15 metres tall now. We love it, as it reaches right over into our yard and shades us in the summer. The worm farm can live quite happily under the shade of the mulberry, even in the hottest weather!

Here’s a picture of a nice late summer garden luncheon under the shade of the mulberry:

mulberry shade

You can just see the leaves poking into the picture at the top right hand corner. It seems that the tree’s shade inhibits the growth of lawn on one side of the yard (just under where the picnic table is in this picture). This doesn’t bother me (except that the earth is a bit bare and dusty), but it does annoy the landlady on her irregular, unnanounced visits, who likes things tidy. She recently threatened to concrete the whole yard as a way of solving the problem of my “excessive” water usage (she must imagine me out there running the hose day in day out, but it took her years to succumb to my demands for a half-flush toilet cistern).

Another feature of this mulberry tree, besides its lovely summer shade, is that its leaves all fall off in the winter, allowing the nice wintery sun to penetrate and coax our winter lettuces into leafiness.

The mulberry is always expanding its branches like crazy over the fence, and the neighbours sometimes get told off by our landlady, who thumps on their door and demands (not-very-politely) that they trim it. Sometimes they do. Once, this trimming resulted in a load of timber which sat around in our yard for a while, before I sawed it into lengths which proved quite useful for making the edges of garden beds (thick bits), and some ad-hoc garden stakes (thin bits).

However, the mulberry has never reached its full potential as a fruit-provider. This has good and bad consequences. The good is that our drying clothes hang on a hills-hoist directly underneath the tree, and they would be stained blood-red if it were to spontaneously fruit one season. The bad is that we miss out on all that great fruit.

Given this confluence of circumstances, I would say that we are pretty happy with the mulberry tree just as it is.

6 thoughts on “Petersham Tree Audit

  1. lizzie

    Look how green our lawn looks in that photo – these days it is much more bald and muddy. I wonder why.

  2. Lucas

    Beats me. Possibly the mulberry tree is leaching the nutrient and moisture from under where the grass is?

    It’s interesting to document and post pictures of the garden online. At the time it seems just ‘normal’ but later you discover that the back yard is in constant evolution.

  3. Cat Wilson

    I have been dropping in on your blog every now and then for about a year and I related to this entry. Last year I photographed the same old feral apple tree by the rail line just near my home every week. I am currently sifting through the images and editing a timelapse from the footage. it is indeed remarkable to realise how much change occurs and the rhythms of this change. So obvious when you do notice it yet so easy to miss…

  4. Cat Wilson

    I am glad you like.

    Yes the tree does yield fruit but most do not get very big or get enough time on the tree to ripen. We have plans to give it a prune late winter and re mulch, so I have hopes that next years crop might be more promising.

  5. Josho

    “Speaking for myself, as a budding organic vegie enthusiast”

    uhh Lucas, don’t you mean “According to me”?


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