The Aussie backyard is being unexpectedly reshaped by our resurgent love affair with an age-old cocktail and childhood nostalgia.
Homeowners have discovered a renewed thirst for citrus via their desire for a decent gin and tonic and the plant’s link to their formative years.
The boom in sales of Australian-made gin over the past 12 months, as local passion for the clear spirit grows exponentially, has peaked with an unexpected impact upon our gardens.
Landscape designers have reported a marked increase in planting requests for potted citrus and trees dating back six months. The spike in requests is specifically coming from those with a love of the refreshing highball cocktail favoured by soldiers posted in India in the first half of last century, who want to add fruit to their G & T.
“Homeowners love the idea of growing their own ‘gin bar’, often requesting citrus trees for their outdoor living spaces,” Lee Gray, of Lee Gray Landscape Design, said
“The evergreen nature of citrus trees also offer a very appealing feature to a garden.”
The abundant requests have led to a national shortage of citrus supplies in recent months, delaying completion of some landscape projects.
Gin was largely out of favour with spirit drinkers for a couple of decades, but the resurgence of Australian craft distilleries, which increased 19.1 per cent in 2020, according to data from IWSR (International Wine and Spirits Research) Drinks Market Analysis, combined with consumers choosing to support locally-made gins, has seen a remarkable turnaround.
Similarly, gardens have come full circle, says Lee.
Decades ago almost every suburban backyard would have had at least one lemon or orange tree, in the ground or in a pot.
“Many homeowners have fond memories of their childhood gardens and draw on these memories by adding plants such as lemons and oranges,” she said
“While parents of young children are often wanting to create new memories and elect to plant mandarins.”
Lee says currently the most requested citrus plants are blood oranges, Tahitian limes and Meyer lemons.
“As it happens, these are also the best complements to pair with Australian gin,” she says. “There are also new varieties of patio limes and lemons that are very popular for smaller gardens and alfresco areas.”
The popularity of these citrus varieties caused project delays as the summer thirst drove up demand, but Lee says, luckily, the nursery industry is very good at reading the latest trends and growing plants to suit what’s popular.
“The traditional varieties are easy to come by, it’s the specialist cultivars and patio limes that are ordered especially for gardens that were more difficult,” says Lee.
“Holding off for the perfect tree is a commitment, but well worth the wait. While citrus were once trees that could take up a lot of space in the garden, they are now being adapted to suit smaller spaces.
“Citrus trees are a very versatile plant and are happy growing in pots or in the ground,” Lee says.
“Clients will request a feature citrus tree located in a alfresco or close to the outdoor entertainment spaces. Recently, we planted a row of citrus trees trained alongside a mesh-filled frame to create an espalier effect.”
When it comes to companion planting and what works well alongside citrus, you can plan your garden to suit your favourite gin mix.
“We have been including herbs such a lemon thyme and rosemary ground cover around our citrus trees,” says Lee.
“Typically citrus grow well without any root competition, so we plant the herbs away from the root zone. If we are designing a cluster of feature pots, we will often plant a smaller pot of mint and include some typical gin complements.”
Lee says citrus also provide gardens with a much-needed burst of colour.
“The colourful fruit provides a landscape with long-term interest and contrast,” she says. “While the flowers have a subtle, sweet fragrance that conjures up memories of our older generations. Citrus trees are a very easy care, low maintenance tree that can be enjoyed by all.
“Their foliage is beautiful and their fruit is perfect.”
WHAT TO GROW FOR THE PERFECT GIN AND TONIC
What to grow: Lemons, oranges, blood oranges, mandarins, limes, Kaffir lime, cumquats, grapefruit, tangelos, clementine.
Varieties for gin mixers: Tahitian limes, blood oranges and Meyer lemons, plus patio limes and lemons, which are good options for smaller gardens and alfrescos.
Companion plants: Ground covers are ideal for planting around citrus, so choose herbs such as lemon thyme, rosemary and mint if you want to grow your ingredients to complement your gin drinks and make a pot look pretty.
Buy locally grown citrus: Citrus trees on the market are typically three to five years of age. Landscape designer Lee Gray recommends that you shop local, if possible, and source citrus plants from local growers. “They’ll thrive in your garden if they’ve been grown in similar conditions,” she says.
Wait until spring to plant citrus: While citrus is readily available to eat in winter, it is not the time to plant citrus. Instead start a garden plan, do your research and order your fruit options during winter, but wait until spring to plant in the garden.
What citrus need: Citrus require well draining soil and are best grown in the full sun with no root competition. When planting citrus in pots, it’s best to use a premium potting mix and ensure your pot has plenty of drainage holes.
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